It’s 8am and my nine-year old is reading a book. I enjoy that tiny frisson of mother’s pride before casting my mind back to Foundation II and the memorable classroom scene. Ah, yes, I remember it well. The gentle nudge from a neighbouring mum, “How’s Bo’s reading? Any joy?” I began to answer but that kind voice continued, “My Emily is on ORT stage 3. I really don’t know where she get’s it from.” Cue tinkling laugh.
The truth is, despite having no hope of winning, I did not enter into the ‘my child is better at reading than yours competition’ because deep down, I knew Bo would be OK. He liked stories too much. Rather than force my son to read books before he was ready, we shared books together. We read everything from Noah’s Ark to Postman Pat; from Facts about Dinosaurs to Enid Blyton’s Wishing Chair; from Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine to The Guinness Book of Records. Despite Bo’s lack of reading ability, he loved books and it didn’t take too long before he was ready to learn to read for himself.
However, as he progressed through the various stages, he began to lose his momentum, struggling to summon the motivation to even take his book from his school bag, let alone read it. I asked him why he didn’t want to read. “It’s boring,” he said. “I don’t care about Percy.” Evidently, Nick Butterworth’s widely loved Percy the park keeper, did not cut the mustard in our house. So, the next morning we had a chat with his teacher and he chose something different.
Bo and I continued to enjoy our bedtime reading but as Bo developed, his idea of a good story became very different to mine. Having read four chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, me enjoying it immensely, Bo asked if we could read one of his Minecraft books instead. Really? With good grace I closed up the JK Rowling and reached for Clash of the Creepers by Winter Morgan. My hand hardly shook.
As a primary school teacher I have watched too many Early Years’ parents become anxious about their child’s lack of reading skills or worse, too many children in the juniors wrestling through Biff, Chip and Kipper, ORT stage 4. The truth is, children cannot easily be forced to learn to read, they need a reason to read. Whether it’s the back of the Frosties cereal packet, the road signs to Grandma’s house or the Beano – all of these require reading skills and count. One child I worked with had a serious interest in America. Though he struggled with any other piece of writing, show him a newspaper article about Donald Trump, and he became riveted; sounding out the words, desperate to understand the meaning. He had a reason to read.
When I listen to children read and they appear to be struggling, the first question I ask is, “Are you enjoying this book?” If they reply no, we find something else to read. If they say yes, I probe further: why do they like it? Which characters do they like best? What do they think might happen next? What has been their favourite part so far? Once I know they are comprehending and enjoying the story (or the information if it is a fact book) we continue with it. Otherwise, we’ll find something else that is similar but at an easier level.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with a little chap in year 4, who had been struggling through the Oxford Reading Tree scheme for three years! Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a great scheme and it works for many children. But not Thomas. He was so sick of the magic key, he wanted to ram it right… well, never mind, the point is he hated reading and no wonder; he was bored stiff with the subject matter. Together, we perused the great collection of school reading books to look for something that would grab his imagination but whatever he, reluctantly, picked out became a struggle for both of us. Finally, I put the book down and looked at him. “Thomas,” I said. “There must be something you enjoy? Anything? Perhaps something you watch on television or a game you play? Anything?”
“Minecraft,” he replied without any hesitation.
Groaning inwardly, I nodded and forced a smile. “All right then, let’s read Minecraft.”
All names have been changed.
Author’s note: I can recommend both Primary reading schemes: Oxford Reading Tree and Collins Big Cat as I have used them with many children.
Oxford Reading Tree (ORT) : http://www.oxfordreadingtree.com
Collins Big Cat: https://collins.co.uk/category/Primary/English/Collins+Big+Cat/