Nonikiwe Mashologu is the chairperson of the South African branch of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People). She was recently celebrated as one of 12 women working to drive literacy change in South Africa. She was also one of the judges for the 2013 Golden Baobab Prize. As a mom and an advocate for literacy, she teaches skilful ways to sneak reading into your child's life:
We generally have a good system at home: no matter what happens, there is always a bedtime story. Generally. But there are those days when extramurals run late; homework piles up; and before you know it, time has slipped by before we’ve had a moment to read. As a result, I’ve had to sometimes get creative with my family to sneak reading into our everyday lives – even if it’s just 15 minutes a day.
One of the best ways to make reading a regular part of your routine is to start children reading early on, so it becomes a way of life long before busy schedules and possibly managing more than one child takes over. Also, let your children see you reading from when they are young, babies even – you are their greatest role model and children who see adults reading for joy take it for granted that reading is a worthwhile activity.
As my kids have grown older, I’ve found other ways to keep them hooked on books. A great trick is to make sure they have a book or two on them at all times. As a parent, you’ll know that when you have kids, you often spend a lot of time waiting… like waiting for one child to finish an extramural activity whilst sitting with your other child; or it could be that you travel with your child in the mornings and evenings by taxi, bus or train – another good time to sneak in some reading during the journey.
Reading street signs, road names and billboards is another great way to encourage reading – especially for smaller children who are just learning to read. As you travel home, you can play reading games, such as finding words and creating sentences and stories with them from the print they see around all around them.
Getting books that speak to your children’s interests can also help make them want to read whenever they have a gap in their day. If your child shows an interest in ballet or soccer, for example, try getting them books on these subjects from the library… You’ll be amazed to see how kids love to read about topics that interest them. But mostly, appreciate and support any reading your child does. If you have a reluctant reader who only wants to read comics then embrace this – you may just be amazed by the result in the long run.
Research shows that being told stories and being read to at home are the things most likely to help make your children successful learners at school. So even if you don’t have access to books, or live out of reach of a library… storytelling is a great way to develop your child’s early literacy. My husband is the storyteller of our house, which is great as he often doesn’t get time to spend with the kids. On weekends especially, the children have great fun making up fun stories with their dad… and with each other.
So, even though it may sound like a little, just 15 minutes a day of reading with your kids can go a long way to developing their literacy. In fact, research has shown that even 15 minutes of reading with your children each day can expose them to roughly 1 million written words in a year. And, best of all, it means you get to spend some quality time with your little ones and find a moment to reconnect when life becomes so busy.
The article originally appeared in the City Press, 8 June 2014.