In last week’s blog post, In last week’s blog post, Shireen Babul Lalji discussed the importance of book choice for children and how it helps to build reading motivation. This week, she talks about what parents and carers can do to help their little ones choose books they'll enjoy and, in doing so, fall in love with reading.
The secret is to curate your child’s reading, not dictate it.
Go to the library, book shop or charity shop together and make a special day of it. Choose books separately and then share your choices over a hot chocolate and a cookie afterwards.
Make the time to read the books that your child recommends because if you respect their choices and recommendations, they will offer you the same in return. You might even find out that they are great at choosing books that you never would have picked up!
At home, ask your child to share what they are reading.
You could rate the last three books they read in preference of action, or main character likeability factor, or which book would make the best movie. You might ask them to recommend a book for a birthday present and trust their opinion. Even if the book is a graphic novel that you think is below their reading level, show interest and respect their recommendation.
This builds trust in your reading relationship and shows that you care about their choice and opinions.
Children are more likely to read a book recommended by a peer than take an adult’s recommendation. Allow children to share books with friends, if it comes back juice stained and dogeared, at least you know it was read and loved!
During the lockdown in 2020 and 2021, we often would exchange books with other families. The children got excited about curating these book collections for their friends. Build on momentum such as this by encouraging book exchanges at school or at playdates.
Many adults worry about children choosing books that are too easy for them. To this I will say that while we adults are all capable of reading War and Peace, Moby Dick and One Hundred Years of Solitude, we don’t read these types of books all the time, do we? We read magazines, we read newspapers, we read blogs online and even cheerful holiday reads on the beach.
Allow children to choose the books that make them happy. Sometimes these might be books they have read already or are below their reading level. I promise that if you do this, they will challenge themselves the next time if the books are easily accessible.
In Early Years education, there is a concept known as an invitation to play. This is an activity left out in an inviting manner, with all the resources, designed to entice the child to participate.
Why not try an invitation to read? Leave books on coffee tables, maybe on a step, next to the TV, in the kitchen or even in the loo! We just cannot predict when a child will choose to read, so give them plenty of options at home.
Choice of when and where to read will also allow children to take ownership of their reading. I find that many more children take books off my desk to read than off the shelf because it makes them feel like they are borrowing a book special enough to go on the teacher’s table.
This family routine never has to change. As they get older, involve children in the choice of books and even if you never would have chosen that option, read it together. Respect their choice and you might find that you enjoy the book in the end. The next time, it will be your turn to pick, so it all evens out and everyone is valued.
Children need space and time to choose their own books, develop their own reading tastes and ideas and share their ideas with peers. This will build their identity, enhance their self-confidence and well-being and create lifelong readers who find joy, solace and connection between the pages of a book because they want and choose to, not because they have to.
So go ahead, choose your own reading adventure and encourage your child to do the same!
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.