Go anywhere near the primary education talk boards on forums such as Mumsnet and the levels of anxiety about levelled reading scheme books is hard to avoid. Inevitably any conversation thread includes DDs or DSs who are already on gold star plus level even though they are only three weeks into reception class. It invites comparison and everyone feeds off each other’s concerns. Yet any parent who has sat and read the books with their child will know that they are an extraordinarily dull diet and can be a source of real misery as they come home week after week. Here are my five survival tips:
1. All children learn to read at a different pace and it is not a race. If you do want to pursue the sports metaphor, learning to read is more like an heptathlon, than a 100m sprint. Decoding and marching through progressively harder texts is one event, but just as important are a range of other skills – comprehension, inference, engagement and, most important of all, an enjoyment of books.
2. Reading scheme books are dull. There are so many fantastic children’s books available that the biggest obstacle to a child really learning to read is restricting them to such an uninspiring offer. Yes, you need to do the homework and read what is sent home to practice sounding out and blending sounds, but then put them to one side and read books for fun, discover new authors, explore interests, re-read old favourites. There are some good lists of ‘real’ books grouped by approximate reading level if your child wants to practice their skills, but don’t worry about your child doing all the reading – let them read the bits they can (which may just be odd words) and read the rest to them.
3. Bear in mind that children who can read, don’t necessarily chose to do so – for that to happen you have to instil a love of stories and introduce them to the pleasure of reading. Read everything and anything to them. Read every day. Make it a special shared thing to do. Make it enjoyable. Talk about what you have read. Make connections between what you read and things happening in their lives. Read (and be seen to read) yourself.
4. If you must engage in the reading scheme level comparison game, do so on the privacy of your own computer well after your child’s bedtime. IRL don’t make comparisons in front of your child who probably already knows exactly where they are in the colour coded hierarchy of reading in their class – they don’t need you making it more important than it should be.
5. Hold on to the fact that reading schemes are a brief phase in your child’s life. Biff and Chip or Bug Club will not be with you forever and who was on what reading level when, is very quickly forgotten.