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May 28th, 2014

Do your Children Read for Pleasure?

Boy readingAt the Hay Reading Festival last week, the  children’s laureate Michael Rosen announced the start of a campaign to get children to read for pleasure. “READ FOR PLEASURE” – of course children should read for pleasure we all cry, but clearly there is something very amiss with our educational system if the energy and focus from government is a fixation on phonics and spelling and grammar. Parents regularly tell us that reading set by schools is about completing a set number of pages and it can quickly become a chore. Without realising it our children quickly start to lose a natural love of stories and we create a society of reluctant readers. The memories many of us have of losing ourselves in a childhood story has been replaced with the drudgery of parents having to force children to read set pieces and a prescribed number of pages. There is little enjoyment,  little understanding of the story and no emotional connection for the child.

So here are some top tips to ensure reading is a pleasure in your family: 

1.      Make reading comfortable and special.

Try to make sure the place you read in is quiet, and warm, well lit, and generally comfortable.

Create a special place for your child’s books – decorate a box, or shelf – or a personalised nameplate for their own books. Some families recreate a library space with books presented on shelves with covers facing you.

2.      Bring reading and stories into everyday life.

As well as reading books to them read books yourself in front of them and talk about what you have read recently, or stories you remember from your childhood. Tell them what you like about your books and ask their thoughts or opinions about the stories they are reading. Discuss the ideas or themes within the stories. Sometimes you can pause as they’re reading to ask what they think will happen next or why the characters acted as they did or what they would have done in that situation. You want to encourage interest in the story rather than just focusing on the mechanics of reading.

Encourage them to read road signs, games manuals, instructions, recipes, menus, magazines, backs of cereal packets, even internet pages on a topic that interests them.

Look out for topical stories – at Christmas or Easter time, or about the seaside in the summer, or places you have been or are going, or to do with particular events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics.

3.      Make reading interesting and fun.

Try having a Story Tea or Story Bath, or make a Reading Den or try reading in your bed on Sunday morning, as a special treat.

Take a book to the park, read with a torch, or read as a family with each member taking turns or parts. (Remember, children can ‘read’ more complex stories in groups, than they can on their own.) Let yourself go when you are reading out loud – use lots of expression, in your voice and in your face and body too. Try some sound effects – they will either love it or tell you to calm down. You could even go for costumes….

Make up quizzes, crosswords, word searches or anagrams of characters, or places, in familiar and favourite stories.

Personalize the stories using their names.

4.      Encourage their creativity and imagination.

When reading familiar stories, leave gaps for them to fill in or make up alternative silly versions.

Help them write their own stories, with spaces for pictures, using a laptop and printer to ‘publish’ copies and distribute to family members.

5.      Encourage love of story without books

Don’t forget the oral tradition of telling stories to give them a reason to want to read.

You don’t have to be a very creative story teller –just talk to them about when you were a child or re-create familiar fairy tales with different characters or settings. Children love familiarity.  Make up stories together. Play story games on long journeys where everyone has a go at a sentence in the story. (You may need some rules about not killing off their siblings’ characters! Yes, you can tell there’s a story there.)

Ask them to draw a picture that tells a story and get them to tell you the sotry when its done. 

6.            Get lots of books.

Use the library – most libraries let children take out many books at a time, and often there are no late return fees. Books can be renewed on-line and particular stories ordered for collection.  Schedule a regular library trip, and let them choose some of their own stories, as well as those you think they will like, and try talking to the librarian to find out what’s new or particularly popular. Take out books for yourself too.

Give a book allowance –it doesn’t have to be big and can be part of, or additional to, any pocket money.

Give subscriptions to a magazine as a birthday present or special treat – there are so many to choose from. Receiving a named copy of a magazine in the post is exciting for children! 

I recently gave my god child a magazine subscription to the National Geographic  for children and it was a huge success. The only issue was her twin sister wanted to read as well at the same time as her….. Great news that the girls wanted to read but did I just add to sibling rivalry I wonder?  Watch out for next blog on siblings and how to promote harmony

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May 09th, 2014

How to use praise effectively - a grammatical approach

Girl and tray

This week I had two different experiences of the use of praise. I heard a psychologist on the radio talking about how it was important to use adjectives rather than verbs when praising children. He said when we use adjectives as in “You are helpful”, rather than “you are helping” this enables children to see themselves as helpful; being helpful becomes part of their identity.

He also suggested that when describing behaviour that we don’t like, negative behaviours, it’s better to use words that distance the action from the child, such as “that was a silly thing to do”. This makes sense at one level. We don’t want our children to see themselves as silly or bad or wrong and they will do that if they hear those labels applied to them. When they think of themselves in those terms it’s not surprising if we get silly, bad or wrong behaviour. We do want our children to take on good qualities as part of their identity, to build strong self-esteem and because a child who sees himself as helpful is likely to behave in a helpful manner.

But there are two problems with this analysis.

The first is that when young children, generally under the age of eight, hear negative labels like naughty, bad or wrong even if they’re carefully being applied by a well-meaning adult to theirbehaviour rather than to them, eg that was naughty, the child often applies it to himself. This is an egocentric stage of his development when everything applies to him. It’s really better to be very wary of using negative labels of any kind around children including ones like shy, disorganised and bossy which we might not think are so terrible. We run the risk of pigeon-holing our children and cutting off possibilities for them to be a different way.

The second problem is that this kind of acknowledgment on its own suffers from lack of credibility. Our children need evidenced-based praise!  I was working with a group of 9 and 10 year olds this week who, when told they were brave or caring or kind immediately denied it! They rejected this form of praise and would not believe it. It was intriguing how uncomfortable the children felt. This often happens as kids get older. A child may hear this kind of praise and doubt it because he is not always a helpful person and it may create pressure for him to be always helpful, which he knows he can’t do. He will know others who are more helpful than he is and discount the well-intentioned words. This is all the more true for a child who has developed a negative identity over time. A child who has grown up hearing a lot of criticism will find it even harder to believe positive words when they come his way.

So what can adults do?  It is more believable and less pressurising if, when you’re praising, you also use verbs “you’re taking your plate over to the dishwasher –you’re helping” to point out what the child is doing that is helpful. Notice and mention what the child is doing right. That way the evidence is before him and he can’t deny it. It is more likely to be believed and taken in at the level of identity. He can see that he can be a helpful person. We call this descriptive praise but it describes the actions of the child and it is an evidenced-based approach which is really effective because it is credible.

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