How to engage your child in reading
Dr Torr’s number one recommendation to engage children in reading is for parents to enjoy the process.
“Practice good storytelling techniques by using your voice, facial expression and gestures to make the book come alive, or pause to create that sense of suspense,” she recommends.
“Be conscious of the child’s reactions so you can pace yourself and don’t feel like you have to finish the book if they’ve lost interest.”
She also recommends getting children physically involved where possible.
“If the character in the book is touching their toes, for example, ask your child if they can touch their toes,” she adds.
Making the book relate to their world is another key engagement strategy.
“Connect the story to the child’s life, for example, on a page with an image of a bike, you could say, ‘You have a bike like this one’,” she explains.
“It helps to make the story relevant to their own life.”
Finally, she recommends following the child’s lead on discussions around the book.
But what if a child doesn’t show any interest in reading?
While Dr Torr notes that different strategies will work for different children, her key points are for parents to show they value books and to give the child autonomy in choosing books.
“My first suggestion would be to increase the value of books by giving them as gifts for special occasions,” she says.
"Also, give the child some autonomy and allow them to choose their own books when they go to the library, or choose a book to buy from a bookstore as a treat.
“Look at different topics and different reading materials and try to connect that reading material to your child’s current interests whether that’s a particular toy or sport.”
Dr Torr explains that learning to read in primary school takes a lot of resilience and patience so developing a love for reading supports their learning later on.
Why read? It’s not just about learning letters
Some parents wonder if there is any benefit in teaching their young child to identify letters and read before they start primary school.
“Decoding is where the child learns that a letter represents a sound in speech,” says Dr Torr.
“Many children notice print and letters as they go about their everyday games and activities.
“They learn informally about letters and speech sounds by singing songs, nursery rhymes, playing games and clapping out rhymes.
“Parents can encourage this learning by playing games and drawing attention to words and letters.”
What parents don’t realise is by simply reading to a child and sharing experiences with them, they are in fact giving them, what some argue is, the most critical learning-to-read skill.
“There are two main processes in learning to read, and you need both,” explains Dr Torr.
“First is being able to decode the letters. The second is being able to understand what the words mean.
“It is not enough to simply recognise and read a word, you must understand the meaning of the word and the sentence in its context.
“You need a lot of background knowledge to be able to do that.
“That background knowledge is what children learn in the early years through being read to, looking at books, going for walks, having conversations and having lots of different experiences.
“Books can even provide experiences children might not have access to, or knowledge that is beyond their immediate life, like reading about dinosaurs.
“That background knowledge is associated with success in learning to read when they reach school, which is why reading early on is so important.”