An often overlooked subject is Drama and yet it is one of the most valuable tools in giving children the desire to read for themselves. Sometimes, when we think of drama, we think it is something which children go out to and learn from other people with stages, costumes and lighting. Well, although I am a huge supporter of drama schools, I want to point out that you can use drama at home too at little cost and energy even before you start thinking of sending your child to drama classes.
After three years at school, my son became a reluctant reader which was a huge shock to me as he had grown up in a home full of books and had been read to constantly. Books have been a huge part of my life and have given me a sense of joy; they have also helped me through my darkest hours and for my son not to have this advantage seemed like a dreadful waste to me.
Once children have been put off reading, it can be difficult to get that desire back – in fact, the more you try, the more they seem to back away from it. One of the most useful tools you can use in a situation like that is a children’s play which is funny and has a subject which the child is interested in. When Will was seven, he loved history, he still does, so I bought a copy of a play called “Claudius’s Head” which I was going to provide a link for but I cannot find it on the internet now, strangely enough. We read the parts out with a bit of acting and Will was more than happy to join in, I think it was because the focus was no longer on him reading.
I also used this idea on other children when they came over to play to see what happened. The children who struggled with reading and were therefore put off reading, enjoyed it because there was so much laughter at the play and the acting. In essence, they didn’t seem to notice they were reading.
I found that it is not even necessary to do the acting, you can sit with your child reading the play and it is totally different from them reading to you or vice versa. It is a shared activity; therefore it is more like playing. It offers the child a sense of being equal and that it the key to the child being more relaxed. When they are reading to you, it can feel as if they are being tested, no matter how relaxing the atmosphere. When you are reading to them, you are in charge and they feel as if they have to sit and listen. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with reading to your child or them reading to you, in fact, I shout the benefits loud and clear and these times can be some of your most precious memories. However, when a child has been put off reading, it becomes an extremely sensitive issue and therefore the two of you being equal often helps to redress it.
Children who have been put off reading, have often been made to feel stupid whilst learning to read. Every time they have to read, the dreadful memories come hurling back at them. It becomes a vicious circle, the child feels at a disadvantage and the adult’s desperation can often be sensed by the child and make them feel worse about reading. When you read a play together, everything changes in the child/adult balance because you become other people in the parts that you play. This often eases the tension which a child who is sensitive about reading feels. When we fuse becoming other people with reading a dialogue instead of narrative, the child is no longer in such a sensitive position and can possibly forget the feeling associated with reading.
Using these methods worked with Will who had been put off reading whilst learning to read at school. I have to stress that there is a difference between reluctant readers who have been put off reading this way and children who suffer from Dyslexia. With reluctant readers it is usually an emotional cause, whereas with Dyslexic children it is that their brain can often display the text differently to them than it is. Therefore, Dyslexic children might need specialist help and definitely need as much understanding and attention as possible.
Will thrived using drama to get him over his reluctance to read. From there, I used other plays like “Jennings and The Roman Remains” (a radio play) and gradually Will lost the emotions associated with reading and became the avid reader he is today. Reading plays with Will, when he had been a reluctant reader, is one of the reasons I wrote “Frankenstein’s Revenge – a play full of shifty manoeuvres and time travel”. I am truly grateful that Will now loves reading and if anything I write or do goes on to help other children to become enthusiastic readers then the cycle will have been completed.
Have you had a reluctant reader in your family? Or maybe you were a reluctant reader yourself and have strong memories. On the other hand, you might have come across a wonderful way to get children interested in reading. I have a strong interest in children and reading so please feel free to comment on your own personal experiences. I would love to share them with you.
- There’s no such thing as Dyslexia?! (rossmountney.wordpress.com)