Why we should insist children read – guest blog by Arabella Northey

I was chatting (on Zoom) with Arabella Northey from Metaprep. After over fifteen years working in both the state and private schools sector, Arabella knows her stuff. As a founder of The Fulham Boys School, she developed a curriculum to equip and challenge boys of all abilities and foster a love of learning. Whilst at Wetherby Prep she successfully prepared pupils for both entry exams and scholarships to a wide range of day and boarding schools. Arabella then moved to Fulham Senior where, as Deputy Head, she developed and oversaw the implementation of the curriculum as well as the entry and interview process for both 11+ and 13+. Having completed her National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) Arabella decided to combine her interests in progressive education and leadership with technology and found Meta Prep.

I invited her to share her thoughts on why reading is critical and how, in the quest to become an independent thinker and use your experiences and current knowledge to address new situations, a book is a great way to start, so over to her …

Years of teaching, particularly English, often involved great conversations with parents about our love of literature or the best books to read at the moment. Sadly, for some children their heart would sink as they were invited to choose a book from the library and spend five minutes in silence. I am a self-confessed voracious reader who would quite happily sink into a hammock for a day with a good book. Admittedly, I spent the first days in Lockdown 1.0 going through the list of Carnegie Medal winners pre-1976, comfort reading at its height! Reading Lucy Mangan’s ‘Bookworm’ gave me an excuse to relive old favourites from Shirley Hughes to Enid Blyton and on to Willard Price.

You probably have not left a parent’s evening without a teacher mentioning the importance of reading. So why is there this insistence on getting children reading? Encouraging them to pick up a book and sail away to a foreign land is the mission. What do they find when they get there? How does it make them feel? What are they thinking? 

Our message at Meta Prep is about becoming an independent thinker and using your experiences and current knowledge to address new situations; a book is a great way to start.

Good to read

Reading together is always important

Reading allows children to discover new worlds, meet new people and learn about the past. It develops empathy and critical thinking. At a time when many children are deprived of social contact, a book is a great way to help them connect with ‘others’ and help them prepare for the return to the classroom. 

One of my favourite bumper stickers is ‘there is no app to replace your lap, read to your child.’ I would reiterate that there is no magic age to stop reading with and to your child. A parent reading to their child can unlock complicated prose that opens a previously closed door. As little as 10 mins a day can make all the difference. 

Reading increases vocabulary, improves spelling and can help with punctuation! It is an essential part of life and opens deeper learning in the classroom. The best part is it develops the ability to reflect, which is often the weakest part of the learning process. As metacognitive learners, being able to reflect on their learning is key.

Barriers

Variety and options is key for children

For many children, particularly boys as they pass into secondary school, reading can seem to be seen as some kind of secret code understood only by teachers and women. Feeling alienated is so easy and the quickest way to turn a child away from reading. If they think that everyone is getting meaning from a book and to them it just stinks, it feeds into their insecurities and they will run away screaming from the problem. 

We need to demystify the whole process and make it engaging and enthusing. It should not always be about the need to increase vocabulary etc, but about finding the sweet spot: where interest meets confidence. If you have a child that is passionate about football or drama, then find a book or non-fiction title within their reading range that will entice them to read. 

Start the book with them, make it a joint adventure of discovery, and remember that your tastes are not their tastes. It could be comics, graphic novels, audiobooks, the sports pages or magazines; fluency and challenge can come later.

Reading age

Many schools use a variety of assessments to judge the reading age of a child. A reading age refers to a child’s ability in relation to the average age of comparable ability.  Many textbooks require a certain level of reading ability for children to be able to read and understand them. The reading age goes up as fluency increases and that will be as a result of practice. Daily reading with you and in school has immense power to lift their literacy skills opening up a host of knowledge, understanding, interests and enjoyment. At Meta Prep, preparing children for the 11+ is a challenge as every question uses complex and nuanced language; it requires impressive comprehension skills before they even tackle the answer.

We want children to read for pleasure and, like everything in life, we need to sprinkle the trail with breadcrumbs to show them the way.

Thank you Arabella, I couldn’t agree more!

About Lexi Reeshttp://lexirees.co.ukAuthor of adventurous books for children, horse-mad sailor and crafter, caffeine fuelled.

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