Encouraging a love for reading during the holidays and beyond

By David Camps, headteacher at Nechells Academy, E-ACT

It’s well documented that reading provides benefits beyond children’s academic success, including supporting cognitive development; improving imagination and creativity; enhancing wellbeing and concentration; and raising awareness and understanding of different cultures, languages and beliefs. But key to this lies a foundational effort in simply encouraging more children to read for pleasure and helping them develop a passion for picking up a book time and time again.

While there are certain moments and events throughout the year that inevitably help spark excitement and enthusiasm for adventures and tales, it’s important that this doesn’t become something done in isolation. Instead, as educators and parents, we must continue to foster a love for reading throughout the year and find ways to engage children and help them uncover the genres, topics and characters that inspire them. We’ve found that teachers and parents who love reading themselves are our biggest advocates in motivating pupils and creating reciprocal and interactive reading communities.

At Nechells Academy, reading for pleasure is something we’re hugely passionate about and here are our five top tips to help make it happen:

  1. Using Christmas as an example, there are lots of exciting activities that take place in the lead up to the holidays, including the annual nativity play. Often conjuring up huge amounts of enthusiasm and fun, it can be used as a steppingstone to be engaging pupils with plays and dialogue in other stories. Once they see a play in action, or take part in one, there is more of a natural appreciation and enthusiasm, which can then be used to explore other texts and tales.
  2. Linking games and including a competitive element with reading can help create excitement and encourage children to read a whole variety of books. For example, hosting a ‘reading bingo’ scheme based on a range of authors or selected themes will not only help drive engagement, but will push children to pick up books that they may not normally select. Adding a competitive element among peers will further motivate pupils to make their way through texts and is useful in sparking group discussions, promoting 1:1 conversation and triggering further reading recommendations.
  3. Being flexible in what children read is also useful in fostering a passion for reading. While it’s important for books to complement curriculum learning where you can, it’s equally as important to provide freedom of choice. For example, look at setting a task that encourages children to pick any book they choose, loosely based on an agreed theme, rather than simply providing them with a reading list. This way, they are more inclined to read not only in class but in their own time too.
  4. Offering reading challenges that can be done during class and at home is an important lesson in teaching children that reading can be for pleasure, and not just as part of the learning process. This Christmas, we’ve signed up to Pickatale’s free 24-part Christmas read along, where children are given access to a new snippet of the Christmas adventure, written by award-winning author Katya Balen, each day. This not only helps peak children’s interest but develops a habit of reading daily. Katya is also doing a live read along on day nine to involve as many children across the UK as possible to ‘read for pleasure’ together.
  5. Ensuring your school or reading environment is suitable for the needs of children is key to reading ‘buy-in’. This spans not just the design of reading corners, or library spaces, but also the platforms with which children can engage with reading. For example, while physical books will always have a role to play, increasingly children are using tablets and mobiles. Therefore, using online platforms and resources to access an array of books is a helpful way to better suit some pupils’ lifestyles – not to mention being kinder on school budgets that may not allow for hundreds – or even thousands – of new books. Using well-known stories and imagery is also powerful in engaging EAL learners or those with additional needs as it captures their attention and helps to forge connections via recognisable characters.

Reading for pleasure is crucial in a world where we teach our children to be kind and empathetic global citizens, with the ability to think creatively and problem-solve. That starts from a young age. By encouraging this both in and outside the classroom, we can build an ecosystem that helps children discover the joy of reading; both now, at Christmas and in many years to come.