An early dislike to reading by a child can so easily be glossed over, either as a personality trait, maybe by always being seen as a busy child, or simply, as a parent, you never had a great love of reading or words yourself when at school – or even now. And so the dislike can first be dismissed, and later ignored, the consequences of which can lead to later distress and regret.
Reading, or literacy in the broader meaning of the word, comes into every activity a child will experience through his/her school years.
Beginning with junior class reading and story telling and earlier nursery rhymes and bedtime stories and chats, words and language spill over into the everyday life of a child.
In time, this very same skill creeps into so much of academic learning, requiring a young student to source information, to confidently discuss this information, and in time to present this information in a cohesive and orderly manner.
It is good to remember that a child quickly moves from the one-word sentences of a one-year-old to the mastering of up to 2,000/3,000 words by the age of five. As adults we use as many as 25,000 words and recognise as many as 50,000.
Being conscious of opportunities to enhance a child’s understanding and use of words will always help. This will come with good conversation with your child, playing games such as Scrabble, and discussing films and series you have both enjoyed together. This latter skill will be a recurring experience throughout your child's school years.
But while good conversation will always help, it is also important to realise that a young person, beyond the age of 10, will not improve his/her use or understanding of words, solely by conversation. This will always need to be assisted by reading.
A child growing up in a home that is filled with books, or his/her own bookshelf of loved books, is already off to a great start in education. For, though technology is changing greatly how we all access information and entertainment, words will ever be at the core.
As a parent, consider your own attitude to books. And try to become more involved in books with your child. Joining the library, for all of you, with planned weekly visits, is a great way to start. Take out books that interest you both; and let books become a lived part of your home. Books can also be encouraged as birthday and Christmas gifts.
Again, play Scrabble together or any word game you may know of. And while there are many apps on the Internet and iPhones for word games, try to begin with the old-fashioned and tactile board game on the kitchen table.
Bookworm is a wonderful word game designed by Oxford Games Limited, in association with The Bodleian Library, Oxford. It is a word game that works for all the family, probably starting with the young teenager. It could be a game to consider for this Christmas and later become a much-loved family activity.
Few parents, and indeed students, fully connect the power of reading and individual subjects. Yet how often will a young student take an intense dislike to, say, history or geography, or the theory of business studies, at junior cycle? And who will then avoid taking art as a Leaving Certificate subject because it contains 40 per cent art history?
And with Project Maths, English has now become a vital part of accessing and mastering the language of all Project Maths and indeed all the sciences.
Then, of course, English itself, and all languages, be they Irish, French, German, or Spanish. How much easier is it for a student to bring to his/her learning a command and a confidence in reading and writing and understanding. And it all begins in the home.
And I would add to that in the heart, for all students will choose and thrive in subjects they find themselves succeeding in and enjoying. An early awareness and cultivation of this can so change life and school for all students.
Marie Barrett is founder and a director of MBCS, Marie Barrett Career Services, Loughrea, Co Galway. She is author of The Education Guide and contributes to national and local radio education programmes. MBCS works individually with second-level students and parents in individual student career, study, and education planning. Contact 091 841424/086 2359751/[email protected]