Reading?! I am a huge fan! All of us, at Raising Bilingual Children, are, but this doesn’t mean that motivating our own children to read is always a walk in the park. As you probably know well, it can be a real challenge, especially if a child is schooled in a different language and your home language is not a part of the curriculum. And, yes, reading is a vital skill that expands children’s imagination, builds their vocabulary and develops their cognitive abilities, but, honestly, this line of reasoning will hardly resonate with a child who wants to go play outside, play a video game or watch TV. Been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt. It’s tough. Now add a lack of suitable resources or a lack of ideas to the mix, pair it with the knowledge that reading is one of the most important tools (if not THE most important tool) to build, promote and support language learning and development, especially in the home language, and we have created the perfect storm.
World Book Day is just around the corner (on 23 April) and it is a great opportunity to inspire your child to read (a bit) more at home, in your native language. This might not be an easy thing to accomplish and, therefore, I want to offer you ten effective strategies that can help you encourage and support your child’s reading habits in the home language, while promoting reading for pleasure. These strategies are all super easy to implement and can make a significant impact on their language and literacy development. With a bit of creativity, lots of patience, persistance and a dash of humour, you can turn your (potentially) reluctant reader into a book-loving bookworm. So, whether you are a caregiver, raising a child with more than one language, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, an educator or anyone interested in and connected with this topic, read on to learn how to promote and (help) support reading at home, helping your child discover and sustain the joy of reading.
- Choose books that interest your child.
Have them pick the books themselves whenever possible and make that a priority. By doing this, you will give them agency over the process, making them feel that they are an active participant and have a say in the process, thus increasing engagement and enjoyment in reading.
2. Read aloud.
Reading aloud is one of the best ways to promote and support reading at home. Harnessing its power could be a compelling way to provide inspiration and motivation – for younger and older children alike. Don’t be surprised – older children enjoy being read to almost as much as younger ones do. (They just might be too cool to admit it!) That is why teachers have also been implementing this strategy more and more into their daily practice – it has not only proven valuable for literacy development, but students love it as well. Reading aloud is an effective strategy to develop your child’s language skills but also to foster a life-long love for reading.
3. Focus on the story first.
This can be a great way to engage your child with the book and works well, especially with younger children. Engage with the book before you start reading and encourage your child to participate. Before you start reading the text, discuss what the book might be about, pretend to be the characters, give them voices and names, making the story come to life. Do a little performance and encourage your child to join in on the fun or use props, such as some toys.
Not quite the ‘performer’ type? That’s totally fine, do what and as much as you are comfortable with.
4. Let your child have the lead.
This is something I had to learn the hard way with my son. I wanted to look at every single page, making sure we are not missing any parts of the story, but he had other plans. Sometimes he only wanted to look at 2-3 pages out of the whole book and stayed on them for a while, skipping most of the book. The more I pushed, the more he resisted and, well, let’s say it didn’t end well on several occasions. So, I tried to take a step back from my expectations and focus on what he needed. It took me a minute, but it worked eventually.
What did I learn? Let your child have the lead, this motivates them and gives them agency over the process even if you’ve planned otherwise.
5. Use wordless / search-and-find books.
We all struggle with a lack of resources and are always on the hunt to find suitable books in our home language. Why not use wordless books instead and create your own story?! I know, it might be a bit more difficult to work with them, especially in the evening, when you are tired from the day and your brain has started shutting down, but don’t discard the idea completely. Perhaps, try them during the day first.
Another great resource that’s worked wonders for us has been search-and-find books. There is so much happening on every single page, and you can use all the action to create stories or simply describe what is going on. Talk about a wealth of vocabulary input! And the best part of these books – they are not tied to any language. Even if there is a bit of text on every page – you can make up your own story.
6. Play reading games.
This strategy is more suitable for older children who have already (slowly) started reading on their own in their home language. You can incorporate reading into playing games. Choose a game that requires each player to read something that gives them direction on how to proceed.
7. Make it fun.
Plain and simple – reading should be fun no matter the age. If your child sees reading as a chore, they will be much less willing to do it (if at all!). Especially if it is reading in your home language which is not part of the school curriculum. Make it fun for them and have a sense of humour about it. Make it enjoyable, based on their routines, interests and hobbies, so they would like to continue on their own. My son loves to read in the morning with his breakfast, for example, so I try my best to use this opportunity.
8. Repeat the same books.
This will be a breeze if you have a young child since it is exactly what they want to do – repeat the same book over and over (and over and over) again. Yes, we all know that feeling! Things look a bit different when your child is older, however, if you are strategic about your book choices, you might succeed in reading the same book together 2-3 times. A side note here: try this only if your child is willing to play along. Do not insist or push too much, otherwise it might bring the opposite effect. And we surely do not want that!
9. Incorporate reading into daily life.
Parents are not teachers, so learning to read as well as reading practice at home should not resemble reading routines at school. Bilingual children can and need to practise reading in everyday situations, which will also make them more connected to the language and they can see its real-life applications. Children are very much focused on themselves and their own world, therefore, seeing how a language relates to real life, to their life specifically, is crucial in developing and maintaining that language. For instance, cook together – you can browse through recipes in your target language online, find something your child will find yummy and cook it together, following the newly-found recipe. New experiences like that stimulate cognitive growth, which also applies to language development.
10. Incorporate technology.
Here, I said it – don’t shy away from technology when it comes to reading. Take this from a fervent supporter of printed reading materials. But I cannot discard the value that technology can bring to the table. Especially, if your child is older and/or you have few to no resources in your home language. Or if you don’t want them to think that you are completely out of touch with the modern world, a.k.a. “not cool”. Technology has the potential of making reading more interactive and engaging, for example, e-readers or apps with animations, sounds or other interactive elements.
Last but not least, good readers make good writers. By reading frequently, children acquire good writing practice. Celebrate your family’s multilingual experiences and foster reading as much as possible. It shouldn’t be a chore, but rather – a fun and enjoyable experience. And you just sit and watch that reluctant reader transform!
Are you interested in learning more about how to make reading more fun? This is a great resource that is available in multiple languages:
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- Crisfield, E. (2021) Bilingual families. A practical language planning guide. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
- King, K. and Mackey, A. (2007) The Bilingual Edge. Why, When, and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Title image by Michał Parzuchowski on unsplash.com