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Episode 27: Supporting your child's reading at home

Frankenstein, The Right Not To Read, and more. In this episode, Andy, Emily and Adam discuss ways to help support your child's reading. Are there unwritten rules about reading? Are comics and graphic novels 'real' reading? Plus, find out at what age Andy read his first book.

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Profile of Andy Psarianos expert educational podcaster.

Andy Psarianos


Andy was one of the first to bring maths mastery to the UK as the founder and CEO of the independent publisher: Maths — No Problem! Since then, he’s continued to create innovative education products as Chairman of Fig Leaf Group. He’s won more than a few awards, helped schools all over the world raise attainment levels, and continues to build an inclusive, supportive education community.
Profile of Emily Guille-Marrett expert educational podcaster.

Emily Guille-Marrett


With nearly 20 years of education experience, Emily has a knack for creating wildly successful learning content. Her past work includes publishers like Oxford University Press, Pearson and Collins Education. Currently, you’ll find her dreaming and scheming in her role as Head of Publishing at Fig Leaf Group.
Profile of Adam Gifford expert educational podcaster.

Adam Gifford

In a past life, Adam was a headteacher, and the first Primary Maths Specialist Leader in Education in the UK. He led the NW1 Maths Hub’s delivery of NCETM’s Professional Development Lead Support Programme before taking on his current role of Maths Subject Specialist at Maths — No Problem!

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Podcast Transcription

Andy Psarianos

Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.

Emily Guille-Marrett

Hello, I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.

Adam Gifford

Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.


This is the School of School podcast. Welcome to the School of School podcast.

Emily Guille-Marrett

Hello everyone. Today, we are going to be talking about supporting your child's reading at home. This is obviously something that I am completely into. I read to my children every night. We swap round and they are actually in key stage two and so a lot of kids are not read to anymore. So I feel it's really important and I'd love to hear...

Adam, coming from an educational perspective, what is your view of supporting children's reading at home?

Adam Gifford

I'm not sure that there's anything more important than developing that love of books and reading and what they can give you and it doesn't matter... Anything between... Anything that's got a cover, whether it's an atlas, a dictionary, anything. I think it's all relevant...

My dad was right into comics. So when I was a boy, I was very, very fortunate, I think... Oh, in hindsight, particularly that I always had comics and I had a subscription in New Zealand from UK Comics that took about two weeks to get across the water so you were so excited. Every fortnight, you'd go to the little local shop and there, your little comic would be from the UK.

In all services, I think what it does is it just allows... As soon as you understand what it is that you can lose yourself in it. It can take you somewhere else. It can... I don't know. It can be a prompt for your imagination. It can be things like...

I remember given Lord of The Rings by my uncle when I was only wee and I think my mum said, "What do you think giving in that? He can't read it." He said, "It doesn't matter." And it didn't because I was so excited to having this big fat book and it was something that I could look forward to reading, but I just think...

I was obviously very fortunate that I had materials like that at home. I had parents that could afford a subscription for comics and all those sorts of things. I just think it is so important just for children to discover what they are and not just because this is where your level's at.

Oh, the other thing I've not talked about because it's a generational thing. I think getting online and learning things. I think that's another thing that amazing for children now is that you can literally find out anything you want. So, if you are doing something on an online game and you want to learn how to get to the next level, it's there and you can read it or you can read part of it, listen to it, watch it.

So I just think that it is so important that we realize it's more than just practicing a skill. I think that it allows children to explore things that they're interested in, and I don't think there's anything that you learn without reading. Everything you study and do, reading is a key component of it.

Emily Guille-Marrett

I think that at home, there's that listening to you talk but there's different reasons why and how children are reading. There's the reading for purpose, which they can see being modeled. I need to make a cake. I need a recipe. I need to be able to read this information. I need to read the bottle on my medicine to find out the information that I need so I take my dose correctly. So there's a purpose.

