Not every child is a bookworm, but research shows that developing a love of reading early in life can provide many benefits. From a positive impact on academic achievement, increased general knowledge, vocabulary growth, improved writing ability, and helping children to develop empathy, it’s clear reading can play an important role in a child’s development.
It has also been argued that on top of providing pleasure, reading literature helps children to cultivate an imagination. And an overview of several studies on reading for pleasure suggests that it may also be a way to combat social exclusion and raise educational standards.
Some teachers believe that parents should be more active in supporting their child’s reading. This is understandable as studies on successful literacy achievement often feature either support from a parent or a teacher – indicating how both can help children to develop a love for reading.
But while it’s important that parents and teachers become actively involved in helping children to read more, my research reveals there are some things parents and teachers may do that actually put children off reading.
Let them choose their own books
In my research with children between the ages of nine and 12, I explored the extent to which they read for pleasure and the different factors that affected their reading engagement.
Things such as parents or teachers selecting the books the children read in their leisure time, or parents not allowing the children to read their preferred books were shown to have a negative impact on children’s reading engagement. As were parents or teachers forcing children to read and parents insisting that children read books to the end.
Children enjoy reading more when they’ve chosen their own books.
Some of the children in my study complained that their parents always selected the books they read in their leisure time and that the parents’ selections were not always books that the children liked. A little boy described the books his father selected for him to read at home as “hard books” and could only recall one occasion when he had enjoyed reading the book his father selected.
There were also complaints by other children that their teachers selected the books they read during the reading period at school, and that usually, they did not like the books and often did not read them.
Don’t force it
Some children also complained that their parents did not allow them to read the books they had an interest in. For instance, one boy said that he liked Enid Blyton books, but his father did not allow him to read these. A girl complained that her father stopped her from reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid books because “they don’t teach anything”.
A few children complained of either being forced to read when they would rather not read, or being forced to complete a book they had lost interest in.
So, as important as reading is for a child’s development, my research shows why children must be allowed to exercise their right to not read or stop reading at anytime – as to do otherwise is likely to put them off reading altogether.
Make it fun
From my interviews with the children, I also discovered that it was common practice for teachers and parents to ask children questions about the books they read and that reading aloud done by teachers at school was usually accompanied by questions. While this might seem like a useful learning technique, it’s not one that goes down well with the kids.
All the children I spoke with said they did not like being asked questions after reading – and that it took away the fun from reading. One boy said that knowing he would be asked questions about the reading “kind of makes me feel like they’re going to give us an exam or a test afterwards”.
Don’t force it, reading should feel fun for kids.
As the findings from my study show, when it comes to books, it’s important to respect your child’s preferences – even if they do not meet your expectations. Indeed, there is evidence to show that children best enjoy reading books they self-select – and doing otherwise may reduce the potential for pleasurable engagement in reading.
So given this, both parents and teachers would do well to remember that sometimes children just want to curl up with a good book, of their choice, and simply enjoy the process of reading for what it is.
By Isang Awah, PhD Candidate in Education, University of Cambridge, UK
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