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In my last post I talked about how Michael Rosen was advocating that schools ‘kidnap’ parents, and get them to come to school story times to see how children respond to having stories read to them, and give parents a head start in knowing what kind of things to do when creating a home story time environment.

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This is a wonderful idea, and I am all for it, but as well as being obsessed by reading, I am a realist, and a parent of three children, all of whom have different needs, wants and desires, and all of whom make demands on my time, along with the demands that my own life and work make on me. I realise that parents cannot always be ‘kidnapped’ into a school day, however much they might want to be. Sometimes the demands of a job or caring for siblings or parents gets in the way.

So, if you want to start reading with your child at home, and you don’t know how to begin, here are a few basic tips to get you started:

Remember – your child will not expect perfection from you. You are not auditioning for RADA. You are sharing stories. Let go of the need to get it right. They will love you because you are making shared time for them. They will love you because you are entering their world. Your best is good enough.

If you make mistakes, you are giving your child permission to do the same. Your child models their behaviour on you. If they think that you have to be perfect first time out the gate, every time, you are putting an unfair amount of pressure on them. Your mistakes allow them to relax and realise it is alright to get things wrong.

Figure out a strategy for how you will deal with any mistakes, one that is not punishing or indicates that you are stupid. If they believe you think making mistakes is stupid, they will think they are stupid because everyone makes mistakes when they are learning to read. Coding mistakes as part of the journey and making it alright means you are giving them permission to improve without fearing being labelled an idiot.

If I stumble over a word I will often make a joke of it and say that I ‘need to put my false teeth back in, and try again’ for example. If a mistake is something you can laugh over, it gives you permission to try again in a positive way.

If I do not recognise a word or how to pronounce it I say something like: ‘Gosh. That’s a tricky word isn’t it? Shall we look it up?’ Google is your friend. If you type the word you don’t know into the Google search engine and press return, the first item that comes up in your search list is a definition. Often it will have a sound file that will show you how a word is pronounced too. Learning how to do this with your child is an invaluable skill. You are teaching your child that it is ok not to know words, and it is ok to research words and improve your vocabulary. Obviously a dictionary is also useful in these situations, but you might find your child responds to the technology better.

If you are nervous about what you’re going to read with your child, read ahead. Take five minutes while you’re eating your lunch or when you might ordinarily pop the telly on, to read through the book you want to share with your child. The average picture book takes no more than five to ten minutes to read, especially if you’re not having to stop to discuss the book with someone else. Familiarise yourself with the text. I often see parents in the library, sitting patiently in the children’s section, waiting for their children to choose their books. This would be a perfect time for you to browse what is available and see what you might want to share with your child.

If you don’t have access to many books in your home, use your local library. Get a ticket for your child. It is free. You can get up to fifteen books on a ticket, and lots of children’s tickets waive late fees. Choose a wide selection of books and take them home to browse through with your child. Let them pick which ones you will share in what order. Get them involved in being pro-active about reading.

Make reading a shared experience. Give your child time to ask questions as you read together. If you don’t know the answer say you don’t know and suggest that you find out the answers together. Children love being involved and working as a team. They also love the rare times that they are on a level playing field with the adults in their lives.

Take time to discuss the pictures in the book. These often add details, jokes, ideas and texture to what would otherwise be a straightforward story.

If a book is supposed to be funny then laugh with your child. If they don’t get the joke, talk about it with them and explain. Ditto if a book is sad.

Story time is about creating an immersive world for everyone who shares the story. It should be the springboard of a deeper conversation. It should work to spark a child’s imagination. It should help expand their vocabulary. It should help plant seeds of ideas about how the world might be/could be in their minds. It should open doors.

Help your child open that door and step through it with them.

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