Monday, February 03, 2014

E Is For Encouraging Our Children To Love Reading


Three years ago, before I moved back to Phokeng, I was heavily involved with READ South Africa, an organisation formed by local writers, editors, publishers and librarians to encourage South Africans to read locally published books and to be well-read.

I mostly worked on the Facebook page, updating it, initiating and monitoring discussions on various book-related issues.

One of the issues that came up was how we could encourage our children to love reading. How do you foster that love for books, so it's not only something that they do because they have nothing else going on, but something that they actively seek as part of their life moving forward?

Many people who "liked" the Facebook page gave suggestions, which I collected at the time, hoping to write an article, maybe even an ebook, on the subject.

Unfortunately, the article never happened, as my priorities soon changed and I did not use Facebook for the next couple of years. Still, the material remained in my laptop, and I've now found the opportunity to publish it.

Here are the suggestions on what you can do to encourage your children to love reading:

1.    Lead by example

“As adults let your children see you reading and read to your children - always make time for reading, even if it is only a paragraph before you go to sleep. I know it is time consuming and we all have huge demands on our time but it is so worth it,” says Marguerite Winton, a parent.

Marguerite says she got in the habit of reading something every single day, despite having five children and an extremely busy life.

2.   Select books to offer to your child very carefully

Many children don’t like to read because they do not enjoy the books that are being offered to them. Sipho Hlongwane, a writer, urges parents, teachers and librarians to introduce useful and relevant books to their children. “I can remember the first library book I ever took out. It was about a rodeo, and was full of pictures. I never really lost my love of reading and books after that,” he says.

He notes that the subject matter was what hooked him. “Had someone tried to foist something like Macbeth on me at that stage, when I was around 6 years old, I have no doubt that I'd have hated reading forever afterwards.”

3.   Find ways to deal the competition from other entertainment sources

Many parents and teachers say that one of the reasons young people don’t want to read is because they feel they don’t have to. They have TV, computer and video games, the Internet, the iPod and many other devices that provide them with entertainment without having to read.

One of the ways parents can deal with this challenge is to designate reading hour in the  home, where all the electronic devises have to be shut down and the family is encouraged to read or talk about books.

Helen Moffett, an author and editor, suggests the more drastic measure of getting rid of the family TV, in order to take away the distractions and create a book-centric environment.

“Listen to the news and sports matches on the radio. And if financially feasible, give each child a bookshelf of their own and help them stock it. From about ten onwards, encourage them to spend pocket money on second-hand books.”

Ingrid Andersen agrees with Helen. “I restricted my son to one hour of television a week up until he was in high school - and read to him every night until he was reading well enough to read for himself,” she says.
Young people reading at launch of Jabavu library in Soweto
Maybe it's because I love gadgets about as much as I love books, but I believe that with effort, tech does't have to be a barrier to reading. The photo above is my version of the happy marriage between books and tech, not just because of what you see, but because of the cirumstances around which the photo was taken. 

I worked as a business IT journalist in those days (and had to push to attend the event, because it was not really a big IT news story). My main story for my employer focussed on the tech in the library. It so happened I was reviewing a cellphone handset that was just about to be released , and used it to take all the photos and videos that day. And when you boil it down to the basics, this story was about books and reading and that's what brought everyone together.

4.    Make getting books easy

There are many ways that parents and teachers can make access to books young people want to read easier. These include allocating a certain amount of money for books for the children.

If the children know that they have access to this money, and that they can get books they like, they are more likely to want to buy books, as compared to having to beg for money each time and sometimes being told that there isn’t any. Of course, rules of proper budgeting also apply.

Helen also suggests getting the kids library cards, making a weekly trip to the library a family outing, creating reading spaces and times in the home ( for e.g round the table after meals, every family member with their own book, after going to bed, but before lights out), and ensuring that the children have proper reading lights.

We can also help encourage children (from disadvantaged backgrounds who struggle to access books) to love reading by donating books to organisations that support them. That helps us spread the love of books a bit further than our own homes, schools and communities.

Please support Biblionef SA's 1 million books campaign
o donate storybooks to children’s organisations with an educational focus that do not have storybooks. - See more at:
o donate storybooks to children’s organisations with an educational focus that do not have storybooks. - See more at:
5.    Read for your children from an early age

“Read to your kids every single day. Make sure their relatives and babysitters read to them.  Let them see you reading. Best of all, let them catch you laughing uproariously at something funny you're reading,” says Helen.

David Robert Lewis says we should not forget that many a family has a literacy problem and not all parents can read well for themselves, never mind reading for their children.

