How Hong Kong parents can help their kids become more interested in reading
Children might be discouraged from reading books if the material is outdated or overly complicated
My daughter seems to hate reading and I’m worried it will hinder her learning. I have tried everything to interest her in the classics I enjoyed as a child. How can I help her?
You need to consider which aspect of your daughter’s reading you want to improve. Is it her reading skills? Is she able to read well and sound out new vocabulary? Do you want her to tackle a wider range of books? Does she only read comic books or girly novels? Or is it that you want her to read all the books you read as a child, to learn more about morals and history from them?
Some classics teach us about how things were, and how people thought and felt in those days. They might help us to consider how we live now, and what choices we might make to live a healthier and more considerate life.
If she reads a book that mentions coal and chimney smoke in old England, for example, she may consider what we now know coal does to the environment. But your daughter is only going to get this information out of the classics if her skills are strong enough.
Some classics are written in a language that is hard for children to understand. Like the language of older Bibles, classics apply longer and more complicated sentence structures, difficult, and even archaic, words, and situations modern children are totally unfamiliar with.
If she is an able reader in upper primary, with a strong interest in museums and history, she might get a connection to the situations by visiting old homes similar to ones in a book she’s read, and be able to feel the room in the book through these visits.
Take it slowly and read with her, or to her, before or during a visit to a city the book is based on. Engage in some activities mentioned in the book, such as baking bread or riding an old steam train, to support her reading and a more tangible connection to the past in the story.
Consider a version of the book in a style she is more familiar with. If she likes comics, get comic versions of a few classics you think she might like. Let her dip into them as and when she likes. The more you push her, the more she will resist.
Let her choose from a wide range of reading material and support the idea of reading, no matter what material she chooses. See if there is a format she prefers and offer her your choices in her format, meeting her halfway.
Is she confident in her reading skills? Look at what she chooses to read. If she finds too many words she does not really know, she will start to get confused and lose the storyline. This makes it harder to pick up the meanings of other words she does not know.
If her reading skills are a problem, support her phonics development and offer her simpler books. Read some of the books with her, taking over at the end of a page or paragraph depending on how hard they are. Offer her the chance to be read to. She might well enjoy your stories, as long as she does not have to struggle.
Read a page with her. Every time you suspect a word is hard for her, ask her. If she is not able to come up with a clear idea about what the word means, assume she does not know it. Even if she knows it in some situations, if she is not getting the meaning easily she is losing the thread of the story.
If she misses more than five to 10 words on a page, depending on how small the text is, then the book is probably too hard. After reading a page, ask her what she thinks is happening. Close the book and listen to her retell it.
If she really does not know, then the story is too hard. Open the book and let her use it for prompting as she does her retell. See if it improves. Unless there is a significant improvement, the book is probably too hard. Ask her if she wants you to read it to her or leave it until later.
As much as we look forward to sharing aspects of our childhood with our children, they enter a very different world. They have less free time and more entertainment options on offer. The classics are good stories every parent should offer to their children, but alongside other books their friends are reading and want to talk about, or books linked to movies or games they play.
Link the classics to problems in their daily lives today, and activities to the books, to make them come alive. Offer easier versions, movie versions, comic book adaptations, etc. Let her choose, and encourage the act of reading.
When she is ready for the classics, they will be available to her. Support her and lead her gently towards what you enjoyed.
Kris Gienger teaches at a Hong Kong primary school