How many times have you read a book that was recommended on a book list, or suggested by a friend? You might be likely to choose a book that is laid out invitingly on the table at the bookshop. Maybe you are part of a book club and choose books together. Maybe you read an article and wanted to find out more, so you researched a book on the same topic, or maybe you love a certain author and are desperate to find the latest book by the same person. You might have even seen someone engrossed in a book on the train or bus and wanted to get the same book!
These are all great options for choosing books, right? If you are a full-blown adult, that is.
However, we often think that children and their book tastes are not sophisticated enough to let them choose books by themselves, even if they are good readers. We assume that we need to stretch their abilities, get them to read at or above their level and prevent them from reading books that are too easy for them. Out of good intentions, we assume we need to choose books for them.
Even toddlers feel a sense of honour and responsibility if they are given the space to choose their bedtime story. If a whole shelf of books is presented to an 18 month old, you might be there until the next morning waiting for a choice, but by presenting two or three books and allowing the child to choose, this gives the child their first experience of leading their own reading journey. Yes, of course, they will choose The Gruffalo six nights in a row (I might be speaking from experience here)…
You may say the words in your sleep, while on the bus and maybe at your work meeting, but you will have given your child the first moments of reading ownership. The act of reading the same story over and over (and over and over) actually has wonderful benefits, but that is a story for another day.
Children who have this ownership will embrace the idea of reading for pleasure and they will love reading way more than children who are forced to read. It’s like throwing children into the water and expecting them to love swimming! Sharing beach toys, having fun splashing in the water, and spotting fish is more likely to create a water lover. They will see that the water is fun and this is what will motivate them to want to swim. It is very much the same with reading. Allow children the joy of choosing the story they want to read, and they will see the fun in reading. Ownership matters.
So how can we as parents encourage book choice and help our children build reading motivation? We’ll share practical tips and advice next week in the second part of this blog.
Shireen Babul Lalji is a Mum and a Reading and Literacy Specialist across Primary School year groups. She is an advocate for diverse literature in schools and has designed curriculum and filled school libraries to reflect this. She is a Senior Leader in Primary Education and has worked in Education for over 20 years, mostly based in London. She also writes for children and recently won second place in the FAB Faber and Faber prize for diverse writing.