It’s an age-old dilemma – how can we get ALL parents to engage with their children’s reading? It’s also one of the most common questions I am asked by teachers when I talk in schools about reading. As schoolteachers we work jolly hard to teach children to read and to foster their love of reading. We know that learning to read is a daunting task for many children and we also know the hugely positive impact that parents have upon this journey.
It can be frustrating and even demoralizing when some parents fail to get on-board with home reading despite our best efforts to encourage them. My advice is to buckle up for the ride because there is no magic answer to this problem but here are three top tips for you to reflect upon…
1) Let’s consider why parents are resisting
Why don’t they read with their child? Is it because they won’t or because they can’t? Think about the parents as you think about the children – as individuals. Imagine them all sitting in a circle around you as you ask them outright ‘Why don’t you read with your child?’ Imagine each parent answering you completely honestly with their ‘Ah, but…’ reason:
‘I do read with him sometimes, but I can’t often afford the time, I’m working until late.’
‘I do try my best, but I’m not good at reading myself.’
‘I would hear her read more, but I’ve got to confess I find it so boring.’
‘I’d like to, but what’s the point? I don’t know how to help her when she gets stuck.’
‘I would love to read with him, but he doesn’t want to read with me!’
These are all real examples of the issues that prevent parents from engaging with reading. We need to understand, acknowledge and be sympathetic to these reasons. Even with my background as a teacher and a literacy expert, there have been occasions when, as a parent, I too have fallen foul of being too busy and too tired to engage properly with my children’s reading.
2) Know that educating parents is key
Most parental resistance could be overcome if parents absorbed the enormity of the impact they have on their children’s success. It isn’t enough to simply tell parents that reading is important, we must ensure that parents have understood why reading is important and how important it is.
One way of doing this is to show the ‘maths’ of reading practice. Use an infographic, diagram or chart to visually demonstrate that the child who doesn’t read at home might get around 120 minutes per week of reading practice at school (depending on age and school routines) compared with the child who reads at home and therefore gets that 120 minutes at school plus an additional 210 minutes at home (30 minutes a day). Ask parents to think about that additional 210 minutes per week multiplied over a year – that works out at roughly 76000 minutes more reading practice for children that read regularly at home. Now ask them which children they think become confident, mature, and happy readers.
Another tip when educating parents about the importance of reading is to communicate clearly with strong messages. Think about the style of language you are using at your presentation, on your website or in your leaflets. Don’t shy away from stating facts like:
3) We need to change our mindset
There was once a time when I was frustrated that I felt responsible for educating the parents as well as the children. I had become a teacher to help children, not adults, and it felt like a burden that there were some parents who wouldn’t or couldn’t engage with reading. It felt like an uphill struggle to spend my time planning and preparing information about reading that often appeared to fall on deaf ears.
As I matured and became a more experienced teacher it dawned on me that my job was not just to educate the children in my class. My job was to be a teacher, a role model and a source of support for my local community, both to children and adults. It is our job as teachers – in fact, it is our duty to do the best we can to help parents to engage with reading. We need to offer viable solutions to their issues and clear the path for them to enjoy their children’s reading journey. This inevitably means we need to spend more time and more care reviewing, developing and delivering information about reading.
If we don’t see immediate success, we must be patient and persevere:
Use this checklist to think about the provision you currently offer to engage and educate parents, and the areas you might need to develop:
How do you engage parents with reading?
Share your tips and ideas in the comments below :-)
This little story raises an interesting question when thinking about the balance of how much differentiation and support to give children in classroom activities…
In my Reception class, for Literacy lessons, the children fell quite naturally into two ability groups – those who were working on reading and writing CVC words (dog/mat/hen) and those who were just slightly more confident and could now read and write longer words (spin/clock/tent).
For our daily segmenting session I taught the children in their respective groups so I could support them at the level they were working at. Both groups had the same activity – I called out whole words and the children listened, repeated the word slowly, recognised the individual sounds and wrote them down (a spelling dictation) e.g. Me: ”The word is pin"; Children: “p-i-n”.
The children in the ‘CVC group’ were given lots of CVC words; the children in the ‘longer word’ group were given lots of longer words.
Soon all the children were very good at the routine and the process; their ears had developed to hear the sounds, they were remembering which letter shapes to write down and their letter formation was also greatly improved.
I recognised that it was the correct time to take the content of the session to the next level. So the next time we gathered together for our segmenting routine I told the ‘CVC group’ that I was very impressed and they were ready to try and work out some longer words. I dictated ‘spin’, then ‘milk’, then ‘jump’.
What do you think they did? (No, they did not get up and start jumping!)
By trying to support my children at their CVC level I had actually engrained in them a 3-beat pattern so now they tried to make the longer words fit into 3-beats, ‘sp-i-n’, ‘m-i-lk’, ‘j-u-mp’.
Not good! They had lost the ability to hear each and every sound (s-p-i-n, m-i-l-k, j-u-m-p).
I had to ‘un-teach’ the 3-beat trap before we could move forwards.
The moral of the story: ALWAYS include longer words, much longer words, in every example, in every lesson – even if it is just one word which you model, with no help or expectation from the children other than to show them that longer words exist and we ‘hear’ the sounds through them in the same way.
Here is some useful info about how to teach tripod pencil grip (commonly recognised as the most effective way to hold a pencil):
Spoken words can be split up into smaller sounds, of which the smallest units of identifiable sounds in a word are called phonemes. For example, the word ‘peach’ can be split into the phonemes /p//ee//ch/. (A phoneme is expressed within slash marks /-/). The phonemes are then represented by written symbols to create an alphabetic code writing system.
In the English spoken language around 44 phonemes can be identified but there are only 26 letters in the alphabet with which to represent the phonemes in the written code. Thus, not only single letters but also groups of letters are used to represent the 44+ phonemes for the English written code – known as The Alphabetic Code. A letter or letter group can be referred to as a grapheme.
If only the code was as simple as a letter, or a group of letters, representing any one particular phoneme, then the teaching and learning of the code would be speedy and straightforward – that is, one grapheme for each of the 44 phonemes. Unfortunately, in the English Alphabetic Code over 180 main graphemes are used to represent the 44+ phonemes. For example, nine different graphemes represent the /ai/ phoneme in common words: ‘a’ as in table, ‘ai’ as in train, ‘ay’ as in tray, ‘ae’ as in sundae, ‘a-e’ as in plane, ‘ey’ as in survey, ‘eigh’ as in eight, ‘ea’ as in great and ‘aigh’ as in straight. Whilst some of these variations are very rare, none of the words themselves are rare.
Our job as teachers is to make this complicated Alphabetic Code as simple and straightforward as possible – working from the simple to the complex in systematic steps with direct teaching methods and materials. To do this, we need good subject knowledge and we need to be organised with how we understand The Alphabetic Code ourselves; how we teach it and how we support learners in learning it. If we are teaching in a school situation we also need to be able to work in partnership with parents, sharing the information and the teaching steps with them.
The image above is part of an English Alphabetic Code chart available to download for free from www.alphabeticcodecharts.com They have a huge variety available in different formats - with pictures, without pictures, with teaching notes, large versions for wall displays, small versions for desktop references.
the route of everything
Abigail Steel is an Education Consultant for Early Years and Primary (KS1 & 2) Language and Literacy. Her specialist area is Synthetic Phonics.