Help, I want to read to my child, but…

…but why should I bother?

…but my reading isn’t so good.

….but I’m not confident about it.

….but I feel like a fool.

…but they can already read on their own.

…but I don’t have the time.

Okay, so these are some of the things that I’m most often asked about. So let’s see if we can tackle them.

Let’s start off by looking at why you should bother. Firstly, your child will do better in school. There’s loads of proof of this, and I’ve put some links in at the end if you need them. Trust me, if your child is a better reader who knows lots of words, then they’ll do better in all their other subjects at school. They’ll even earn more money when they’re older. They’ll learn quicker, and be better at explaining things, so they are less likely to get into trouble. Let’s face it, we all know that happy children do better in school, and when they read more they do better, so they’re happier. That’s just common sense!

There are loads of other good reasons too, but I’m sure you don’t want to wade through all the paperwork. You know it’s worth doing, that’s why you are taking the time to read this. Thank you! You can ask me any questions you like in the comments or by email. Get started by taking a look at the great stuff they have on the BookTrust’s website. They know all the reasons why you should make time to read. The site will give you all the facts, and lots of reading ideas and help. 

Right – next one. “My reading isn’t so good.” Let’s ditch some baggage here –  you’re not alone. Tens of thousands of people have trouble reading for one reason or another. That’s not going to stop you being an excellent parent (or grandparent, or auntie, or uncle, or carer, or foster parent… You get the idea!) Remind yourself how hard it was learning how to read when you were little. Now it’s hard for this child too. That’s not because you found it difficult, it’s because it is hard! Learning to read is like trying to solve a really hard jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box. You can be that picture. You can help them fill in the gaps. Learn with your child. Pretend they are teaching you. Most of all, if you really do find it hard (or you know someone who does) there is help out there. Go to your library, ask a friendly teacher, look on the BookTrust website. Most of all, don’t hide it. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide. You can make a difference to your own life, and your child’s at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.

Next up – confidence. I’d love to wave a magic wand and give you reading confidence, but the only thing that will give you that is practice. Like everything you’ve ever done in life, you were probably not brilliant from day one. I’m guessing you made a right mess of things like driving, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t let that stop you. Stick at it. That child in your life really doesn’t care. They love you and will understand that you’re really trying to do something good for both of you. 

Feeling like a fool? Excellent. Me too. Nothing wrong with that, and who cares? Your child doesn’t care. Do you seriously think a small child would stop you from making silly voices, or doing animal noises? If your child is feeling embarrassed or awkward about their reading, then by playing the fool you take the pressure off. Reading then stops being a boring lesson, and starts being fun. Honestly, the bigger the fool you are, the better you’re getting at it. If you’re embarrassed in front of the one small person who will love you with all of their heart no matter what you do, then it’s time to think about that. Be fun, be silly, be memorable. Show them that all that really matters in the world is making them laugh and making them happy. Everything else can fit in after that, and a relationship built on laughter will last their whole lives. Your child will never forget you being silly, so go ahead and enjoy it. If a person can’t be silly in front of their own child, then there is something seriously wrong with the world!

They already know how to read? Really? I’m heading towards 50 and I’m not finished learning to read yet. I come across new words all the time and I often need the whole rest of the page to help me understand the new word. Sure, your child has learnt the basics. They can sound out the words, and probably know a number of tricks that they’ve been taught to help them to say the word, but that’s only the start of reading. I can convincingly “sound out” the whole of a German newspaper – but I haven’t a clue what 90% of it is saying. I haven’t had the help to learn what the words actually mean. Most of the words we know we have learnt by accident. I mean, I doubt anyone gave you a lesson about what a table was. I’m sure you didn’t go to infant school and have a day when tables and chairs were explained to you. No, you just heard your parents call them that lots of times, and that’s how you learnt those words. Reading aloud lets your child do that with words that they might not find by accident. New and exciting words like unicorn and castle and fire breathing dragon. Words that aren’t normally dropped into their lives. Hearing words is almost as important to reading as seeing them. Hearing you say them out loud will let your child picture the word in their head, and this helps them to understand it. Later on it will help them to use it themselves. Learning how to understand letter shapes and make them into words is just the start of the lifelong adventure that is reading. Oh, and no one is ever too old for a bedtime story! Ever. 

Here’s a big one – I don’t have the time? Really? I don’t want to be mean here but… Really? What happens at bedtime? Is that game or dvd going to give them a better life? How about that that soap opera, or reality show? I’m not pretending to be the perfect mother here, my daughter fell asleep to the Home and Away theme tune every afternoon, and I’ve thanked any god that will listen for daytime cartoons, but I still read to her. She’s 23 now and I still read to her at times. We’re not embarrassed by it, that’s our normal. I missed our bedtime stories when she was about 12 and didn’t want them anymore and she instead listened to story CDs. Bedtime story time was the most wonderful thing. All of the stresses of the day were left at the bedroom door and it was just us and the story. Just us two against a world filled with magical creatures, talking animals, pirates, rescues and escapes. The memories of those stories fills me with joy, and I know her dad feels the same. For him it was a very special time because the stories and the telling of them gave both of them a bond that can’t be broken. They chose the story together and there are some that he can still recall because they were favourites that were read many times. Those moments, those cosy hours, can never be taken from them. 

