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Reading is Magic
Reading is Magic

Parents often ask me how much homework they should be doing with their child each night, and ‘why doesn’t my child get any homework from her Montessori class?” Well the answer is simple really - school for the young learner should to be a loving, stress free, and positive first experience. Homework in the early years and primary setting can have a negative impact and place unnecessary stress on busy families when faced with the time constraint dilemma of trying get homework done before bedtime. Homework is a daily battle of trying to get a child to sit down and do several pages “worksheets”, or “extension work”, or “consolidation” work – in other words a downloaded worksheets the teacher got off the internet that is frequently unrelated to their school day. I can also tell you from experience with my own children that this type of homework is rarely engaging for your child and can develop in the child a negative feeling toward homework and learning, as well as animosity towards their teachers and parents when forced to do this monotonous chore.

Homework is never assigned in the early years of a Montessori school, and rarely in elementary. In the older grades homework will usually consist of project work and assignments where students can work at their own pace to really sink their teeth into a subject – just like they do at school.

Many recent studies have told us that for older elementary students certain types of homework may improve test scores. However, other correlating studies have told us that doing homework does not necessarily lead to achievement in school at all. In Finland, which is renowned for producing some of the most high-achieving students in the world, children don't begin elementary school until the age of seven, and don't receive homework until they are teenagers, concepts that directly mirror Montessori philosophy.

But what people in Finland do do, and what the parents of children who are successful in school do do, is read to their children.


That’s it. That’s all we need to do.

Read a book.

Or three.

One of my favorite ‘educational’ books is called Reading Magic by Australian author and educationalist Mem Fox. In the book she brings to light the truth that by just reading to your children everyday, they will learn to read. It’s really that simple. In her wonderful book Fox recommends reading three books a night with your child, one favorite, one familiar and one new book. It’s also ok to just read the same book three times. Why the repetition? Basically, that’s how we learn. To break up the monotony (for you) try playing silly games as you read, like turning the book upside down, or reading it backwards, or in gibberish, varying your facial expressions and your voice: games that emphasize early reading skills like rhyming, word substitutions, and how to hold a book and turn pages correctly (it’s always fun to do it the wrong way and have your child correct you) will really bolster to your child’s literacy skills!

Here are five good reasons why reading is the best.

1. Reading with your child is the most beneficial exercise any parent can do with their child.

Reading may be necessary for learning but also has many well-documented benefits. Reading is one of the best ways to develop and strengthen bonds with your children. Nightly reading sessions are wonderful opportunities to enrich your relationship with your children, as well as build their vocabularies. Reading a book with your child nestled up next to you is one of the best things in the world that you will cherish forever. While you cherish, your child meanwhile, is learning about complex aspects of life and relationships while they are engaged in stories with themes that can be more mature than anything they encounter in life. Going through those educational moments with you allows them to confront big issues in a safe space.

2. Reading makes you smarter.

Research conducted by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Australia, as well as many other studies around the globe, have shown that children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week). Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.

Did you hear that?

Reading helps with Math people!

3. Reading gives children a big vocabulary.

Reading, rather than just talking to your child, builds your child’s vocabulary. There is a clear difference between conversing with a child and reading to him. Speech is full of jargon, colloquialisms and abbreviated sentences. Literature, on the other hand, is much more intricate and consequently infinitely more educational. The language in books is rich, and in books there are complete sentences. In books, newspapers, and magazines, the language is more complicated, more sophisticated. A child who hears more sophisticated words has a massive advantage over a child who hasn't heard those words.

4. Reading sets a good example.

A child who has been read to will want to learn to read by his or herself. Children want to do what they see us parents doing. If a child never sees anyone pick up a book, he or she will not have that desire. It is crucial that we are mindful of our reading habits in front of children, especially in regards to tablets and mobile phones. We should let them see us reading – a lot! A child who only sees us on a phone rather than immersed in a book will desire to mimic that action instead. Reading is one of the most essential and valuable activities our children can inherit from us parents. Simply by observing us being engrossed in a book. Knowing how many habits children pick up from grown-ups around them, reading is one activity we parents should aim to get caught doing in front of our children!

5. Reading boosts self-esteem and communication skills.

Early readers are equipped with the vocabulary to talk with their peers, teachers and parents. When children have the ability to find the words they want to use they are more likely to develop a strong self-image, sense of confidence, as well as a higher academic standing. Also, well-read kids are more likely to attempt to formulate their thoughts before becoming angry or demonstrative. We often ask of our children to use their words instead of actions, reading will arm them with those words!

Reading really is the only one type of homework that is worthwhile for younger learners. If you make reading at home a part of your child’s daily routine, you will teach them to read!

Some final tips:

• Read in your mother tongue

• If your child is learning a new language at school, make sure at least one book daily is in that language.

• Read from real books rather tablets or computers – it’s better for your eyes!

About the Author

Christian Williams is a father of two, a husband of one, and an educator to many. He has lived and worked as a teacher in China for seventeen years. He is currently the Academic Principal of the Montessori Academy Bilingual Kindergarten in Shanghai.

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