As parents, we know reading is better for children than watching TV or playing online games, but are we all aware how much better and why schools place such an emphasis on getting kids reading?

With schools closed and normal life suspended for everyone we are all scrabbling around trying to think how best to support our children. Parents are taking on a new role as home educators, even though most of us have very limited experience in this and children and young people may additionally be scared, worried and frustrated.

There are a huge number of digital resources out there, and schools will be sharing links with families on what systems they are using to keep children learning their school subjects. However, there is also a hugely important additional way you can support children academically and emotionally and that is to encourage them to read.

Children who read for pleasure do better in school and in life than children who don’t. There are a number of academic studies showing this, and that’s why schools work so hard to push reading. This holds true, whatever the academic background of the parents and their income. Reading, and reading because you want to, not because it’s a set text, is a super-power, which has more impact on your results in school and salary after school than anything else we know of. Read the research here

Books are also soothing, studies show reading is good for mental health, lowering stress levels and anxiety more than many other activities. (read research on this here) Reading allows you to escape into other worlds, and as you have to build the pictures in your mind of what those worlds look like, smell like and taste like, they do it better than just watching a screen. Having less is somehow more immersive for your brain. It also makes you feel less alone, as James Baldwin put so perfectly:

 “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”

So, how do you get kids to read for pleasure? Forcing them to do something for fun is a tricky one, and although our brains are hard-wired to love stories, reading is a habit that needs to be formed.  Here’s a few ideas we’ve found useful over the years:

  • Younger children will often love hearing a story, if they are still learning to read or building up fluency, they may often enjoy stories that are a bit too hard for them to read themselves so taking turns to read aloud can work well to keep up the pace and allow them to be captured by the story.
  • Finding the right level is important, children will struggle with books that are too hard, and may think others are too babyish for them. Find out how school level books – do they use book band colours, AR or another system.  Your child should know or email their teacher. You can then buy, borrow or swap appropriate books. (think up ways to make this work with social distancing).
  • If you’re not confident reading aloud, you can try downloading Audible Stories, which has lots of stories accessible for free at the moment
  • Allowing children to choose what they read freely – and to dump a book they don’t like once they’ve read a reasonable chunk (maybe two chapters?) as long as they try something new
  • Getting book recommendations online – if you liked x you might love y – Amazon, Goodreads and Wordery are all good at this and have some great value themed packs for teens to keep them going a while.
  • Getting kids hooked on a series works well too, although the quality of literature isn’t always fantastic, it’s the sheer pleasure of binging on one book after another, immersed in a world that you already know that’s so great. Some classics are also series such as the Narnia Books, Just William and Harry Potter as well as more modern one’s like the fantastic Spellslinger.
  • You may need to get more drastic with reluctant teens – talk to them, listen to their ideas and think about what incentives will appeal to them. Once they are hooked, you are away…
  • The hashtag #unitedbybooks has been launched by a number of book charities including Book Trust, Authorfy and Beanstalk as a one stop shop for parents and carers to find great content that authors and illustrators are sharing online. There are lots of activities from drawing, craft and writing activities that are inspired by the creativity that is found in books.
  • #keepkidsreading also has lots of inspiration from authors, bookshops, passionate book people and schools who are posting recommendations and ideas on how to support reading in isolation
  • Show an interest in their reading, ask them about what they are reading, if they like something, why and even ask for recommendations so it’s an interest you share
  • Children who struggle with reading will need books that are appealing to their interests and emotional and social needs but with a simpler, more accessible text. Badger Learning and Barrington Stoke both have a wide range of appropriate resources.
  • Find ways to swap books with others – while we are all stuck at home, we can still share books if we are super-careful.  Wipe books down, pop in a bag and leave on the doorstep.  Ask friends to wait a day or so to make sure everything is safe to use. – see government advice here

Maintaining a routine that in some way replaces the school day is going to be a huge challenge for us all, parents and children alike. Adding some reading into that is crucial.  It might start as another task, but will hopefully become a treat, just as much as a movie, or some time out on the x-box. Fiction was once the only way of accessing storytelling before movies, games and youtube were invented. Although we still have these important digital escapes, the original really is the best.