Parents and the Promotion of Reading Let’s read together!

Children and reader
Children and reader | Photo (detail): © Colourbox

It is good for children when they read a lot and actually enjoy it. But how can we get them to read? What influence can parents have? Find out in this evaluation of the situation.

Reading is good for children, this is the one thing education specialists agree on. Primary school children who devour one novel after another, talk about the stories, add to the plot, make up their own sequels and maybe even write their own stories – these children deal with subjects that are maybe not part of their everyday lives, but they are at the same time constantly developing their language skills.

Children who read use their imagination, identify with the protagonists in the stories and ideally learn how people deal with each other and solve conflicts. They are however not born with this interest in reading and the ability to do so – this has to be aroused and promoted. This is not just the job of educators and teachers, but it is above all the parents who play an important role.

Reading companions

Parents count as the first and most important socialisation factor when it comes to children reading, because they are in contact with their children from the moment they are born and remain the most important role models for their children until they reach their teens. “Psychologists consider the role model behaviour of parents to be the most decisive influence on the way we behave,” says Peter May from the Landesinstitut für Lehrerbildung und Schulentwicklung (State Institute for Teacher Training and School Development) in Hamburg. “When parents themselves pick up a book or a magazine and show their children that they enjoy reading, the children become curious and want to try it themselves.”

And as education starts when a child is born and not later when a child goes to school, parents can lay the groundwork for the child’s enthusiasm for reading right from the start. Ideally parents should talk and laugh enthusiastically with their children, play finger games with them and sing nursery rhymes, show them their first books and take them for a visit to a library. In May’s opinion browsing through picture books with children and reading to them are “sensual forms of interaction that show children that books are important for, together with their parents, grandparents and brothers and sisters, they all get so much pleasure from them.”

Setting a better example

Reality however shows that this approach to reading is in no way a matter of course in German families. Educators and teachers complain instead about children who are not interested in books at all and at best only manage with great difficulty and reluctance to get through the books they have to pore over in their German lessons at school. They simply cannot wait to switch on the TV or sit at their computers to play a few games.

In 2007 the first survey on reading to children carried out by a foundation called Stiftung Lesen came to the conclusion that 42 per cent of all parents either do not read at all to their pre-school children or only sporadically. In 2006 the German IGLU study (part of the international Primary School Reading Literacy Study) showed that the potential for parental support when it comes to the reading performance of their children could still be improved upon.

What parents need to help their children

“There are many reasons why parents do not read to their children: either they do not read themselves, they do not enjoy reading or they do not see the point of it. Some of them just cannot be bothered because they feel so stressed in their everyday lives,” says Karin Kotsch, who has held training courses and workshops all over the world on the subject of reading to children and the promotion of reading. Others simply did not find out in their childhood just how nice it can be to listen to a story. And then there are others who maybe do not dare to read to their child because they feel that their child does not listen to them anyway.”

On top of that there is also the fact that many parents, when they were learning to read at school, suffered frustrating setbacks and some of them even today still cannot read properly. After all, one in every seven adults in Germany has been found to be functionally illiterate, i.e. not capable of understanding or writing a long text.

A whole range of services available

Day-care centres, schools, libraries and other institutions are tackling these problems and in the meantime they have managed to link the promotion of reading with parental responsibility in all kinds of different ways. Special literacy courses have been organised for mothers and fathers who themselves have reading difficulties and the various ways of how they can help and support their children have been examined – even if the parents do not have the basic skills themselves.

“When, for example, children develop a book into a stage play or a radio play, they can perform it for their parents,” says Sven Nickel, a specialist in literary didactics at the University of Bremen. “Even parents who experienced their schooling as something negative and would normally avoid attending anything going on at the school their children go to, they enjoy coming to events like these.”

At a reading parents have the opportunity to discover or to re-discover their own enthusiasm for reading. There are also training courses and information events at which they can find out more on why reading to one’s children is a good thing to do, on which books are suitable for which ages and on how children can be motivated to read.