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 :-)
Abigail Steel is an Education Consultant for Early Years and Primary (KS1 & 2) Language and Literacy. Her specialist area is Synthetic Phonics.
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