The Reading Homework Battlefield
Updated: Mar 8
5 Ways to Support Reading Practise at Home and 5 tips for Mixing It Up!
The best way to help your children as they learn to read is to give consistent support at home. But is it always easy to get that reading practise done? Does your child happily skip to the sofa, book in hand raring to go? Do you always jump at the chance to hear your child sound out every part of a word they’ve read 200 times previously? Nope? Me neither. Unfortunately, my first statement was true, consistent practise at home is pretty vital. 20 years of experience working with families, supporting reading at home and supporting my own three children; equips me to tell you that it’s not all plain sailing, you’re not the only ones struggling, and it can become a better experience with a bit of a mindset shift and the confidence to mix things up a bit!
As humans, we’re not naturally programmed to read, reading is not something that develops naturally, it’s not something that we learn from having it modelled like speech; it’s something that the brain needs to be trained to do. As with any skill that we need to learn for life, learning to read takes tons of practise.
But how do we do this with any degree of consistency and positivity without wishing we were pulling our teeth out instead or making it feel torture? How do we stop it from becoming a battle?
My first piece of advice to the families I have worked with over the years is to never get suited and booted for battle. Lay down your swords, this reading battlefield is calling a truce. Just don’t go there and if you’re there…retreat, retreat. Once negativity seeps in then reading becomes the enemy when it should be seen as an absolute privilege. Don’t make it a chore, don’t have a chart, no rewards for reading, this is not the right message. Okay, that’s enough of the negatives, let’s get into the positives and think about how we can turn daily reading practise into the highlight of your child’s routine.
Whether you’re an avid reader or not, the best thing you can do for your child is to model being the keenest to read, the most excited person there is about books, be buzzing to talk about what you’ve read before and what you’re reading now (I mean, slip your phone inside a copy of The Lord of the Rings - whatever it takes), just be a role model who values your ability to read. Talk about the road signs when you’re in the car, read aloud from the newspaper – show your children what a happy reader really looks like – you never know, if reading really isn’t your bag, all this acting could start something!
Okay, down to the practicalities of what a happy reading routine could look like for you. Read on for 5 ways to happily support reading at home and 5 alternative activities to dip into.
5 Ways to Happily Support Reading at Home.
1. Keep reading activities varied. Daily reading does not always need to be from a school reading book, and it doesn’t always need to be from a book at all…more on this to come! If your child doesn’t read from their reading book once or twice a week, make sure you make a note in their reading record as to what they did do so their teacher knows they are practising in one form or another.
2. Don’t expect your child to read on an empty stomach. Learning to read is hard work, it takes energy and concentration so always try to fuel and hydrate your reader beforehand.
3. Keep calm, don’t get frustrated; radiate positivity. As soon as your child gets a sniff that you’re in some way frustrated by them, their confidence will dip and you’ll be back on the battlefield. And equally, if your child is struggling and getting upset, the chance of any effective learning taking place here is zero. Stopping is sometimes the best thing to avoid any negative attachments to reading.
4. Try to have your child read with a variety of people if possible. Grandparents, older siblings, pets… What? Yep, reading to a pet is a solid plan as children need to have times when they read without feedback. Just make sure everyone is on board with the overall rule of keeping calm and being ultra-positive … the dog might not need the low- down but you get the idea.
5. Try to have a quiet and comfortable environment established. Make this a special time of the day that can be looked forward to by everyone and try to keep it short. Short, regular practise is key.
So, there are 5 fairly non-ground-breaking ways to make sure the daily reading at home routine is an effective use of time for everyone. Nothing surprising here I’m sure (well maybe the pet bit) but sometimes we just need a reminder of best practice. We’re not all teachers with the patients of a saint and we can’t all be expected to be getting it all right all the time, but we should all be giving our children the best opportunities to read and I’m afraid that means lots of practise!
Now for some ideas to try at home to make sure reading at home is something that can be looked forward to by everyone at the same time as making sure you keep all your teeth.
5 Ways to keep reading practise at home fun and engaging.
1. Read Ahead! Rummage around in your child’s book bag and dig out their reading book. Read ahead and prepare 4 questions for them to answer either having read alone ( if they’re at that stage) or with you while you support them. You can mix this up a bit and write down a list of words that they need to find to tick off as they read!
2. Crazy voice reading. Read like a pirate for 3 lines and then your child reads like a pirate for 3 lines. Roll a die making 1-6 different voices (1. Squeaky voice 2. Grumpy voice 3. Tired voice 4. Cheeky voice 5. Pirate voice 6. Tiny voice). Roll again after you’ve each read a certain number of lines. WARNING! This is one for children who are not still heavily reliant on ‘sounding out’ phonics should always be done in their own voice!
3. No Book Read. Gather some pictures and tell a story. This is an excellent way to develop a story voice, story language and explore different vocabulary. Take it in turns to imagine different characters and their actions and explore different settings. Storytelling greatly develops language skills that underpin the whole reading and writing learning process.
4. Backwards reading. Sometimes, you’ll have the same reading book for a while, this is a good thing as children need to build their confidence and see themselves as successful readers. Don’t worry if your child is memorising the story, this is all part of the process. A great way to use a book that has been read a few times is to read it backwards (no, not completely, not the words just the pages!).
5. Word hunt. Give your child a selection of cereal boxes, magazines, newspapers, leaflets etc. Challenge them to find words on a list you have prepared and then count how many times they can find that word. Hey presto, they’re reading!
Hopefully, these ideas will be helpful. Not all will suit your reader right now so head to our creative learning page for some further ideas for phonics, reading and writing practise that have been organised into stages.
The key messages here are: stay cool, keep it fun, light and positive and don’t enter the battlefield. If you are ever worried about your child’s reading progress, you should always talk to their teacher or a trusted professional as there may be an issue that has not been spotted at school. Even if there is no issue, it is always worth sharing concerns so you can feel confident that you are giving your child the best support possible.