Updated: Jul 27, 2020
Having your kids at home whilst still trying to take care of jobs, households, babies and maybe even your own studies can be tough. You won’t have time to spend all day coordinating and supervising educational activities with your kids and so reading activities that kids can do and will want to do on their own are really useful.
Home learning set by schools
Many parents are wondering how important it is to complete all of the home learning set by schools and are struggling with kids whose behaviour turns at the very mention of anything school-related. Stress levels can skyrocket as you try not to make it a ‘thing’ whilst they stubbornly ignore your efforts.
So, the first thing to clear up is that no, you do not necessarily have to complete all the work sent by school if it is causing more problems than anything else.
The second thing parents should know is that children learn all the time outside of time spent doing school work. Just because they’re not doing actual work set by school, doesn’t mean they can’t be learning. You are totally justified in letting your kids do other meaningful, educational things instead if it reduces your household’s stress levels. (Things that get children actively thinking and/or moving are best!)
Reading is an incredibly important area of learning that parents should be encouraging at home whether you’re doing home/distance learning right now or not and is a perfect place to start.
This doesn’t mean that you should grab a random book and force your child to sit at the table with you and read aloud every day. That’s just not fun and if something isn’t fun then kids won’t learn as much and they’ll soon be refusing to do that too.
The good news is that there are tonnes of ways to get your child excited about reading without:
being limited to what is sent from school
sitting in front of a screen for hours
constant supervision and help from an adult.
Read on to find out how children can develop reading skills at home without focused study or schoolwork, without screen time or devices and often without you!
Balance phonics and stories for younger readers
Young children learn to read through a combination of stories and some kind of phonics program. Not just phonics. Not just stories. Both! Drawing and verbal storytelling are also important for early readers and certainly shouldn’t be discouraged. Paper and pencils should always be on offer and telling stories (real or made up!) aloud is great for early reading skills.
Keep in mind that balance is necessary. Hours and hours of time playing on a phonics app won’t promote skills like comprehension and storytelling, whereas children do need some phonic knowledge that they won’t get from just looking at books or listening to stories.
If you are worried about how much screen time your kids are getting then reading is great because it doesn’t rely on using technology at all.
You can read post about pronouncing the Phonics sounds correctly at home here.
How to get kids to read on their own at home
Firstly, having children's books at home is a must. Recent research from Unicef showed that just having kids books support with reading from a parent at home has a massive impact on whether kids develop early reading skills (as well as foundational numeracy skills!)
If you’d like your child to look at books on their own, you’ll need to make sure the books are accessible to your child without them having to ask for help. If you want them to be kept somewhere specific, you could show your child where they are kept so that they know where to get them from and where to put them back. This way, if they are suddenly gripped by the urge to read, they won’t have to wait.
Once reading at home is accessible to your child, you’ll need to make it exciting and fun otherwise they’ll never do it on their own.
Set up a reading corner at home
A reading corner is a special area that is for children to read and look at books in. They are often set up in actual corners or are more like reading dens, where children can relax and focus on books.
Reading corners often include cushions, bean bags, blankets and cuddly toys and may be decorated with lights, fabric or other dangly things. Most importantly the books should be arranged or displayed as invitingly as possible in a position that is accessible to your child of course.
The aim is to have a special place that is just for reading that children are excited to go and spend time in. Browse my Storytime Pinterest board for some inspiration for home reading corners.
Don’t forget to show your kids how to use the reading corner - kids won’t automatically know what it’s for and what to do in it. You don’t really want them bringing other toys in there or eating in there for example.
When children develop a love of reading and they do it for their own pleasure they will improve their reading skills and learn about other things as they go along.
Let your child choose their books
Having plenty of books available means that your child can choose for themselves - we know that kids don’t like to be told all the time and that they love making their own decisions. Not only that but making small day-to-day decisions is such good practice for big, important decisions they might need to make later on in life!
Kids can even help to pick out the books they’d like to buy from the bookshop or borrow from the library. I know I wouldn’t enjoy reading as much if someone else chose all the books that I read!
Follow your child’s interests
It’s always good to follow your child’s own interests wherever you can, so if your child is obsessed with animals then a kids animal encyclopedia or some stories with animal characters might be great ideas. Books can also relate to things that are going on in your child’s life, such as stories about losing your baby teeth, getting new baby siblings or learning to share! These sorts of books can spark discussions between you and your child which help them to mentally sort through powerful emotions that can come from big changes and challenges. You can provide some fiction and some non-fiction books and the stories might be from a variety of different genres.
Spend time reading together
You’re super busy and we do want children to be able to engage with activities by themselves but that doesn’t mean that kids should do all of their reading activities alone! Dedicate some time to spend reading with your children regularly.
A good way to do this is to start a bedtime story routine if you don’t already read together. Kids love routines and they also love you so what’s not to like!? As an added bonus, your kids’ sleep will probably benefit from some time away from the screen right before bed too!
Videos, apps and websites that an early reader can do on their own
Apps for early readers
DuoLingo ABC App (Ages 3-6)
Khan Academy App, Daily Circle time videos (Ages 2-7)
Feed the Monster App for Android
Videos for early readers
Epic Phonics channel on Youtube (particularly love their Tricky Word Songs!)
(These sites are all free and none require registration to use.)
Storyweaver - A really nice read-along feature where the words light up as they are said.
Global Digital Library - A really clean and simple site with stories for different ages. Accessible from mobiles and computers. Multiple languages.
Reads - A similar thing to Global Digital Library. Both great for stories with illustrations to read to your child.
Freekidsbooks.org - Free books that you can download as a PDF or read online in multiple languages and for all ages.
Audible stories - FREE audiobooks for kids from Amazon
Summary of tips for early reading at home:
Have child-friendly books at home
Don’t force activities or work because no fun = no learning
Reading is a good opportunity for offline activities, no screens
A love of reading will improve reading itself as well as promote other areas of learning
Let kids choose their own books as much as you can (obviously for their age)
Spend time reading together as well as encouraging independent reading
Use apps and videos as well as real books and reading materials
A short sharp phonics session goes a long way
Balance phonics with storytime activities and quiet reading
Set up a reading corner at home and show kids how to use it
Start a bedtime story routine
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