Thursday, 19 February 2015

Engaging with Literature

I have often heard the idea that some kids are born readers, some are not.

Other parents have asked me how I got so lucky, having kids who all like to read.  How did that happen?  Some of it is luck, perhaps...


 the ways we have found encourage our kids are:
  • Start off the right way, as young as possible.
  • Get the right balance between not pushing too hard, but not assuming that something is beyond them... young babies love looking at and touching board books, and exploring libraries at story or rhymetimes. 
  • Having books in the home.  Seeing parents reading, and reading as a natural pastime, is a major encouragement.  If high literature isn't your thing, fine.  Humour books, books about your favourite TV show, cookery books and hobby books... anything.  Check out charity shops and libraries for book sales (one near us does 5 books for £1!)

So now they can read, enjoy picture books or short stories... but how do I get them to enjoy literary classics?  Just foisting a copy of Tom Sawyer or Oliver Twist on an 8-year-old is not going to foster a love of the book, the language, the story... it will seem a chore or even impossible.

I have just asked my 8 year old and 5 year old to list their favourite novels:
8 yr old:  Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Peter Pan by James M Barrie, Harry Potter novels by JK Rowling and The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
5 yr old: Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

What?  Have I a brood of Matilda Wormwoods?!

Surely, we are pushing too hard expecting a 4-5 year old to enjoy or understand some of those novels?

How do we introduce these and keep the kids' interest? (Especially if yours wanes when it comes to literature...)

  • Don't express that you expect a child not to enjoy a book.  Or that you didn't like literature or reading at school. Or that you always preferred running around outdoors.  Not helpful! Kids want to impress you, they want to be like you.  They can run around when they are done with their literature session.  But equally, you can't expect little ones to sit for long periods while you monotone a book that you do not 'get'.  If you are not confident, either read it first yourself or have someone who loves literature to read to them instead; they need to be encouraged by the adult's interest.  If you cannot, then find an audio reading - these are handy for a half-hour rest even for those who love literature!  I have used audio readings for Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (other classics on BBC School Radio here) and some classic stories on Storynory.  You could also enquire at your library as some run older children's storytimes. 
  • Alternate with original novels of children's classics and abridged versions of adult classics.  They have plenty of time to enjoy the full novel when they are older to understand it and enjoy it fully.  The abridged versions build awareness of, interest in, and knowledge of the original novel.
  • When reading the longer novels in particular, especially if it is one with archaic language, break it up (although we find Jules Verne great for younger kids as his voice is very often funny and the language still works in the reading of it.)  Practice a retention exercise.
  • Between each chapter or part, I will get the kids to write a brief summary with a picture or draw a picture of something that happened in the chapter.  They really enjoy this part, discussing which part to draw and telling Daddy all about it when he gets home.
  • When we get to the end, I have them watch the movie version and compare.  The younger ones do a spot the difference between the two, guided by looking at the beginning, middle and end of the film and novel.  As they get older, they are then able to guide themselves to produce their own analysis.  We allow them to be free to express if they prefer the movie, as long as they can tell me why!
  • If the novel is part of a wider topic e.g. Oliver Twist, then they can write their own short story about the topic e.g. a child in a workhouse.
How do you introduce literature to younger children? 
Do you have a child who does not enjoy the reading of or listening to any literature at all?
I would like to hear your tips if anyone would like to share!

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