“Sometimes teachers and librarians assume that mums and dads do read, and enjoy reading, when that’s not always the case,” he says. He suggests that we also encourage teens in the family to read to their siblings to work around this problem.

6.    Nurturing your child’s imagination

Siya Nondumo, a writer, suggests introducing children to comics to help them launch their reading adventure.  He says his love for reading started from an early age, when his mother bought a box full of old books, and in it, were a stack of comic books. These included Archie, Asterix and Obelix comics.

“As the years passed, so did my imagination develop, and I no longer needed illustrations to keep me interested when I read and I ended up gobbling large quantities of books- the bigger the book, the better,” he says.

7.    Pay special attention to reluctant readers

Find out why the child is a reluctant reader/learner. Is he/she struggling with the material, or could it be that the books that are being offered are just boring?

8.    Fun at the library

It was suggested that librarians find ways to make the library interesting place for children and parents alike by ensuring that the library is seen as an integral part of community resources, not just a place you go when you have to.

For example, librarians can encourage local authors/authors on tour make stops at the local library and allow them to use the venue to launch their books. Story hour also encourages parents to bring their kids to the library, even if they perhaps start out doing it for the respite they get while their kids are involved in the activity.

Storytime at Jabavu Library in Soweto. (Pre-schoolers brought by their schools)

An example of community involvement is our local library in Kensington, Johannesburg, which has a huge urban food garden that was started and maintained by community members who may have food security issues.  The food garden has led to a few gardening workshops for those who want to join the group, and a spurt of interest in gardening books among people I know in the community.

Anyhoo, I'm sure there are many more tactics that parents, teachers, writers, publishers and librarians have used to foster the love of reading. Please share some of what you've used in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Caveat Emptor: I did not interview the people offering suggestions on a one-on-one basis. Also, their occupations may have changed since we had the discussion on Facebook. However, their suggestions stood the test of time and I'm honoured that there is still an opportunity for me to share their wisdom.

This post is part of VA Tips and Tricks Blogging Challenge


roche said...

Thank you for all your suggestions here! I don't read to my daughter everyday but only when she asked for it, though it happens almost every other day anyway. I also limit her ipad and TV time up to 3hours (combined) a day (i know it's hard but I try as much as I can). Haven't tried going to the library for a tour yet but will surely do. She's 3.5 years old and has a lot of activities in mind. My son who is 16 just recently realized he loves reading when he read Percy Jackson. Hopefully he'll get to that habit, too. :)

Shawn said...

I love all of your great ideas on how to get a child to love reading. One of the easiest is to read aloud to your child, their imaginations just go wild and if asked they might have imagined a whole different plot then the one of the book, add characters, etc. My kids loved story time and even as they got older they still seemed to end up in the living room during story time.

Unknown said...

All the suggestions are good ones, but for those who may not have funds for books, encouraging kids to make their own is a possibility. Playing let's pretend with little ones also encourages them to develop their imaginations and mom and dad can write the kids' stories down on the back of scrap paper and kids can draw pictures to illustrate the stories. This is also a method to encourage kids to learn to read in mother tongue if mom and dad write the story down in their own langaue and read the "book" to kids before bedtine or just before naptime.

Damaria Senne said...

@roche - congratulations. Sounds like you succeeded with your 16 year old. Now onto your three and half year old. It's a rewarding job, isn't it?
@Shawn - Storytime is a wonderful time for the parents and children. At least, it was for me.

Pamel Kauffman - I love the idea of playing pretend, making up a story as you go along. Not having enough books for story time was one of my motivations for posting stories online. See, books were sorta expensive for me to buy them regularly for Baby. Then there was the issue of whether the ones that were available were relevant for us. So I thought maybe other parents are going through the same thing and wouldn't it be lovely if they could just find cheap/free stories they could just print and use for bedtime. Thus Storypot and the Free African Tales were born.

Gaynor Paynter said...

Ah... I have struggled with this I will be honest. I wish I'd read it 10 years ago!!

Damaria Senne said...

@Gaynor - Thank you Gaynor. I wish I'd written the post for you then, especially because I think your issues fall under 7, so it's not for lack of trying on your part.

Sherry Ellis said...

It is so important to foster the love of reading in children! Thanks for your tips to encourage it.

Damaria Senne said...

My pleasure, Sherry.

susan mershon said...

This blog is timely. My husband and youngest son are part of a 30 day reading challenge being put on by the Phoenix Library. My youngest will be 5 and he loves to "read" books. It is a wonderful thing that the 2 of them can do together. Great post!

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