The diversity in entertainment available to children nowadays is nothing short of - well - stupefying. The range of options would have been, simply, unimaginable during our childhoods.
Like the good parents we try to be, we do our best to provide our off-springs with all the wealth and diversity that there is out there. (Our dear little children will, equally, do their bit by pestering like mad...)
With so many alternatives, sitting down and reading to children is becoming less popular, and less of an obvious thing to do. With pressures on our time, unheard of in any generation before ours, reading aloud to the children is falling by the wayside, especially once children are able to read for themselves.
Yet, the truth is that reading to children is one of the simplest and, without doubt, cheapest ways, in which you can ensure academic success for your children. Forget decades of expensive tutoring... Simply, read to your children.
You don’t believe me? Here’s why:
With all the all singing and dancing entertainment children have access to in their own homes nowadays, the need to keep themselves occupied mentally once school is out has diminished dramatically.
Reading is a mental effort. Those who are not so good at it, will not enjoy it and will therefore NOT make the effort. (Which, of course, will lead to their reading skills becoming weaker still in comparison to the smarty pants little girls in the class who will spend the afternoon with their nose in a book!)
Well-meaning parents may try to ensure that their children read for the requisite amount of time – 30 minutes or so – per day. In that time a child may read anything from 3 to 20 pages. This means that a 160 page book will take forever for a weaker reader to get through.
Weaker readers will therefore lose interest in the plot, which in turn turns them off even more. (Imagine watching Sherlock in 5-minute episodes for weeks.)
However, at school children will be required to write stories in the lower years, then composition pieces of ever greater sophistication, until they eventually progress to the need for producing complex analytical essays.
How will that be possible, I ask you, for a child who has not been read to from the age of 6 onwards?
How is he supposed to be able to have the imagination, vocabulary and wealth of knowledge necessary to do this, when he plays action games on the play station in the afternoons, and perhaps football the rest of the time?
Even an average reader may struggle to bring forth the vocabulary choices necessary to write a really good descriptive piece about- say - a jungle experience, or a deserted house.
A child, who has had the luxury of being exposed to stories aurally, where he had to use his or her imagination to conjure up the events; a child who has been presented with the wealthy vocabulary of stories, several probably way beyond his own actual reading skills, will have a decided advantage here.
Imagination needs to be exercised. Like a muscle it will weaken with disuse.
If children are forever given interactive games, their imagination is never engaged and becomes weak.
If children are always reading books they can read easily – which they, logically, will choose when given the chance – how will their vocabulary expand?
If they are never confronted with experiences outside their usual choices – how will they develop the wealth of knowledge required to write well?
So next time you come to the choice, between spending a while reading aloud to your child or them playing another game, remember this. You do not have to read a different book. By sharing their choice of reading when they are slightly older, your contribution by reading a number of pages aloud to them, will speed them up in the book, enabling them to read far more books than they would be able to on their own.
They are also far more likely to ask for the meanings of words they do not know readily, when they have you sitting right next to them.
Remember also to give books as gifts for birthdays and other festive occasions, and when you do that, take as much care choosing an interesting book for your child and you to share as you would, choosing his or her clothes.
The scope of children’s literature today is unparalleled. There is so much to read, with a wealth of subject matter. There is no better way to “give our children the world”, than to help them accompany us on these adventures.
Agnes Holly has worked for more than 25 years in education ranging from university to nursery, and everything in-between. She is a qualified SEN teacher and has worked extensively with children who have dyslexia and ADHD. She has additional practical experience in the form of five of her own children aged between 6 and 23.