Our guest writer Lucy Anderson, a UK primary school teacher, gives some advice on how to keep very young learners reading over the school holidays, with a few tips for parents as well.
With the long summer holidays fast approaching, it’s important to ensure that children don’t forget all that they have learned over the past year. My pupils are very young, which means instilling good habits and attitudes now is critical to educational success in the future. I’m particularly concerned with keeping my young students interested in reading and learning for pleasure.
While schools are closed it doesn’t mean children lose access to books and it’s important to utilise resources in the community. Many libraries are doing great things to help encourage children to love reading, and to help teachers and parents who are trying to do the same.
Organised competitions or schemes can be a good starting point to let parents know about. We all know how well children respond to rewards! I've had success with the Summer Reading Challenge, which makes reading into a fun game with attainable targets for children to hit. This is a great activity because it is brilliant for children to be surrounded by adults and other children who they can see enjoying reading. By seeing other people read for pleasure outside of school, they begin to associate reading with pleasure and not just as an exercise that they must do.
It is of course very difficult for many working parents to find the time to take their children to libraries or competitions. It is therefore important to critically engage children in reading for pleasure while at school, in the hope that they will take their love of books home with them.
Another tactic for modelling good reading habits is DEAR or ‘Drop everything and read’, where students and teachers stop what they are doing and read for 20 minutes a day. For students who don’t see adults reading at home this is an effective way of showing them reading is an everyday activity that can be relaxing and enjoyable.
Once a week there is a library session at my school where children have free reign to read and discover books for 20 minutes, followed by a session where they are read to by a teacher. We want to encourage children to use their imaginations and discover what different sorts of books are available to them. This session is especially beneficial to children who have less access to books at home and whose parents struggle to find the time to read to them.
The library also has a Where the Wild Things Are theme which the children love. It really encourages them to get lost in the literary world and to see reading as a means of escape. We hope that viewing reading this way will mean that children actively want to read throughout the summer and—even for those who aren’t able to read extensively at home—will look forward to reading again in the Autumn term.
Children enjoy very open access to books at the school. They can take one book home at a time and when they return it, they can choose another one, regardless of how long it takes or whether they finished the book. Some other schools have more structured systems for book borrowing which aim to encourage children’s progress by reading certain ‘levels’ of books to make sure their reading skills are being challenged, but our primary aim is that children really feel that reading the book is an activity that they have chosen to do, and therefore they freely pick books that interest them. The hope is that if the child enjoys reading, they will naturally try many different kinds of books and settle on ones which they can engage with without being too simple.
Students are positively encouraged to pick that book up once they get home in other ways. We have an activity called, ‘Who can get caught snuggling up with a book?’, where children take photos of themselves reading either at home, or elsewhere, and bring it in to class. We encourage students to take pictures over the summer holidays of themselves reading different books in different places to bring in to show their classmates in September. Not only does this encourage reading, it also encourages children to talk about reading to each other.
We also inspire children to see reading as a social activity through our buddy up system, which has proved to be amazingly popular. Confident readers are paired with children who struggle to read and are perhaps less interested in reading, and twice a week they pair up to read to each other. It’s great to see them sharing their enthusiasm and helping each other out.
We also have buddy ups with older year five and six students. This is especially effective because many of our younger students really look up to the older ones and reading together sets them a great example. The older students can inspire confidence in the younger ones and in fact, it also works the other way around. Year five and six pupils who still struggle to maintain an interest in reading are encouraged by being able to help the younger students to improve; it gives them a confidence boost in their own capabilities.
After a long year of such hard work, we really do want our children to enjoy their summer holidays. For this reason, they have been given homework packs with reading comprehensions, extracts and other fun puzzles and activities, but these exercises are optional. They are there to guide children and their parents and carers, and to provide some materials for children who can’t access books at home. With such young learners I feel strongly that the most effective tool we can give them is a love of reading, and that is something that cannot be forced. We hope that they will carry this with them throughout the school holidays and will be ready to continue to enjoy reading and learning come the start of the autumn term.
About the author
Lucy has worked in numerous primary schools both as a teaching assistant and as a reception teacher.