Get your children to read

04 September 2014

By Christelle Wiese

Monday 8 September is International Literacy Day. We look at how moms can instil a love of reading in their children

What’s more enjoyable than experiencing the wonder of a special story with your children? It not only instils within them a love of reading, it also helps them develop skills they need for school subjects ranging from languages to history and maths

How does reading help children with their schoolwork?

Reading out loud helps children to learn while they’re reading, say the organisers of Nal’ibali, a South African initiative that promotes reading for pleasure. Nal’ibali means “this is the story” in Xhosa.

“When children understand what they’re reading, they use their imagination, solve problems, think about things, empathise, evaluate, judge, sort and compare things,” says Dr Carole Bloch, director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) which manages the Nal’ibali campaign.

If children don’t understand what they’re reading they not only struggle with languages but also with subjects such as maths, she says. “Children sometimes fail maths not because they can’t do the sums but because they can’t understand the questions.”

If a child can follow, predict, understand and remember a story it helps them to think logically and solve problems, says Sandra Land of the Centre for Adult Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

What should children read?

Should your child read stories rather than books on their favourite topics such as butterflies and dinosaurs?

Don’t let them choose between fiction and nonfiction, Land advises. “Encourage them to read whatever they like – stories, comics, magazines and even recipes.”

Get them to talk about what they read with questions such as, “Why do you think that happened? How would you have solved the problem?”

In fiction and nonfiction books children explore characters, places and stories, Dr Bloch says. “They explore the life and adventures of people of all ages and backgrounds and learn how they deal with life’s challenges.”

It’s important children read books in their mother tongue, rather than in other languages, both experts advise.

Make reading fun

Don’t put too much emphasis on how children read, Land advises. “If you focus too much on pronunciation and the oral aspect the meaning of what you’re reading is lost.”

Don’t try to always emphasise the message or lesson in the story, but rather how it makes you feel and the joy you get from reading, she advises.

Bring the stories you read to life, Dr Bloch suggests. “You know you’re on the right track when your child wants to hear a story again and again, starts reading it himself and even imitates the characters in the story.”

Top tips

The way you encourage your children to read must develop as they do. Here’s a selection of Nal’ibali’s tips for each age group.

  • Babies and toddlers: Fabric books with pictures or nursery rhymes, or simple books with names of objects all help to instil a love of reading. Read a bit at a time, but do it regularly. Point out the various colours and textures and make interesting sounds.
  • Preschoolers: Introduce the child to a wide variety of books. Study the cover together and guess what the book is about. Read to them from their favourite book on a regular basis.
  • Primary school: Once children can read themselves they can read to their younger siblings or they can take turns to read out loud to each other. Chat to them about their favourite books and why they like them.
  • Older children: If they’re still too lazy to read you can suggest short novels with simple storylines. Also share poems, newspapers, magazines and reading material from the internet with them. Read a few chapters together every day or if your children prefer to read on their own chat to them about the books they’re reading.

Where to find suitable reading material

Books and even newspapers and magazines for your child can end up costing a small fortune. Here are ideas that won’t break the bank for moms of young bookworms.

  • Download apps such as Learn with Homer on your smartphone or tablet.
  • Start a book club and exchange books with friends who have kids the same age as yours.
  • Join a library.
  • Go to or There’s a wide variety of absorbing stories in various South African languages on the Nal’ibali website.

Find Love!