How to Engage Parents with Reading


It’s an age-old dilemma – how can we get ALL parents to engage with their children’s reading? It’s also one of the most common questions I am asked by teachers when I talk in schools about reading. As school teachers, we work jolly hard to teach children to read and to foster their love of reading. We know that learning to read is a daunting task for many children and we also know the hugely positive impact that parents have on this journey. 
It can be frustrating and even demoralizing when some parents fail to get on-board with home reading despite our best efforts to encourage them. My advice is to buckle up for the ride because there is no magic answer to this problem but here are three top tips for you to reflect upon…

1) Let’s consider why parents are resisting

Why don’t they read with their child? Is it because they won’t or because they can’t? Think about the parents as you think about the children – as individuals. Imagine them all sitting in a circle around you as you ask them outright ‘Why don’t you read with your child?’ Imagine each parent answering you completely honestly with their ‘Ah, but…’ reason: 

‘I do read with him sometimes, but I can’t often afford the time, I’m working until late.’
‘I do try my best, but I’m not good at reading myself.’
‘I would hear her read more, but I’ve got to confess I find it so boring.’
‘I’d like to, but what’s the point? I don’t know how to help her when she gets stuck.’
‘I would love to read with him, but he doesn’t want to read with me!’

These are all real examples of the issues that prevent parents from engaging with reading. We need to understand, acknowledge and be sympathetic to these reasons. Even with my background as a teacher and a literacy expert, there have been occasions when, as a parent, I too have fallen foul of being too busy and too tired to engage properly with my children’s reading. 
 

2) Know that educating parents is key

Most parental resistance could be overcome if parents absorbed the enormity of the impact they have on their children’s success. It isn’t enough to simply tell parents that reading is important, we must ensure that parents have understood why reading is important and how important it is. 

One way of doing this is to show the ‘maths’ of reading practice. Use an infographic, diagram or chart to visually demonstrate that the child who doesn’t read at home might get around 120 minutes per week of reading practice at school (depending on age and school routines) compared with the child who reads at home and therefore gets that 120 minutes at school plus an additional 210 minutes at home (30 minutes a day). Ask parents to think about that additional 210 minutes per week multiplied over a year – that works out at roughly 76000 minutes more reading practice for children that read regularly at home. Now ask them which children they think become confident, mature, and happy readers. 

Another tip when educating parents about the importance of reading is to communicate clearly with strong messages. Think about the style of language you are using at your presentation, on your website or in your leaflets. Don’t shy away from stating facts like:

  • Reading increases intellect – FACT
  • Children who enjoy reading are more academically successful – FACT
  • Reading increases vocabulary – FACT
  • Children who read more produce better pieces of writing – FACT
  • Reading improves spelling – FACT
     

3) We need to change our mindset

There was once a time when I was frustrated that I felt responsible for educating the parents as well as the children. I had become a teacher to help children, not adults, and it felt like a burden that there were some parents who wouldn’t or couldn’t engage with reading. It felt like an uphill struggle to spend my time planning and preparing information about reading that often appeared to fall on deaf ears. 

As I matured and became a more experienced teacher it dawned on me that my job was not just to educate the children in my class. My job was to be a teacher, a role model and a source of support for my local community, both to children and adults. It is our job as teachers – in fact, it is our duty to do the best we can to help parents to engage with reading. We need to offer viable solutions to their issues and clear the path for them to enjoy their children’s reading journey. This inevitably means we need to spend more time and more care reviewing, developing and delivering information about reading. 

If we don’t see immediate success, we must be patient and persevere:

  • If no-one attends your reading workshops – keep offering them. 
  • If only one parent comes to your presentation – great, you’ve helped that parent and maybe more will attend next time. 
  • If you regularly review and improve your support provision it will become second nature, an enjoyable and rewarding part of your role.  
     


Use this checklist to think about the provision you currently offer to engage and educate parents, and the areas you might need to develop:

Information on the school website – do you use the school website to communicate reading presentation and workshop dates, reading information to download, photographs to celebrate the success of reading events?

 

Handouts/leaflets – do you have a selection of reading specific handouts that can be given out to parents at the beginning of the year, available to pick up from the reception lobby or classrooms, information to promote reading events and strategies? Are the handouts up-to-date, relevant and interesting?

 

Promotions – how do you promote reading presentations, workshops, and special events? Does your school put on book fairs, author visits, and dress-up days?

 

Presentations – how often do you hold a reading presentation? How do you encourage parents to attend? Is the presentation engaging and up-to-date?

 

Workshops – do you hold these regularly? Do you provide coffee and biscuits to create an informal atmosphere? What activities do you use to get parents ‘hands-on’? How confident are you in showing parents how to teach reading?

 

Drop in clinics – how do you tell parents about these opportunities? Are they offered at a variety of times to enable parents with busy schedules to attend?

 

Reviewing school resources – how often do you conduct a review of your class and school reading resources? Are the reading books you send home engaging, fun and relevant to young readers? Do you make use of book-linked teacher guide activities to send home for children to use with parents? Which systematic synthetic phonic programme are you using?

 

 

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Abigail Steel is an EYFS/Primary teacher, independent education consultant, trainer and the series editor of Reading Planet Rocket Phonics published by Rising Stars. She is passionate about improving literacy skills through the effective teaching of phonics and works closely with teachers and parents in the UK and internationally. 

Abigail has written the Reading Planet Guide to Reading with your Child  (ISBN 9781471888571, Rising Stars, 2017). This handy guide booklet explains phonics and book banding, and includes tips on how to develop comprehension skills and what to write in a reading record. Available in packs of ten, these guide booklets are perfect for giving to parents to engage them with home reading

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