As an English teacher and an avid bookworm, I’ve fantasised about reading to a brood of my own children since I was small. I absolutely love the faces of my school kids as I read them a tale; their faces come to life, they cover their eyes at the scary parts, they dive under their desks, they hold hands, they belly-laugh, they scream, shout, whoop and clap.
It is the most fascinating and heart-warming thing to watch children react to a storyline, to a character, to an injustice, to a dilemma.
When my son was born, I suddenly panicked. What if he doesn’t like books? Boys, notoriously, are harder to encourage to read. I spend many a year persuading teenage boys that reading is, in fact, cool, while girls happily bed-down in the library and fill their rucksacks with the latest series.
My Bookish Background
‘My dad once poured grenadine onto a sanitary towel in a desperate attempt to teach me about periods.’
I was raised by a man, and there were many things Dad couldn’t do very well.
Plaits were a no-no. I looked like I’d been dragged through forest-land by wolves in most of my school photos.
Talking about ‘womenly things’ – awful. He once poured grenadine onto a sanitary towel in a desperate attempt to teach me about periods.
But one of the things I’ll be thankful to him forever for, is reading to me in bed.
My early memories consist of ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ and ‘Farmer Duck’ and my later ones of ‘The Famous Five’ and the entirety of the Roald Dahl collection. He bought every story to life, varying his voices from cackling, high-pitched aunts to booming, Northern headmasters.
We played a game where he’d miss out or mispronounce a word to see if I’d notice and I revelled in correcting him. Before I went to sleep, he’d jokingly threaten me in Dahl-esque language, ‘lights off, or I’ll swangle your flibberts!’ and I’d reply accordingly, until I’d laughed myself to sleep.
‘Before I went to sleep, he’d jokingly threaten me in Dahl-esque language, “lights off, or I’ll swangle your flibberts!”’
Don’t assume because your kid’s double digits that they don’t want to be read to.
Encouraging a love of reading isn’t too tricky, and there are lots of things you can do to inspire a love of literature. It’s also a winner if dads are looking for more ways to bond with your child. It’s often easy for us mums, and we can sometimes be a little guilty of ‘maternal gate-keeping’, snuggling our babes to our bosoms, deciding what’s best, assuming all the responsibility and excluding the father from playing a pivotal role in raising the child.
(There’s a whole new blog waiting to be written right there!)
- Have a plethora of books on display at home. I loved leafing through old reads, feeling the shiny spines of the silver Penguin classics, thumping the heavy hardback covers of Dad’s hefty historical tomes and medical dictionaries. All of it encouraged curiosity and I remember it so vividly.
- Grab a book, hop into bed or into a comfy corner and flick through the book together. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself, unleash your inner thespian and play the parts: your child will love the entertainment.
- Ask questions about the characters along the way, encourage them to describe them, to read between the lines, to predict upcoming events: this’ll aid their comprehension and will really involve them in the process.
- Take the sprog to your local library! They are never too young. After taking advantage of the free Rhyme Time sessions, let your baby pick up and handle books: encourage it right from the start. And when they’re older, involve them in the library’s reading challenges and encourage them to peruse and choose their own books. Boys – particularly – will respond better if they feel more in control.
- Similarly, make a day of going to a bookshop, look upon new books as special treats; rather than sweets as a reward, how about delving into a magical wonderland? A ghastly graveyard? A wartime bunker?
- If you have an older, reluctant child, there is still hope. Don’t assume because your kid’s double digits that they don’t want to be read to. My year 8 boys love a good dose of ‘story-time’ and are as rapt as the little ones. There are some excellent, gritty books that teenage boys can’t get enough of. Subscribe to audiobooks: it takes the ‘effort’ out of reading! Introduce them to graphic novels and comics; there is a world of fantastic storytelling told through dialogue and vivid illustration.
- And finally, pick up a book yourself! There’s nothing better than modelling the behaviour you want to see in your child.
Happy story time!
Lotte North is an English teacher and mother to eight month old Winston. She also co-runs The Parent Hood, a social events group for parents in Mid-Sussex. When she’s not teaching, wrangling babies or schmoozing with other mums and dads, she’s…well, sleeping, because there isn’t really any time for much else.