Comfort, confidence, reassurance, down-time, security, consistency, entertainment, builds vocabulary, feeds imagination and creativity – there are many reasons why we know we should and why we do read to our children.
A love of reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids, and I suppose we all need to guard against too heavy an emphasis on it as skill acquisition and not as a pleasure and gateway. We get caught up on age guidelines, educational properties, key learning points; we think of it in terms of getting ready for school, in progress, fluency, success and because we use the word success, we introduce the concept of failure.
I remember going to an Open Mic Night when I was pregnant with my first child and the comedian talking about the obsession parents had about what age their child walked at, he didn’t have children and it made no sense to him – he wanted to know did we have to put the age on their CV or school application forms? Did we look at other adults and comment about how they were obviously an early walker because you can tell by the swing of their stride?
Reading is a bit like that; unless there is an actual issue that becomes apparent, kids walk at different ages, acquire language at different speeds and we evaluate reading levels by norms and statistics, not by passion and interest. All my kids were comparatively late readers; it turns out one was lazy and didn’t bother to apply himself until I stopped reading his Pokemon game for him, one hadn’t found what interested her – she became a devourer of books when she met Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy and actually two are dyslexic, they aren’t ‘stupid’ or ‘slow’ or ‘failures, they are wired differently, process and learn differently.
What all of them had though was interest and curiosity, they all loved being read to and wanted to know what happened next, or they enjoyed telling me what should have happened next! They had the ability to lose themselves in stories and let their imaginations fly, they had good vocabularies, even if there wasn’t a chance in hell they could read the word or spell it, they could relax and listen, absorb information, and concentrate for periods of time. They had skills way beyond those that were quantifiable in school tests.
Perhaps it is the wrong thing to say, but I don’t particularly care what they read; I obviously don’t have the 13 year old reading ‘50 Shades of Grey’, unlike my childhood friend whose mother let her read ‘The Carpetbaggers’ by Harold Robbins because she got it mixed up with ‘The Phoenix and the Carpet’ by E.Nesbit, but on the whole, it is the habit and ability to sit and lose yourself that I am more interested in.
And for once it looks like I might be right! Michael Norris, an American publishing expert, released his findings in a Book Publishing Report in 2010, based on hundreds of surveys completed by booksellers, parents and children, they were both shocking and quite encouraging. Children want to read, we are just getting in their way. He suggested several tips that might help us to help them:
 Reading should never be described with "work words" which make it seem like a chore or something that a child has to complete in order to be rewarded with the good stuff like getting their phone back.
 Despite our best intentions, it is us as well-meaning mothers and fathers who often stop our kids from picking up the reading habit. "Parents have too much of a role in deciding which books their child is going to read," said Norris. "It is turning children off. They should let them choose."
Let children talk directly to a librarian or a bookseller, while we stand well back. Looming over a child takes all the fun out of their discoveries, he says. "Even if a mother or father is just standing with the child when the bookseller asks them what they like to read, we have found that the child will give an answer they think their parent wants to hear. It will not be the same answer they would give alone."
 Don’t attempt to limit books to one age range, kids like feeling confident and comforted by books, they will move on and challenge themselves when ready. "What we have found is that parents should not worry whether a title looks too young or too old for a child. If a book has caught their attention, then let them take it and make up their own mind." Children, added Norris, often enjoy reading books that are easy for them to understand.
 It’s also really important to let them pick books different from the ones we loved ourselves when we were kids, it’s fine to tell them that we loved something and why, but they are their own person and as reading is a personal experience, we should all remember that “that books are sold to one person, one at a time."
Another article that really reassured me was Three reasons your child should be reading comics or at least why you shouldn't worry about it, in which Sarah Stanley talks about how comics create the right skill set for kids to take off at reading: habit, exposure and confidence - which brings us back to the beginning of this piece .., if we want our children to be confident readers who read regularly and are curious about the world around them, perhaps we should use some of the imagination we want our kids to develop, think outside the box and let them be adventurous!