The greatest gift you can give this Christmas – the joy of reading

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It’s easy to get caught-up in consumerism and to spend a fortune on the kids at Christmas. But the most valuable gift you can give them on December 25 won’t cost you a penny, writes M.C.D. Etheridge. Here, the British author and journalist reveals his 5 priceless tips to encourage children to read for fun.

By M.C.D Etheridge

Very soon, if not already, car conversations on the way to school will turn to what your little ones want from Santa this Christmas.
On the list could be anything from gimmicky gadgets to faddish fidget spinners or even a few thousand V-bucks, the in-game currency on Fortnite.
Given with love, almost any present received from the man in red is a winner. But what’s the greatest gift you can imagine giving your son or daughter this year? If you have a reluctant reader in your family, maybe the joy of reading is the greatest gift you have to offer, and it doesn’t have to cost you a penny. All it takes is a little time.
Reading is, unquestionably, one of the most important skills your son or daughter can learn and there’s no doubting that it’s even better if they enjoy it. According to a Scholastic study, 93% of parents with kids aged 6-11 believe it is important for their children to enjoy reading for fun. Developing vocabulary and language skills and using their imagination are just some of the many reasons why.
Below are five approaches you might take to help get your child reading for fun.

1. Let them choose their own reading material

If you want your child to read for fun, you should let them choose what they read. Okay, so the book they pick might not excite you, they may have read it before, it might be thinly based on a movie or not even a book at all. The point is, if you want your kids to read for fun, it’s really important to allow them the choice. How you influence their decision-making process is up to you. The enthusiasm with which you read the blurb on the back can help steer things in the right direction. As can deliberate reverse psychology – “you won’t like this one, it’s a bit too grown up for you” is often a winner. Take a trip to the library and get the librarian to help your son or daughter pick out a couple of books they might like. Just like adults, kids recognise expert advice when they see it and you can always take them back and pick something else if they don’t like it.

2. Incentivise reading with pocket money

So this might sound like I’m suggesting you bribe your kids to read. Yep, I am. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. You’d be amazed at how it works. Even a children’s author I know has struggled to get her kids to enjoy picking up a book for fun but found incentivising reading with extra pocket money really did the trick. She’d pay up 20p for a comic and as much as three pounds for finishing Harry Potter. It was more profitable than a visit from the tooth fairy or even regular chores and as it turned out, way more fun. The next thing you knew her kids were wanting to read and not just for the cash. If you’re on a budget, pages read in return for minutes of screen time is another way to incentivise reading.

3. Read with them

If your kids are under the age of five, there’s a 75% chance you’re still reading to them every night, which is great, keep it up. But over five and that figure starts to fall dramatically. Only 37% of kids aged 6-8 are still read to most evenings and that figure slides to as low as 20% for kids aged 9-11. As your kids get older, it can prove harder to keep the bedtime stories going and finding reading material that appeals to everyone isn’t always easy. Keep looking and try books aimed at older readers. Sharing books beyond a child’s reading level is good, especially for pre-teens who can get lost to reading unless you take action. Believe me, it’s worth it. The link between daily bedtime stories and success in education is proven.

4. Try audiobooks

If bedtime stories have become a thing of the past and you really can’t envisage a return to the good old days, audiobooks could be the answer. Audiobooks are a great way to share books and stories that are beyond your child’s reading level and you can even use them alongside a text to help a struggling reader master new words. Apart from that, audiobooks are great fun and a really useful way to get a reluctant reader to enjoy the art of storytelling, even if they resist picking up a book. Plus, they can really make those long car journeys to visit relatives over the holiday season fly by. Some providers offer free 30-day trials. Why not give it a go?

5. Make sure they see you reading

Role-model reading is one of the best things you can do to encourage reading for fun. Children copy us. We know this and see it even before they’re old enough to walk. If you spend a lot of time looking at your phone, guess what, your kids want to look at your phone too. If they see you reading for fun, it sends a powerful message. Children want to be connected to the adult world. If they see you enjoying a book and laughing out loud, they’ll want to know what you find so funny and take an interest in books you’d never imagine. This Christmas, why not give your partner a book as a present and help reinforce the message that reading is fun?

ONE LAST THING …

The joy of reading is not usually a present Santa can bring … there are nearly two billion kids in the world, and on Christmas Eve he’s a bit too busy to sit down with all of them. But this Christmas is a little different and Santa CAN help.
It arrives in the form of my new children’s book Whitebeard. Whitebeard is Santa’s origin story and charts the man in red’s adventures from pirate captain to Father Christmas.
Whitebeard is deliberately written in 24 chapters. It’s like an Advent calendar but with less chocolate and more fun. Try reading a chapter a day to your kids in December. Each bite-size episode of the story will take you between five and ten minutes to read. The perfect length for a bedtime story. Whitebeard is out now. Take a look. It could be just the book you are looking for to give the joy of reading to your child this Christmas.

M.C.D. Etheridge is a journalist and TV producer for SKY News, ITN, ITV, Channel 5, and Australia’s Channel 9. His new children’s book, Whitebeard, is described as a “rollicking Christmas adventure story” and is ideal for children aged between 8 and 12. It is out now on Amazon UK priced £7.99 in paperback and £1.99 in eBook. Visit www.whitebeardbook.com

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