Nfld. & Labrador

How to get your kid into reading: Librarians give advice after education report highlights literacy

Bonnie Morgan wants everyone to know: public libraries are here to help your children with their reading.

Getting kids into reading early is key, says children's librarian

Rebecca McNeill reads to her son, James, at the Mount Pearl Public Library. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

In the corner of a quiet library on Thursday morning, Rebecca McNeill reads to her little boy.

It's sunny and 20 degrees outside — a beautiful summer day.

But the former teacher is taking 30 minutes to ignite her son's imagination with some tall tales and colourful illustrations.

"We read to him every single day," she said. "He always has access to books ... Just looking at any kind of print is encouraging early literacy for him."

Krista Hart watches as Rebecca McNeill reads to her son, James. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

Early literacy, as the premier's task force on educational outcomes highlighted on Monday, is one of the province's biggest issues.

In the findings of its report, the task force noted 38 per cent of children finish Grade 2 with below average reading skills. Curriculum shifts after the third grade, putting less emphasis on learning to read and more on reading to learn.

The longer a student's problems are ignored, the harder it is to fix the problems, one teacher is quoted as saying.

Every child is a reader. It's just a matter of finding what they want to read.- Bonnie Morgan

As a student moves up through the grades, there are fewer reading intervention programs, the report notes, and extra help is not as available within the school system.

And that's where public libraries can come into play, says Bonnie Morgan, children's librarian with Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries.

Across the province, libraries hold events aimed at attracting school-aged children to their shelves — things like board game nights, or Lego and Pokemon events.

Bonnie Morgan, acting children's librarian for the province's public library system, says the institutions can give kids the help they need to get interested in reading. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

Once a child is in the library, Morgan said it can be easy to get them interested in reading.

"Every child is a reader, it's just a matter of finding what they want to read," she said.

But even with theme nights and after-school events, it can be difficult to target a certain type of parent.

"What we find normally in the library are people who are avid readers," said Krista Hart, a library assistant in Mount Pearl. 

"What we'd like to do with the libraries is try to reach people in the public who are not necessarily readers themselves, but understand the importance of reading to your child."

How to get your kid into reading

Morgan and Hart have some tips for parents who want to help their children with early literacy.

First of all, pick up a book yourself.

"If children see reading as something you take pleasure in, they're going to see it as something fun that's not work and something they want to do as well," Morgan said.

It's also helpful to set aside quality time when your child is young for reading.

Library assistant Krista Hart said libraries struggle to reach parents who are not readers. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

"They associate the books with love," Hart said. 

"They don't associate the books with stories and imaginary lands, it's just quality snuggle time with mom and dad."

And when they can read on their own, spend time reading with them anyway.

"Even though they may be reading independently, there's no reason to stop that quality time together."

When your children get older, don't make reading an incentive for other activities, like Netflix.

"Reading should not be a chore," Morgan said. 

"Reading should be [a] joy. It should be satisfying [a] curiosity and inspiring [to] your child. Having that sort of feeling in your family about books is really important."

Parents can also associate reading with being mature.

"It's often the first card [children] own independently," Morgan said of the library card. 

"They have that privilege and responsibility to choose what they want to read."

About the Author

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.