As a teenager my first proper job was in a library and my main responsibility was to put the returned books back on the shelves in the right place. The books were heavy, and the library was huge, so I was always grateful when I was asked to go and shelve the books in the children’s section. Two reasons, the books were lighter, and the room was smaller, but really, I loved it most because the books were just wonderful. The covers were enticing, the pages were beautifully laid out and they constantly surprised and engaged me, and I confess to many times when I just stopped working and sat and read. It was here that I began to be fascinated by children’s books and that fascination has never left me; I watched the parents come in with their children and babies and snuggle up to read to them before taking their chosen books home and I remember the sights smells and the warmth of a truly enabling environment. I got to know the families and watched the children come back week in week out for more, I knew they were enjoying books and also knew that this would help them learn to read. It wasn’t just the quality of the books though, it was the experience and the emotional connection that developed through this simple act of sitting together and snuggling up with a book – it was bound to make the child feel safe and connected and therefore associate reading books with love and find it a deeply satisfying experience. I did not think at that time, as it was beyond my experience and imagination, about the children who did not attend the library or who never had a story read to them, I do think about them now – quite a lot.
Parents are regularly described as their children’s ‘first and most enduring educator’. It is the one area of education where it is assumed that parents will pitch in and support, both in terms of reading to their child and hearing them read. But the reality is many do not do this and its not difficult to see that a child who has been read to from birth has a great advantage over one that has had very limited experiences in this respect. As educators we are somehow expected to get children to read at a broadly similar age despite the obvious impact of wildly different starting points – so how can this be achieved? The method of teaching of reading in schools is systematic synthetic phonics, where children are exposed to texts they can decode in order to gradually build their skills. It is a model that relies on the child being exposed to increasingly difficult texts and therefore it is always hard work and for some children it is just too much effort. Is that really going to create a love of books and excite children enough to make them want to read? My gut feeling is that it won’t be enough on its own, we somehow need to be able to create that rich emotionally rewarding connection with books for all our children if we are to make them into readers.
The emotional connection that I witnessed in the library that helps children to develop a love of books can be fostered through careful consideration of early years practice, ensuring all children get to experience the joy and wonder of books to hook them in and keep them wanting to learn to read and to read forever. What practitioners do in this respect can make all the difference to how children develop reading behaviours, and how they view the role books will play in their lives. Without this strong foundation it my fear is that for some, reading will be seen as a chore and they will quickly disengage. After all, why would you want to do something that is challenging and difficult without a compelling reason?
If you want to set your children on a path that supports them to know that books bring joy, comfort and excitement and to become lifelong readers join me on 29th October at 8pm, you will be giving the children in your care a wonderful gift!