Parents have a key role in shaping their children’s attitudes towards the learning of Mother Tongue languages, particularly during their early years. At the 2nd Mother Tongue Languages Symposium held on 14 September 2013, educators and parents came together during sharing sessions and workshops to learn about resources and strategies to nurture a love for language in our children.

Master Teacher, Mdm Lim Kwee Hua and Principal of Creative O Pre Schoolers Bay, Ms Tan Beng Luan, shared with us six tips on how parents can cultivate good reading habits in children:


1. Spend 10 minutes of quality reading time with your child every day, until it becomes a habit

What does ‘quality’ reading time mean? Some parents may think that just sitting beside the child will suffice, but Mdm Lim emphasises the importance of reading to the child. When children are young, they are still learning to read, and parents play a big role by reading to their child. “Parents may find it hard to read to their child every day, but having a routine helps them absorb new words every day and the benefits are far-reaching,” said Mdm Lim.

2. Enrich the Home Reading Environment

Turning off the TV, finding a cosy spot in the house, these are all essential steps that parents should take to ensure that their child concentrates on reading, and is not distracted by the environment. It takes a conscious effort for parents to put down whatever they are doing for a few minutes, and the attention given to their child will make them want to pick up more books.

3. Reading is NOT a Test

Some parents become anxious about making their child learn new words every day that they forget that children learn better when they have fun. “Parents should not force their child to recognise words immediately after they finish reading a book. Children absorb and imitate adults easily, so rest assured that they will be able to recall the words gradually after they’ve built up their vocabulary list,” said Mdm Lim, who has been teaching Mandarin for 30 years.

A parent of three, Mr Ang Chee Khim, can testify to that. “My wife and I exposed our kids to a Chinese Language environment from young. We visit the library every week and I will also try to pick out interesting articles for them. It is all about unconditional learning – to let them have fun with learning and not pressure them to memorise words.”

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Parents can also think about interesting activities to follow up with reading sessions, such as drawing or cooking, and converse with the child in the respective mother tongue languages during the activity. The activity should relate to the story they had just shared, to tie in with the learning process. “Instead of forcing children to memorise words and make them sit through spelling tests, introducing a fun activity related to the story will help to reinforce what they have learnt,” said Mdm Lim.

4. Choose Books Wisely

At a young age, children will not be able to decide the type of books suitable for their reading competency. Most of the time, children will pick up picture books as interesting and colourful visuals attract them. “It is all right for children to read picture books, as the illustrations serve to engage both the parent and child in sharing the story,” said Ms Tan. Parents must be aware of the different interests and reading competency level of their child and introduce books with higher levels of difficulty as they grow up.

5. Associate Content with Everyday Examples

Learning does not end after reading time. Parents can create simple language games that are linked to the content in the storybook. For example, if the story is about food, parents can continue to engage their child by coming up with activities and terms associated with food over meal times. “It is a simple, yet effective way of ensuring that a child applies what they have learnt in the books,” said Ms Tan.

6. Verbalise your Thoughts

Parents should make a conscious effort to verbalise their thoughts for children to enrich their vocabulary bank. Instead of using actions or gestures to put across a message, parents are encouraged to verbalise their intentions and thoughts in complete sentences to create a rich language environment.

Ultimately, parents play a pivotal role in creating a conducive learning environment for their children, to build up a habit that imbues the importance of reading, not only for the English language but also for the Mother Tongue languages.

Schoolbag.sg is an online newsletter featuring education news and developments in the school landscape. This article is reproduced with permission from Ministry of Education, Singapore.