So what are you really waiting for? Not enough books? The library is a treasure trove of free books. They can borrow almost as much as they can carry. We can all make excuses for why we don’t do things. I’ve done it. We all do it. The excuses will always be there, but their childhood won’t. They are grown up in the blink of an eye and your relationship with them as adults is deeply affected by what you do in these younger years. 

It doesn’t matter where you are, read a story. If you don’t read aloud for just a bit of time each day, you’re not only denying your child something that can make their life better, but you’re denying yourself something wonderful. In a world where we are all rushing around, running too fast towards the next thing on the list, take time out for you. Take time out for all of you. Not just because it will improve a child’s education or their vocabulary, but because it will make them happy. It will make them happier people who cope better in life. Oh, and it will make you happier too. 

So, when all around you is rush and chaos – stop, get quiet, get comfy, breathe deep, and open a book. 

Dawn Finch is a children’s writer and librarian who specialises in reader development. She is President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and a member of the Society of Authors, Children’s Writers and Illustrators Committee. 

www.dawnfinch.com

@dawnafinch

BookTrust is a charity that works hard to bring books and reading to the lives of all, and to improve the quality of life for all our children. You can find out more about them on their website

Share your ideas, stories and thoughts about the importance of making time to read by using social media and the hashtag #timetoread and following @booktrust 

You can find some research and guidance about reading for pleasure and sharing reading here and here and here.



Images copyright BookTrust. 

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In Remembrance

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I wanted to post something for Remembrance Day, and found the whole process to be far more upsetting than I anticipated – but I suppose that is the point.

About a decade ago I was caught up in researching family history and filling in a few gaps in the family tree. It was a well known story in my family that my grandfather’s brothers – William and Joseph – left England in 1912 to seek their fortunes as opal miners in Australia. The family had a mining history, and the boom in opal mining in Australia seemed a golden opportunity for the boys.
It was, and they did find opals and wrote home excitedly about them, and how they would be home soon. Sadly it was easier to get to Australia, than it was to get back and the boys struggled to find passage. They decided that their best way of finding a way home was to join up and serve in the army – they became ANZACs and wrote home about how they would fight for their country and then come home with the opals. They were keen to due their duty and their letters home told their family all about how they would soon be home.

War broke out in 1914 and the boys found themselves posted together and shipped out – to Africa. Not quite home yet but they were together and stayed together as they completed their training. Three years later and they were still together and on another troop ship, this time heading for France.

I can’t help but think how excited they must have felt in that cramped troop ship as they discovered they were heading to France – almost home, just a short sail across the water….

They never made it home.

Both boys were killed on the Somme. Joseph suffered horrendous injuries that forced the field surgeons to remove his legs. William’s trench was hit with massive shelling, and he died instantly. Joseph died a few days later at the Front of infection and blood loss. The opals were never found.

I discovered most of this information from the records held by the National Archive Office of Australia. My grandfather gave me permission to search and the NAA respectfully warned me that the information I found might be distressing.
They were not wrong.

Their records are extensive and detailed and I found not only the hand-written reports of the field doctors and the Australian Red Cross, but scans of the bloodstained tags from their bodies.
It was during this research that I accidentally stumbled upon the fact that the boys had been misidentified as each other. Somehow their field identification had been mixed up, one brother was taller than the other, and by that time in a different battalion. They were still close, but briefly separated on the Front. Up to that point they had always been together and so eye witnesses had mixed them up. Their injuries meant that identification became confused.

This meant that the boys were buried under the wrong stones in the Somme cemetery, and I was contacted by the War Graves Commission to ask if the family would like this corrected. I thought about this for a long time, and decided not to tell my grandfather. It would have meant a lot of form-filling and re-dedication of the stones and I didn’t want to put him through that. Instead I kept it to myself.

My grandfather loved his big brothers to the end and remembered them as brave boys who fought and died for their family. It was enough to remember them, and to know that they were still together. I never told him about all this, and I don’t regret that decision. I wanted to leave his memories as they were.

This is what Remembrance Day is about. It should not be about glorifying war, and never about an enforced public statement via poppy display, it’s about taking the time to remember. For me it’s about knowing that a great sadness still sits in my family’s past, and the past of all of us, and that it’s important to take some time to remember. It should always be about remembering that in cold, silent earth lie thousands upon thousands of young men who died for what they believed in. They died for their families, and we should not demean that or sully it with political statements or warmongering bias or by hurling statements around about it being meaningless. It wasn’t meaningless to them and their families. Two boys, trying to get home.

My grandfather’s brothers lie side by side, as close in death as they were in life, forever intertwined in earth, bone and name. Gone, but not forgotten.

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