The Great Reading Book Trap

It’s the start of a brand new academic year and a whole new group of parents are about to send their little ones off to school.  After a few weeks the reading books will come home, and parents will grab the bull by the horns, sit little ones down and read with gusto.  Kids everywhere will be bribed, cajoled, encouraged and receive strong suggestions that they should be enjoying the adventures of Biff and Chip.  After all, the kids have been singing and dancing and messing about in sand and whilst all of that playing has apparently been really good for them and they have apparently been learning from it now, finally, something academic has come through the front door and parents who grew up with swings in concrete playgrounds finally have something they understand.  Real learning!

The conversation at the school gate for first time mothers is consumed with reading book levels.  “What level are you on” is all they can talk about.  On playdates more ambitious mothers will sneak a peak at the reading books of the child who has come to play to see if they are ahead of their little one.  If they are then a sinking feeling appears; maybe there is something wrong with their child, for little Danny is only on level 3 and little Sam is on level 4.  Why isn’t Danny on level 4.  What has Sam got that Danny hasn’t?

The worry starts to eat away at Danny’s mother (I’ve made that name up by the way – the mother of the Danny I know wouldn’t give a sh*t!) so she starts to sit Danny down for longer and longer to read his reading book.  He needs to try harder.  Instead of reading 1 page a night he now has to read 2 or 3.  He has to catch up with Sam.  He can’t get left behind at this stage else what hope is there of getting him in to Tiffins.  Reading is such an important life skill and being able to read affects every area of academia.  Tension starts to arise as Danny doesn’t really want to read more than one page but mum is forcing him to do so.  He starts to get stroppy.  He makes the decision that reading is boring and rubbish.

He is aged 5.

He won’t remember the moment he made that decision when he’s aged 8 or 18 or 38, but he still won’t like reading because his mum’s actions taught him that reading wasn’t fun.

Well done Danny’s mum!

The scientific evidence proves that children who read for pleasure will perform better during their GCSEs and A-Levels.  Whole grades better.

Early readers do not get better exam results than late adopters – scientific fact.

There is definitely no scientific evidence that forcing your child to read quickly in a boring tension filled manner so that they can keep up with Sam affects their GCSE results.  Infact you are more likely to put them off reading; potentially you’re doing more damage than good.

Some kids take to reading a bit slower than others, but it’s not considered to be an issue for your child unless they reach the age of 7 and they are still not reading.

It’s hard if you’re child doesn’t want to read their reading book, or can’t, especially if other children are racing ahead.  You can feel quite helpless.  However there are things you can do.

Firstly you need to change your perception.  Reading isn’t a stand alone skill.  It’s a part of learning the English Language, along with speaking, listening and writing.  Sometimes it helps to think about how foreign languages are taught – no-one learns to just read French!  You learn how to speak and write it too.  It’s the same with English.  If Reading isn’t working right now then work on the other areas.  Literacy is built on language i.e. no child can read or write if they don’t have sufficient talking and listening skills so keep working on those.  But most of all make it fun.  Some examples……

  1.  Tea and cake – go out, have tea and cake and have a darn good chinwag about the price of bread, boyfriends, girlfriends, handbags, Christmas, the price of cake etc.  Anything and everything.  Laugh your head off!  The best way for a child to master the art of conversation is practise, and cake just makes everything better.
  2. Role play – great Actors are people who have mastered language and they have alot to offer to the teaching of any English.  If this really isn’t your bag consider finding a local group where your little one can explore this side of their personality and imagination.  Otherwise pretend to be Batman/Big Bad Wolf/Red Riding Hood and simply play for 30 minutes.  Play is a hugely important factor in language development (that’s why it’s encouraged in the Early Years – it leads to reading – there was a point to it after all!)
  3. Rhyme – in this country (UK) children are taught phonics which they then blend together to make words.  The precursor to phonics is ‘phonological awareness‘ which put simply is being able to hear that words are made up of smaller sounds and you can start working on this from the day a child is born with rhyme and song.  Find hilarious poems and read them.  Roald Dahl’s revolting rhymes are genius.  A child who is phonologically aware will read with ease.  It is the key to reading.
  4. Song – again, phonological awareness.  Karaoke!!!  Of course that’s a reading option too but that can be stressful if your child can’t read the words.  Choose songs that they already know to make it easier for them.  You Tube has millions of Karaoke songs and you can sing such classics as Old MacDonald and Baa Baa Black Sheep as well at Let It Go and Gold! Just today I did a classic 80s version of A Whole New World with my 6 year old.  After hearing how people sang in the 80s she declared that she’s glad she wasn’t alive then.  I’ll work on her!
  5. Find great storytelling – Theatre and Film offer some amazing storytelling and often the kids stuff is better than what’s on offer for adults.  Don’t just stick the kids infront of the tele.  Put them infront of films and programs with brilliant plots, fantastic characters, quality actors and inspirational action.  Watch with your kids and then go into the garden and act out what you’ve just seen.  Draw pictures of the characters.  Get involved.  Theatres are starting to offer more 1 hour shows for the under 7s.  Look for original shows, not just adaptations of 5 minute books because they are likely to be better.  Lots of Theatres offer ‘relaxed’ performances and in all fairness most performances for this age group are informal.
  6. Above all else keep reading to your child, and let them choose the books.  Try to guide them, for example give them a choice of three books so they feel like they’re controlling what they’re reading, but introduce them to the world of stories.  Show them that they can play Pooh Sticks with Pooh and Piglet one night and then be tasting chocolate with Charlie and Willy Wonka the following week.  They can go for a walk with a Mouse in the Deep Dark Wood and then watch Red Riding Hood whip a pistol from her knickers and shoot the big bad wolf the following day!  They can go to new planets, meet dinosaurs, learn about animals, read jokes, meet gods, fight dragons, defeat evil wizards with magic and fly above the clouds all from the comfort of their beds.  Show them why they should learn to read – so that they can experience these adventures for themselves.


Whatever happens over the next few years hold true to the prime objective, no matter what else happens.  It’s not about teaching them to read – it’s about creating an environment in which your child will become a reader for pleasure.  The teachers at school will teach your child the mechanics of how to read.  What they won’t have time to do is teach your child ‘the magic of reading’.   That’s down to you, and arguably it’s a more important job, because it’s your part that will make the difference between a child who develops a life long love of reading or a child who reads because they have to.

So no pressure, but I’m watching, and if I don’t see you slipping into a Batman outfit in the next 15 minutes I’m judging you harshly!


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SARAH CANTRILL is a woman on a mission to inspire every young child to become a reader for pleasure.  She is the Artistic Director & Founder of STORY STORKS, a social enterprise that delivers interactive story workshops to early years children and their grown ups, that help kids to fall in love with stories and develop their early language skills meaning that they have an easier time of learning to read when the time is right.  Infact 80% of the kids who come through STORY STORKS  are right where they should be or ahead in terms of progression through the reading book scheme once they get to school and the ones who are behind are trying hard because they know that it’s worth it – that to read is to unlock a whole world of fun and adventure and learning and imagination and they might take a bit longer to get there but they’re determined that get there they will.






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