The good reason school home reader books are so boring

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

I have a confession to make: I hate home readers. You know those books your kids bring home for years, that you're supposed to sit patiently and listen to while they stumble their way through that mind-numbing story about a dancing beetle, or the range of South American tree frogs? 

I've been through it twice already and I'm onto my third (and final) round with my youngest daughter. I'm sure I've seen the same story about Martin the Lonely Turtle every year for the past six years. (Spoiler alert: he makes some new friends by learning to be kind.)

I know I'm not the only one tearing their hair out over this. My friends all hate them too.

And I'll let you in on a secret if you promise not to tell my daughter's teacher: sometimes I skip the home reader and just read a regular book with my children. You know, some Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton. Something with a plot.

But then I feel guilty, or worry I'll get my kids into trouble, so it's back to the sleeping habits of Australia's most common worm species.

Alison Greenland of Leap Into Literacy says there's a good reason home readers seem so dull. "Well, besides the fact that they are usually mass-produced and may be part of a reading program that is commercialised, they often don't have exciting material on the inside!" she says.

"Often times the readers have already been read in class or are very similar to one that has already been read at home," says Allison. "It can feel a bit like Groundhog Day for both parents and children who are reading them again, and this can mean that students have already disengaged before they even open the first page.

"The readers are usually set either at their reading level or even below so that they can practise reading independently, but this can also mean that the student isn't feeling the challenge if it is too easy and therefore 'boring'."

And that's just the kids. What about us parents, who have to sit through those excruciatingly slow reads while trying to maintain our faux enthusiasm?

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But Allison says there are benefits to sticking with the readers.

"Home readers are made to help support the practical skills of reading, so they do help students to better understand the phonics of the words, grammar and sentence structure," she says. 

"The repetition of some of the sentences and words can help a child to feel more independent while reading, which may not be possible with other books where the words or sentences aren't repeated. There is also the benefit that students are not moving ahead too quickly if they aren't ready."

Okay, so maybe we should stick with them, for the sake of the children. But surely there's something parents can do to avoid the whole process being so boring?

"Parents can always have a chat to the teacher and see if there are particular readers that spark more of a genuine interest in their child," says Allison. "Some students may also prefer non-fiction books over fiction."

Allison says it's even more helpful if the children can choose their own books to bring home.

"When children are able to choose their own books, they are generally more motivated to read," she says. "This also means that they will have more success with reading, as motivated children will be more engaged and retain the information they are learning."

So although there's no escape from enduring the home reader years for us parents, we can make it easier on ourselves and our kids if they're at least bringing home books they want to read. Then all we need to do is grin and bear it for four years or so.