Unpressured, enjoyable reading and listening will encourage development

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 July, 2011, 12:00am


My son is in Year One and has not found reading and phonics easy. Sometimes it's difficult to get him to read his daily school book at home. He is now saying that other children in the class are choosing books on a higher level than he does. I'm not happy that reading levels are so overt in the classroom as I'm worried this will affect his self-esteem. I've checked with other parents in the class, and it does seem that he is behind. Should I speak to the teacher?

The short answer is yes, if only to put your mind at rest. Usually, if a teacher is overly concerned about a child, she/he will contact the parents. Remember young children do not always report situations clearly, so try not to go in with all guns blazing, but calmly explain your worries to the teacher.

The teacher will be able to tell you exactly how your son is doing and how his reading level has been assessed. Teachers of young children tend not to be overt when giving out books. They often use colours or animals when grouping books; this is something you can check. Having said this, the children tend to be very aware of who is good at what from an early age.

Try to avoid getting into 'competitive parenting' or comparing reading levels with your son's peers. Children can be very perceptive, and if your son picks up on your concerns, it is likely to have a negative effect. The most important thing is that his reading skills (both mechanical and comprehension) are developing. If for any reason he is not progressing, then you can discuss the way forward and how you can support him effectively at home.

'Reading readiness' is a term we hear frequently, and there is a good reason for that. Children will read when they are ready. However, there are many external factors which also apply. In Year One, the fact that some children are almost a year older than others can give them a head start in maturity, confidence and life experience. Boys tend to be more immature at this age, anyway, so if your son is young in the year group, his 'readiness' may come a little later.

Also, children come into school with different levels of exposure to reading. Those who have older siblings often read earlier because they have had a good model from a younger age and will often compete with their siblings. Some students have had tutoring before entering school or have been pushed hard at their kindergartens. This does not necessarily lead to great reading skills. It can have the opposite effect if children are pushed too early; it can simply turn them off reading. Other children simply bark out the words and do not have any understanding of the text.

You have not mentioned whether your son enjoys being read to. Children whose parents read to them frequently tend to be very book wise and have a good level of comprehension, picking up easily on picture cues. This does not mean they can read themselves, but is an excellent start and will hopefully lead to a passion for reading. It is usually incredibly rewarding for both parties.

Therefore, try to read to your son every day. Enjoy and discuss books together, encouraging him to talk about the pictures and make connections with the text. Ask open and probing questions such as: 'Tell me something new you have learned,' or 'What was the most interesting part?' Boys are often drawn to factual books, and there are now some daily children's newspapers available, which are colourful and educational, including cartoons and quizzes. Also use different formats such as interactive books on the computer that can often inspire young children or reluctant readers.

Help your son cultivate a regular reading routine, and make sure he has a comfortable, quiet place to read to you. To avoid a battle, keep the session short and pick a time when he is not tired. Be a good reading role model yourself, as it is particularly important for boys to see their father reading.

If your son's teacher is aware of your worries, she or he will be able to give your son encouragement and praise in class and possibly extra support if necessary. The most important thing is that he enjoys reading and listening to books, and the rest will happen in his own time.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school