September - for anyone who ever went through traditional education and parents everywhere - will forever be known as “back to school month”.
I have vivid memories of being a child and seeing those words emblazoned across store fronts all across town, with window dressings selling uniforms, pens and pencil cases, notebooks and all sorts of other school paraphernalia.
Now I’m a mum and it’s my little ones’ turn to polish their shoes, sharpen their pencils and get ready for the new school year. For JD this means returning to head into Year Four, and for Miss J, it will be her first time going to school at all. Where did the time go?!
But while school is usually the cornerstone of a child’s education, fostering literacy doesn’t need to stop in the classroom.
The benefits of reading at home
Studies have shown that reading with your children outside of school hours benefits their development – reading aloud is not only one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills; it also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory.
There are several studies such as the excellent one by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that states that children whose parents frequently read with them in their first year of school are still showing the benefit when they are 15.
And the benefits begin even before kids can read along. A study by Dominic Massaro, a well-respected professor emeritus in psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that reading aloud to children builds literacy more effectively than conversation.
As our children span two quite different ages (JD 8, Jay is 4), Mark and I spend time supporting two quite different reading abilities, so we’ve thought a lot about how we can encourage our children to sustain an excitement about reading and love of literature from preschool through to juniors and beyond.
Some principles seem to hold true, whatever their age…
Vary your sources
A bookshelf is a wonderful thing and both of our children have had firm favourites over the years that they’ve wanted to read time and time again.
It’s been a joy to share those dog-eared favourites with them, but of course, books don’t need to come in a traditional format anymore, and while both JD and Jay’s bookshelves are positively groaning with paperbacks and hardbacks, on the family tablet we have access to a huge library of digital books, and with the DisneyLife app, there’s something to entice even the most reluctant reader.
DisneyLife is an amazing membership that gives your kids a super-convenient way to take their favourite Disney characters, with them in the form of all sorts of shows, movies, music and most pertinently, books!
DisneyLife membership provides access to books for all ages and reading stages for early readers through to junior novels.
There really is an incredible range of books to choose from, from texts based on Disney Channels to movie storybooks and storyettes, from Princesses to action adventure to classic Disney characters.
Best of all, books are clearly labelled and segmented by reading ability (level 1-5), genre (e.g. sci-fi or books of movies), or even character (Jay headed straight for Sofia the First) and more, which makes finding your favourite character or theme easy.
It’s a really lovely way for families to read together and have fun.
Make reading part of their daily routine
Just as bedtime features brushing of teeth and putting on of PJs, so too is it common practice for the end of the day to feature a bedtime story or three. Yet a study by the Book Trust reveals that bedtime stories drop off dramatically around the age of seven.
Of course, this is when children start to be able to read on their own, but to stop for that reason alone is to forget all of the other benefits that reading together brings, from family bonding to presenting a chance to talk through the story together – the character motivations, their challenges and how they solve them and so on.
We’ve also realised that storytime needn’t be reserved for last thing at night. You could have post-Sunday-lunch storytime, or before-the-school-run storytime. The possibilities to introduce the ritual elsewhere in your day are endless, and with DisneyLife, your children can take their favourite stories with them in a single tablet, to keep up the routine whether they’re at home or on a sleepover, on holiday, at their grandparents, on a school trip – wherever!
Favour books covering topics they love
A general rule of thumb that we’ve found key in the children’s literacy journey is that it is far, far easier to get children reading when it's on a topic they're interested in, with familiar characters and/or visuals.
JD’s book bag would go untouched for week’s on end at the beginning of his schooling, when he was constantly being sent home with identikit, plotless short stories told in barely 100 words, with forgettable protagonists.
Yet at home, he was speeding through novels meant for children twice his age at a rate of knots, because he was selecting adjective-packed, richly characterful novels set to themes he loved such as dinosaurs, space and science.
On the DisneyLife app, JD has recently discovered the Sci-Fi books section, and is currently reading Tron Legacy: The Movie Storybook.
Foster a love of independent reading
Of course, while reading as a family is crucial for the reasons described above, it also makes sense to help children fall in love with independent reading too.
Jay can’t yet read without support, but of course there are lots of stepping-stones on the road to full literacy. Children can “read along” to a simple book long before they recognise all of the words, using images in books as cues and following familiar stories.
And so, because she knows the story so well, Miss J can tell the Cinderella story while turning the pages on the DisneyLife app, even though she can't yet read all of the words.
This, along with the catalogue of audio and read-along books on the DisneyLife app presents a wonderful way to give her a first taste of what it’s like to read independently. In fact, reading to us, rather than the other way round, has lately become part of our bedtime story routine.
How many of these ideas ring true for you and your own children’s literacy. If you’re feeling inspired and would like to discover DisneyLife for yourself, you can sign up here and enjoy your first month absolutely FREE.
I am a DisneyLife Brand Ambassador and this post was created in partnership with DisneyLife who have provided me with a free 12 month DisneyLife membership.