Who should teach our kids to read?

Make reading a daily ritual with your kids ...
Make reading a daily ritual with your kids ... Photo: Getty Images

In a society where children can use a smart device, sometimes even before they can walk, we need to ask ourselves if the fundamentals of early learning are being forgotten. While parking children with technology can be convenient and sometimes necessary, exposure to books, reading and quality time are being traded in for this easy alternative. Reading is instrumental and with a decline in literacy rates across Australia, now more so than ever, we need to ask who should teach our kids to read?

Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) shows that one in ten children aged 10-11 do not enjoy reading and therefore are not regular readers. The children that do enjoy reading and read on a regular basis, are those who when aged 4-5 were exposed to reading in the family context, not only at school. While our education system must teach reading, parents must promote reading and solidify that vital foundation from the start.

During the week of July 29 – August 4 schools and local communities across Australia will be celebrating National Literacy and Numeracy Week. With Wednesday July 31 bookmarked as Read for Australia Day. At 2pm, across schools, libraries, community centres and homes, a mass simultaneous read of the book Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon will take place.

<i>Herman and Rosie</i> by Gus Gordon will be read by children all over the country on July 31 for Read for Australia Day.
Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon will be read by children all over the country on July 31 for Read for Australia Day. 

Author and illustrator Gus Gordon believes that it is the “parent’s obligation to teach kids to read, no other way around it.” Father to a ten, eight and six-year-old reading is integral in Gus’ home. “It is a ritual every single night.”  He encourages parents to be the role models for reading. “Read yourself and be seen reading.” Gus reinforces how important it is to “make time to read to your kids, everyone is busy, so you have to put time aside.” As a child, Gus was read to by his parents and knows that this fostered his own love of reading. “I still remember that as a child, my father reading to me, it stays with you in many different ways.” Gus stresses that the role of parents is to establish an early love of reading. “One day your kids will thank you for it, you can’t go wrong reading to your child.”

Ecstatic and exhausted grandmother, as well as author of Possum Magic, Mem Fox firmly warns that “if parents are not reading to their child regularly at home between the ages of 0-5, if possible daily, then they have a nerve to think that teachers can do it.” Mem discriminates that “phonics and letters can be part of the teaching of reading; they can’t be the beginning of the teaching of reading.” Mem insists that both sides must work together. Teachers should formally teach reading, while parents need to nourish a love for reading. “Far too often at schools we are looking at the mechanics of reading, rather than the joy that can be at the end of the rainbow of reading.” Mem laments that “parking children with technology just happens too often.” While, this is necessary at times, reading should be just as necessary. “Reading to a child is not only about getting them prepared for literacy; it is also about an entire psychological attachment, a glorious attachment between parent and child.”

For parents overwhelmed by the financial commitment of buying books, there is a solution: the local library. Manager of Libraries and Learning at Brimbank Council, Chris Kelly is proud of the preschool story time, baby time and toddler time sessions run across libraries. “We have run more than a 1000 story time sessions in the last twelve months.” At these sessions, parents and children listen to a story being read out aloud, participate in activities and then finish with borrowing books for home. For parents who feel discouraged to read because of their own literacy levels, Chris stresses that “it doesn’t matter what language you are speaking or what language the story is in, it is still about literature and it is still about engaging children, stimulating their curiosity and their love of learning.” That is what matters most.

<i>Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever</i> by Mem Fox
Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox 

While our education system will always be responsible for teaching the mechanics of reading, parents should embrace the role of bringing books alive in the eyes of their child. On July 31, my boys and I will be reading Herman and Rosie together. It will be one of a few books we will read that night, tucked up into bed, falling asleep to stories. Stories that are important, as important as the connection and time that we spend together through reading.

Reading guidelines:

  • Never make reading a chore.
  • Read at least three stories a day, even if it is the same story each time.
  • Read with animation and enthusiasm - choose stories that both you and your child love.
  • Talk about the stories and the pictures - give your child the opportunity to follow their curiosity.

Mem Fox is the author of Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever