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For children, reading can either be associated with enjoyment - the thought of being lulled to sleep with a fairy tale. Or dread - in the form of a cold sweat breaking out upon hearing their name being called for a prepared reading assessment.

Prianka Parusnath, a Speech Therapist with a Masters in Classrooms Supporting Communication, currently works at Khanyisa Centre where she provides a learning environment with therapy for children from the ages of two to 12 with special needs. “I think with most things, the more positive your outlook is, the more likely you are to do it. It’s important to foster a love of reading from a young age so kids are more willing to engage. Reading is a time honoured tradition for many families, it is also a way of helping children reach their full potential,” she said. “

When being forced to read and write in primary school, children can sometimes view reading as a laborious activity. Here are Parusnath’s tips on the best way to get children hooked on books:

Expose children to a variety of different genres

“I’ll admit that when I was a child, I was not the most avid reader. My parents tried everything and exposed me to every genre and author under the sun. It wasn’t until I met Harry Potter that my love for reading really took off. And with that anecdote comes my number one tip for encouraging reading – exposure.”

Visit your local library

Reading doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, Parusnath said, “It doesn’t require a kindle or an iPad or buying every book with a shiny cover – sometimes you just need a small laminated card that gives you access to entire worlds. My brother and I used to spend ages in the library carrying more books than our little hands could hold and being thoroughly disappointed to find out there were limits to how many books were coming home with us. Your nearest library is probably your most valued tool. “

Make reading an everyday experience

Doing so is a great way to improve literacy.  Simple activities like pointing out road signs, reading brand names in the supermarket, and having print (magazines, newspapers, books) readily accessible in your classroom or home is a great way to expose kids to the activity. “Keep building , and building and building, on vocabulary and comprehension skills through experiential learning, especially for younger children.”

Take time out to read with your children

With work, after school activities, homework and preparing supper, adding one more thing to the list might seem daunting. Parusnath suggests 20 minutes of story time before bed. “It can work wonders. Read the story and follow up with questions: ‘What do you think will happen next?’, ‘How do you think *insert character name* felt?’ etc.”she said.

Reading and reading aloud especially has many benefits for children in all stages of their development.

Reading is how children develop important skills for engagement with others. “In toddlers and young children, reading aloud or shared reading, works on the prerequisite skills necessary for learning language and communication skills through a collective/shared experience. These are things like engagement, turn taking, joint attention, and active listening that all develop as a part of this exposure to literacy,” Parusnath said.

For school aged children, reading aloud helps them learn how to use language to make sense of the world. “Reading improves their information processing skills, vocabulary, and comprehension. Reading aloud also gives students an opportunity to hear adults model fluency and expression in reading or literary language.”

Later on in life, reading aloud helps with memory when studying. Parusnuth said, “The verbal feedback provides another sensory pathway to access the material apart from just the visual input of seeing the words on a page.”

Recent research reveals that reading is moving away from the more traditional didactic approach where one reads and another listens. “It is now focusing on creating a classroom/family community where everyone can enjoy and benefit from the experience together.”
“Every time we read to a child we’re sending positive messages to the child’s brain. Between TV, the internet, video games and a multitude of after-school activities, the pleasures of sitting down with a book are often overlooked,” she said. 

“Of course, the flip side of this is that negative experiences with reading - whether frustrations in learning to read, speech difficulties or "skill and drill" school assignments - can further turn children off from reading. When this happens, it is helpful to refer to a Speech Therapist to ensure that there are no underlying causes of these difficulties,” said Parusnath.