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It’s strange, scary but also true how many children do not know how to read. I was watching a documentary recently on how children all over the world are being passed over from one grade to the next, without knowing the most basic of essential survival tools in our world today, how to read. This is especially true in South Africa.

So what is going on, why are children not reading, why is the learning process taking a turn for the worse? What can we do about it? For one thing, there are endless other forms of entertainment consistently available at their little finger tips. From TV, Videos, Games and the biggest technological culprit, the internet, games that talk to you so you do not have to read and in extremes it is simply a case of poverty or school classes so big that teachers cannot teach, and due to incentive based outcomes, teachers are passing the children as it is simply easier for them. Either way the least we can do for our children is give them a love for literature from a very young age. With it being proven time and time again, that children who read from a young age are likely to be more successful in life and are more likely to excel in whatever it is they do, reading should be a priority.

When is a good time to start reading to your child? Well from the moment they are born really. Even an infant finds the sound of mum or anyone talking, soothing. Not only does reading to your child increase their vocabulary at a rate you cannot even comprehend until they are much older, but teaches them that reading is important. Taking time out to read to your child can even be relaxing for you. It will instill a sense of curiosity and interest in your child and as they get older even help with your bed time routines.

The very best way to get kids to do anything is to teach them through example. Occasionally, turn off the TV and sit down with a good book. Doing so will help your children to see how important reading is.  As your son or daughter grows, the two of you can read together. Take turns reading a story to one another, or read a page and then have your child read the next page and so on. Tell the story with enthusiasm and don’t be afraid to really get into it and make funny faces and voices. I have loved doing this over the years and have even taken it the point where I was doing a different accent and voice for every character in a story, which is a lot more fun than you think. If you enjoy reading time, so will your kids.

Personally I have been reading to my daughter since she was born and every night, as part of the bed time routine, we have read a story. From the time she was 2, she knew that bed time, meant story time and getting her to bed, even if I read the same book every day or the story was short, was never an issue. I am happy to report, that 8 years on, it has all been worth it. Just 2 days ago, she said to me ‘mum I think I am going to read to myself tonight’. I will admit, I love our story time together and was a little upset I wasn’t going to be included in this session. At the same time however, I was over the moon. So I put on her night light and just so that we had a little bedtime fun, handed her a torch and did a quick shadow puppet show for her. She proceeded reading ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ for 30 minutes independently for the first time. It was a moment I have been anticipating for years and I will never forget it. It made me the proudest mom in the world in that moment, for having successfully inspired a love of literature in my daughter.

Giving your child books for gifts instead of a steady stream of toys, they hardly play with, will signify how important books are to you. Even before he or she can read, you can encourage a love for books in your child. Purchasing classics and collections of books in all genres will definitely keep the interest high. Taking them with you to the book shop to choose their own will give your child a sense of control and allow him or her to explore his/her own likes and dislikes. Then by exhibiting curiosity in what your child is currently reading, and asking a few simple questions about each book can also encourage excitement and a natural inquisitiveness. When you do reach this stage though, remember not to push to hard. Understand that for your child, reading should be fun and something they want to do, not have to do.

Sometimes you will find your child may have trouble reading. By being closely involved, you will more likely be able to pick up where the issues are and stop them, in their tracks while any issue is still in infancy. To ascertain difficulties, asking your child to read out loud to you is the best bet, you will immediately see if they are struggling and with what aspects they are struggling. If you do pick up on an issue that goes beyond your capabilities, don’t be scared to obtain assistance, from teachers and other professionals. Once your child has a better grasp of reading, the desire to read will grow. Be encouraging and try not to show frustration at temporary setbacks that occur from time to time. Find books that are of great interest to your kids, and this will act as a source of motivation for further reading.

Even if your youngster does not require reading help, take him or her to the library to sign up for a library card. Visit the library regularly and encourage your son or daughter to try several different kinds of books. Make it an important, special occasion. You will both begin to look forward to these outings and the opportunity to relax and enjoy a good book in the calm, quiet atmosphere of the library.

If you praise your son or daughter whenever they read rather than watching television or playing video games, your praise will be rewarding to them and they will attempt to continue impressing you reaching new goals, slowly but surely, reading will quickly become a normal part of your children’s routine and one day you too will look back and say, ‘Wow, today I am the world’s proudest parent!’ as your child turns off the TV and heads to bed with their book, lost in a world of imagination and growing a strong and intelligent mind for the future.