Child-driven reading and parental motivation

This chapter has so far demonstrated that the child’s response to the activity was a critical factor in parents’ motivation to maintain shared reading. Many parents in this study reported that they needed to see that their child was getting something from the activity, be it enjoyment, learning or a combination of the two, in order for shared reading to be sustained. This highlighted the importance of parents’ receiving positive feedback from their child. One particular way in which the children in this study demonstrated their engagement with reading was evident in the fact that they often led the activity. To put this another way, parents in this study told us that they often read with their child because their child was asking to read, but this is not to suggest that shared reading took place because parents were simply ‘obliging’ their children. Rather these parents appeared to be motivated to read with their children because their children wanted to read, evident in the fact that they were leading the activity.

The project data provided numerous examples of parents telling us that their children often controlled if shared reading would take place, as well as what, when and how they read. To illustrate, having reported that her daughter had started to want to look at books by herself, rather than be read to, Bina had come to the conclusion that even though she (Bina) enjoyed reading with her daughter, she would allow her daughter to decide how reading would take place. She told us, ‘Whenever she gets her books out it’s, it’s up to her, like, if she wants me, or if she wants to just look through it or whatever.’ Bina enjoyed reading to her daughter and was happy to continue shared reading; however, having become aware that her daughter was starting to enjoy looking at books for herself, Bina allowed her daughter to decide whether the reading would be ‘shared’ or not. On a similar note, Fiona also told us that her son led much of the shared reading when she stated that her son ‘definitely drives’ a lot of the reading that takes place, explaining that ‘he’s the one that pushes the routine as much as anyone else’. Fiona went on to say that ‘you couldn’t say to him, ‘Right we’re not having books today.’ He would refuse to go to bed!’

In both these cases it was clear that the parents were led by their children regarding whether shared reading would take place or not. Bina is talking about being invited into the activity by her daughter, while Fiona talked about her son ‘pushing’ the routine. But what does this mean for the parents’ motivation to read? This was specifically addressed in Fiona’s interview when she was asked if she would still read with her son if she did not have such a positive response from him. To this she replied, ‘I don’t know, probably not, well, certainly not as much.’ This suggests that child-led reading may be motivating for parents and encourage them to maintain shared reading practices in the home.

The data indicated that parents in this study were also led by their children in terms of when reading took place. For example, when talking about when they read together Javid responded that it happens ‘as and when they (his children) ask’ and it ‘just depends when he wants to and what his mood is’. Similarly, when asked if they have set times of the day when they read, Elaine (Barnwell cohort: lives with her 3-year-old daughter, three older children (one of primary school age and two who are at secondary school) and newborn twins) replied, ‘no, just as and when she (her daughter) wants’. But this did not mean that parents always found it easy to read with their children when they asked to be read to. This was evident in Katie’s comments when she reported:

He does bring a book sometimes in the most awkward times like when you’re doing the dishes or something. I just say ‘let me finish doing the dishes and then we’ll read your stories’, he’s like ‘Can we do it now?’, and I’m like ‘Just give me a little minute and we’ll get the dishes done and I’ll sit and read your stories’. It sometimes can be a bit difficult, but I just try and get as much in as we can for him.

As discussed in the previous chapter, this shows how some parents allowed their children to direct when reading took place, regardless of whether or not they themselves orchestrated an actual routine for reading in the home. Similarly, the data also indicated that children would often decide what was read as well as how it was read. When asked to talk about the books that they read together Hadra spoke about the number of books they read each night, stating:

One book. No, actually, having said that, sorry, she went through a period of at least five or six months where she had to read two books, and we read two books, and she’s suddenly switched back to one. Even now, there are times she wants to read two ... we kind of follow her lead.

This was echoed in a number of interviews, with Kerry, for example, saying that her daughter goes to her dad and just gives him a book to share and then ‘he’ll sit and read’. Javid also provided a very detailed account of the way in which his son leads their reading, both in terms of what they read and how they read when he told us:

Their prompt was to come and sit with you and offer you (a book) ... They started it, you know like they got the ball rolling saying ‘Oh, can you read this to me?’ and not like the other way round.

Javid then went on to describe how his son directed the reading, firstly by choosing books about vehicles, a particular current interest, and also in directing how he wanted his father to read the book. The following extract gives a comprehensive and illuminating picture of their shared reading events. Javid reported:

He opened the book and he told me ‘this paragraph, can you read that’. And if he gets another page and he recognises the picture or the story he ignores it and then he jumps to the next one, telling me to read that for him ... And I’m trying to read it all from start to finish, but he kind of looks at it and he boycotts that and skips it, and then points at another one and he goes ‘read that one, read that one’.

The examples presented in this section clearly show how young children can have a major role in directing shared reading activity including how and when it happens as well as determining //shared reading occurs at all. This suggests that young children may exert considerable agency within the process, but it also demonstrates how valuable this can be in motivating parents to read or sustain shared reading activity with their children. This can perhaps be summed up in the words of Kylie who told us, ‘When they want to read, you can’t say no.’ For many of the parents in this study, motivation to read with their children was dependent on their gaining feedback from their child to show that their child was enjoying the activity. Having a child initiate and/or direct shared reading was a powerful indicator for parents that their child enjoyed the activity. This in turn contributed towards parents’ motivation for reading and encouraged parents to continue embedding it into everyday family life.