Reading and literacy are key aspects of the 11+ test and if your child is approaching Year 6 you’ll want to do everything you can to improve your child’s confidence and ability. With so much competition from other activities nowadays, however, it can actually be difficult to get your child to sit down with a book, no matter how exciting you think it is.
However, for the sake of the 11+ verbal reasoning and English exams, you must persevere! Merely by reading a book, an enjoyable pastime for many, children naturally absorb vital knowledge and skills necessary for success. Reading improves a child’s vocabulary, especially if they choose a challenging text and look up unfamiliar words. Their spelling will be better, as will their grasp of synonyms, homophones, antonyms, all core aspects of the verbal reasoning exams. Children who read regularly have more advanced analytical skills that are so necessary when answering questions on the 11+ English comprehension test. They also tend to have a better grasp of story structures when it comes to the creative writing exam, which many independent schools include as part of their 11+ selection process.
So, if you are struggling to get your child to read, here are some top tips for improving your child’s reading ability and getting them engaged with the written word more often:
Set Aside Reading Time
If you have a reluctant child who seems more interested in playing a game on their tablet than reading a novel, you need to structure your time to include it more formally and create the environment that encourages them to read. For a start, setting aside a short period during the day where your child can sit down and read with you can dramatically improve their confidence and love of books.
Keep Books/Share Books
Parents who don’t read can sometimes put their own children at a disadvantage so it’s important to remedy this if it applies to you. Kid’s tend to copy what mum and dad do, so reading a bit more can help them quickly get into better habits. Having books around the home also makes it a more natural part of their lives. It encourages children to pick those books up and start reading. Of course, nowadays books don’t have to be on shelves. Buying your child an e-reader can also help them to explore brand new worlds and read a lot more. Libraries have collections of e-books and magazines which are free to borrow, many aimed at children.
Making it Social
We tend to think of books and reading as a solitary process. We sit down and are transported into a parallel universe, entirely of our own and the authors making. If you want to improve your child’s reading ability in time for the 11+ exam, you may want to make it a more social activity. By that we mean not only sharing good books but sitting down and reading with your child, particularly talking about what is happening and what may happen next in the story. This will help children develop the analytical skills of prediction, deduction and inference – all necessary for comprehension tests.
One popular option is to get together with other parents and create a reading club where kids can sit and talk enthusiastically with each other about what they’ve been reading. Check out your local library as many have established reading clubs for children.
Explore Different Genres
It may take time for the more reluctant readers to find something that captures their attention. Be patient and take time to explore a whole range of different genres, not just fiction or a particular type of story like an adventure or fantasy. Ask their friends for recommendations or check out online review sites for ideas. Don’t be afraid to bring in non-fiction, even newspapers and magazines. If your child is interested in dinosaurs or aeroplanes, for example, you should certainly get them books on these subjects to read. A visit to your local library is also another great way to explore all sorts of books.
Reading can also incorporate media such as the internet, giving the chance to explore a whole bunch of areas without the prohibitive cost of having to buy books. Indeed, the more varied the reading material is, the quicker your child is likely to learn and progress.
Make it Count
Once your child is reading regularly, you can begin to help them develop specific techniques which will be useful for the 11+. First of all, make sure they include some challenging texts with ambitious language to expand their vocabulary. Check out some of the popular classics such as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, or Peter Pan, for example. These books often have more complex sentence structures and richer language than The Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the latest from David Walliams, and examiners love to dip into the classics when selecting a text for the comprehension exams. Keep a note of words they are unfamiliar with and test them from time to time, possibly making a game of it.
Spend time discussing the plot, asking what they think might happen next, or why a character behaved in a certain way. This will help them develop deductive thinking where they have to draw on facts and clues within the text to explain why certain things have happened, or what might happen next. Some children may enjoy writing a different ending, or write another chapter, set in the future, imagining what the characters are doing now.
Be aware that some children might have difficulty with comprehending certain passages, especially to begin with, so you might want to choose smaller portions of text and then quiz them on what it means to improve their understanding and concentration. Others might have issues with particular words so looking them up and practising these will give them greater confidence.
Just like learning any subject such as maths, some children take to reading more easily than others. But by spending more time reading with your child, you will develop a clearer understanding of what is going on so you will be able to support them as necessary.
For any parent helping their child towards the 11+ test, without doubt, improving reading ability is a big factor. The trick is not to panic when things don’t progress as you hope. Begin early, be as patient as possible, find what works best for your child and keep reading.