“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it”
is a proverb that often pops up in my mind whenever I teach my students or want to help my sons develop their literacy skills in French and Korean (our home languages).
In other words, we need to create the intrinsic desire in our child to read and write.
We might have the best plan laid out for our children to learn, practise reading and writing, if they are not motivated, the impact will be minimal. If they are interested and WANT to learn/practise, the little effort and/or preparation you put in will go a long way. Of course, having pedagogically well-designed activities AND having motivated children is the best.
In this post, I give you 6 tips that require minimum effort on your part, and that will generate (immense!) motivation from your child to read and write! Isn’t it what we all dream of?!
DO NOT MAKE IT ABOUT READING OR WRITING … LET READING AND WRITING MAKE YOUR CHILD FEEL GOOD!
The key is to focus on your child’s FEELING! How is the activity making your child feel? The more positive the feelings, the more your child will be motivated to complete the activity. This is the case for reading and/or writing in their home languages, but also for everything else.
1) Find the books they will LOVE
Once your child starts to be able to read books on their own, the main thing you need to do is finding those books your child will love so much that they will carry on reading even if it requires a lot of effort!
About a year ago, my eldest discovered Dog Man by Dav Pilkey in school. He seemed to enjoy so much the stories that we bought one … in French. At the time, he was just starting to be able to read sentences with significant effort. However, he was so happy to get it, that he did not mind it being in French (English was (and still is) much easier for him to read and understand). And to my surprise, he spent the whole afternoon reading it to make sure he got every joke and funny situation from the book.
Dog Man and other books from the same author have allowed my son to become a fluent reader in French.
Please note that your child needs to already be able to read relatively confidently before being given such book to read on their own. In the mean time, you can of course read these books with them or to them. (Read my future post on “The Benefits of Comic books”)
2) Create a cozy space to read books
Once you have books that will interest your child, it can help to create a reading nook / corner (read also “How to Establish a Reading Routine”). This is a cozy space that invites your child to read. In such space, you would need:
cushions, pillows, blankets, etc to create a cozy feel.
A little shelf or piece of furniture that can display SOME of your child’s favourite books.
The “some” is the key here. You want your child to have a choice that is ample enough so that they feel like they can choose the book they want to pick and read, but small enough for them to be able to spot quickly all the titles present. This also gives you the opportunity to change regularly the books displayed, and to place some that could interest your child and that could be spotted easily.
This reading nook/corner can be a space in your house that is specifically designed for that, but it can also simply be your child’s bed (like for our sons).
Once the space is organised, it only takes you a few minutes every now and then, to swap the books displayed (Of course, your child can do that on their own too).
3) Zero-at-stake reading
This term highlights the fact that these activities should not put any pressure on your child, and should not be imposed. They are OPPORTUNITIES put on your child’s path that should trigger your child’s curiosity. If they take them, great, if not, do not worry, they might take them later.
These activities are there to demonstrate what being able to read brings to your child i.e. the ability to access information that interests them, and the autonomy it provides them.
This can take a variety of shapes and forms:
Loving notes and fun messages left in their lunch box.
Blocks of games that contain activities such as "spot the 8 differences", mazes, "find the object described", etc. Note that all these games that are based on observation of details help your child develop their attention to the spelling of words, the shape of letters and characters.
Jokes and riddles: They only require your child to read a couple of sentences each time. But the big positive effect (making people laugh, knowing the answers to riddles that adults cannot figure out!) will make your child want to keep on reading!
Make it purposeful. Writing demands a lot more effort than reading, and the lack of knowledge about the spelling could make our children feel embarrassed to write in their home languages. Including “zero-at-stake” activities is also ideal, here:
1) Change what they write WITH and ON
If you are the same as me, having a nice fancy pen, or a beautiful note book makes you want to write, doesn't it? And you probably want to write neatly, don't you? For our children, it is exactly the same!
Which one would you choose? What about your child?
2) Make it easy
The most challenging part of writing is the accuracy. When our child reads, they "only" need to recognise the different graphemes (i.e.: which sound corresponds to the letters, letter combinations, characters seen). When it comes to writing, your child first needs to remember the spelling or way to write a character. This obstacle can put off anyone!
To surmount this obstacle, you can:
Help your child to write what they want to by providing them the words for them to copy.
Simplify what they want to write by providing words that are easier to write/spell.
Help your child work out the spelling of the words they want to write based on other words containing similar graphemes / characters (See my future blog post: "How can you help your child write accurately without giving the answer")
You can also provide a template for specific tasks (see the example below that is a template I created for my youngest to write clues for a treasure hunt).
Such template provides your child semi-autonomy. They can write what they want but only need to recognise the words before copying them. This feeling of empowerment is crucial to motivate our little ones. By using the same words over and over, they will learn them, without any pressure.
Note that your child does not need to be restricted to the words on the sheet. If they ask you how to write something, you can just add it quickly.
The first steps that helps our children to be able to read and write in our home languages, is down to the teaching. But to help them become proficient, confident readers, we need to help our children be motivated.
If we manage to create a safe environment where they feel like they can grow at their own pace, they will not only learn, but develop confidence in their own ability ... AND they will want to practise more!