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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 October, 2003, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
Putting the fun into reading
There's a wide range of books
For Children's Book Week, BBC News Online's Angela Harrison, who is also a parent, looks at reading among children in and out of school.

Parents with young school-age children can be an obsessive lot when it comes to reading, as they can with lots of things concerning their children.

Many try to hide it, but most have common concerns: How much can your son read (compared to mine)? What stage is he on in the reading tree (not higher than mine I hope)?

Of course, there are always those Supermums - and nowadays Superdads - whose role in life seems to be to strike fear and self-loathing into the hearts of Slackmums and Slackdads.

We all know one: "Of course, Polly was reading at the age of three and now she's five we don't know what to give her. She's read all the Roald Dahls and the Harry Potters herself".

Enough to send anyone off to WH Smith to buy the latest help-your-child-to-read book or JK Rowling offering.

But in my experience, as a parent who helps with reading in my children's primary school, there is usually no need to worry.

Nearly all children will learn to read in their own time, especially given good teaching, something interesting to read and the right encouragement.

Pressure

Over the two years I've helped in classes of five and six-year-olds, it has been great to see children's reading suddenly take-off.

Is it the case of the penny just dropping as many seem to think, of all the building blocks of letters and sounds suddenly fitting together? I don't know.

But having an adult to read to regularly obviously helps.

One of my main aims was to encourage children who seemed frightened of the words on the page.

Why did they feel so much tension and pressure around reading and was it this which was holding them back?

I think sometimes parents get hung up on their child not being able to read or work out every word and pass their frustration onto the child.

So reading a book sent home by the school with mum or dad probably becomes a bit of an ordeal for the child. No surprise then that they don't want to look at a book for pleasure.

Janet and John

One of my nicest experiences reading in school was sitting with a young boy who started off in year one still looking at picture-only books while his classmates were on a wide range of books, right up to some which seemed to be aimed at 10-year-olds.

He was the one whose face would light up when he saw his new book, his eyes eagerly scouring the pictures and then, when he moved on, the one or two words on the page.

He approached it all enthusiastically, getting sucked into the pages, not worrying about getting words wrong.

By the end of the year, he had caught up with many of his classmates.

Schools have different approaches
Generally, it was great to see children being given such interesting reading books.

Stories about children doing time-travel or going on magic adventures, or travelling across the world all seem a far cry from the Janet and John books I enjoyed as a child.

And the children in the books don't seem to live in Janet and John's rose-tinted world.

Some of their families have money worries, some of them are being bullied in school, mums and dads sometimes shout or do funny, daft things.

Many older children have been encouraged to read by the Harry Potter craze and by the antics of strong characters like Tracy Beaker, who is in care.

Tracy Beaker's creator Jacqueline Wilson started out writing for teen magazines, often answering children's problems.

She says she wanted to write about the difficult times many children have.

Schools seem to take very different approaches to home-reading.

Some send books home every night and they are not changed until the child can read every page.

Others send a book from the reading scheme home twice a week.

Others let children choose books from the school library to take home, sometimes leaving parents wondering why their eight-year-old wants to read about teenage-adventures or the Teletubbies.

Whatever the system, whatever the reading scheme, in Children's Book Week it's time to stop worrying, to celebrate all the great books out there.

Because a child's imagination will bring them to life.


SEE ALSO:
English children 'excel' at reading
08 Apr 03  |  Education
Pupils still struggle with reading
26 Nov 02  |  Education


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