My son has been extremely lucky to have 3 and half years of excellent teaching from his teachers, and I could not have asked for more from any of them. Anyone observing his engagement with reading, now aged 8 years, who rightly come to the conclusion that not only can he read, that he is a child who want to read and when he finds the right book he clearly takes pleasure from doing so. Some people may also assume that he was always going to be a ‘reader’. However, I believe that there were a few significant things that happened in school and at home in his first two years of school, which laid the foundations which made it possible for him to become the reader he is today.
When my son was in reception, he very much liked routine, and this was something his reception teacher clearly understood. So when it came to talking about the transition to year 1. She made sure that my son’s new teacher had some similar routines to her. What was interesting was the similarity in those routines, concerned the way books were used at the beginning and end of each day. What I only realised much later was that same routine’s that had enabled my son to feel comfortable with school, to connect to school and to build connections with other children had together with regular reading aloud at home been fundamental in laying the foundations for reading for pleasure.
When my son started school, he had a few favourite books, including a book on recycling (which was aimed at older kids). He was however often more interested in watching Number Jacks or telling us all about recycling or the planets in space than he was listening to a story. He could not hold a pencil, and when he started he had little knowledge of phonics. However, thanks to the support of his brilliant reception teacher and some of his new friends he was able to adapt to life in school. The teaching of phonics was very good and this combined with us signing him up at home for Reading Eggs, meant he made steady progress with his phonics. Before, long he said: ‘mummy it’s just like maths there is a code to crack’.
But, this isn’t a blog post about the teaching of reading skills or literacy in the early years. It’s about how a partnership of school and home, which consistently prioritised reading aloud and ‘informal’ regular spaces to share and enjoy books, won a boy round that wasn’t yet (when he started school) entirely convinced that stories were relevant to him.
Books relevant to children at the start of each day – time to explore and share
Both his reception and year 1 teacher started their school day in the same way. With books next to the children where they sat. For reception this was books on the carpet. On my son’s first day his teacher made sure he had a book on recycling next to the place where he was to sit. I could have hugged her! In year 1, his teacher had a book shelf from which children could select their books at the start of the day. One of my son’s favourite books was Miles Kelly’s 100 Facts About Planet Earth. He and a few other kids in his class spent weeks looking over that book. Several of the children in his year 1 and 2 class brought in their own books to share. This worked really well for my son as one of the older kids loved non-fiction and brought some of those to share.
Afternoon Read Aloud
Both teachers read a story aloud at the same time in the afternoon most days. Which meant my son knew for two consecutive years, that that time of day was story-time. About Easter of reception the topic was: things that grow. One of his favourite books at the time was: ‘What’s This? – a seed’s story’, published by Barefoot Books. I gave a copy to his teacher who shared it in story-time. We continued this into year 1. I was bit nervous about what he was going to make of a dinosaur topic, as he has never shown the slightest bit of interest in them. In the summer holidays after reception he had really enjoyed being read the Mr Men books (drawn to them initially as they were numbered on the side and all ordered in a case). I found a book called: ‘Mr Men Adventures with Dinosaurs’ and gave a copy to his year 1 teacher, so she could share it at story-time and he could look at it with his friends.
Reading Aloud at home, and sharing this with his sister
For two consecutive years (reception to end year 1) we read picture books aloud most nights to my son and his sister (who was two and half year’s older). This was as well as the book they read themselves. In reception two of my son’s favourite books to have read aloud were: ‘Wendel and the Robot’, by Chris Riddell, and ‘Boy who turned off the Sun’, by Paul Brown. When my son was in year 1, they started to develop books in common that they both loved. Both children have always been very particular about the books they like, so it was fascinating to see which books they both enjoyed. These included: ‘Errol the Squirrel’ by Hannah Shaw, and ‘The Day the Crayon’s Quit’. I have blogged about some of them here. Had my daughter not had such a challenging year 3 (year my son was in reception) it is possible she would have stopped being interested in being read picture books earlier. But, sharing picture books together at home is something I think they both have hugely benefited from, and which I would highly recommend to any family.
There was of course so much more each of his teachers did, we did, and my son did to get him to where he is now with his reading. But, with the benefit of hindsight I firmly believe that it was these relatively simple things, repeated consistently over several years, that convinced my son that reading could be meaningful to him. However, as I had already discovered a few years earlier with his sister, making good reading progress and enjoying being read stories aloud is not a guarantee that a child is going to successfully make the transition from school readers to independent reading. However, it does make it more likely! He did go through a wobbly phase with his reading from June of year 1 to November of year 2. And I wasn’t quite sure which way things were going to go. But, at that time I had not understood as clearly as I do now the importance of ‘reading communities ‘in developing readers, and that they can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Had I understand this I may not have been so nervous, about whether he would be able to negotiate the next stage in his reading journey. We were also lucky in the summer of 2017 to find in a relatively short space of time three book that really meant something to my son, that he read to us. Two of which were almost accidental finds, and one of which (the coding book) was given to my kids by his Yorkshire granddad.