There's reading for knowledge, isn't there? Which is kind of what you were saying. You can go online. We can find out information. We can read non-fiction or whatever we need to do. It might even be... Arguably, this probably is more for purpose, but I was thinking of manuals to be able to do something which kind of fits in with your point about digital games.

And then, reading for pleasure and enjoyment, because it's something you can get lost in and you can enjoy. And I guess parents can support at home when they can see those things happening in the adults. I would think as well as experiencing it as children. I don't know. What do you think, Andy?

Andy Psarianos

I suppose and this kind of different ways for me to approach this, because reading didn't come naturally to me. I've often wondered why. I know it's almost fashionable to say you've got this learning difficulty or that learning difficulty or whatever, and sometimes even there may be a tendency... This might be a little controversial, but it might be a tendency to try to make up excuses why you didn't do very well in school.

So, I was dyslexic or I was ADD or ADHD or whatever, and maybe all those things are true, but I was one of those kids that the first novel I ever read, I read when I was working as a security guard when I was 18 years old. That was the first time I read novel. I made it all the way through school, just listening a little bit and not actually doing... I know how to read and I knew how to read, but I just never read a novel.

Now, when I was a small child, my parents read to me and I could give you all kinds of reasons why I think that was, but it doesn't matter. The point I want to make is it didn't come natural to me, and now, my world has been kind of opened up. I was a real late bloomer. As an adult, I discovered all these things.

I remember studying philosophy and just being like, "Whoa, this is freaking mind... This blows my mind." And to the point now that I'm so interested in reading that I will... I go through about...

So look, since January, it's now March 11th, I've read seven books. That's quite a lot and listen to a couple of... Some of them are as audio books. Some of them I've read. I'm reading three at the same time at any given time. That's just kind of how I work and I love it. And my partner, she's got a PhD in literature. She's taught at university... She's serious. She knows this stuff inside out. She's right into literature and she's reading Frankenstein right now, and I'm asking her all these questions, and I'm like, "I want to know... Okay, how does this tie in with the original story of Ikaris and it's..."

We're getting into all these kind of... And I'm driving her absolutely bonkers because she's like, "Well, you're asking the same question over and over and over again." I'm like, "But I want know. I really, really want know." And I'm wondering is that... Do we maybe not do enough of that? Because for me, that's where I'm interested. It's not just about reading. Let's talk about it too. What was that person thinking? It doesn't even matter if it's really what they were thinking or not but just discussing it.

Adam Gifford

Can I just ask you a question though? So clearly, you could read to get through school and it sounds like you read a novel when you're 18. Was it a case of just the right materials or things that you were curious didn't come to you... I suppose in lots of things, not just reading, sometimes it might take a long time to realize, oh, I really like this or discover something. Do you think it was a case of reading is a skill and being able to read fluently or potentially, it can be really hard work for people so the effort involved in reading is so tiring that actually to read, you're knackered before you start.

But, I just wonder if it's... Is it because something's not being discovered? Which then maybe there's an argument for, is our reading curriculum wide enough? Do we offer enough beyond just books in a certain form in schools or... Obviously, you don't have to tell me. I'm just curious. I'm just curious what it was, which it kind of was.

Andy Psarianos

Look, if I put my kid head back on. If I'm trying to... While you're saying this, I'm trying to reimagine what my mind was like when I was a boy. Largely...I don't think there was ever a question of whether or not I could do it. I could do it if I wanted to. I just didn't want to. Nothing was interesting enough at that stage in my life in reading that drew me to it. So unless somebody forced me to read something, I wouldn't do it, but it wasn't just reading. I just didn't do any work in school. The fact that I got through school was amazing. But if you look at my report card, it's shocking. Yeah. It's fricking failures all the way through.

But in a way that became my superpower because for me... And I don't want to turn this into discussion about me, but what it meant was that I'm so good at failing miserably... The one skill I developed in school that made me a superhuman if I say... I think everyone's a superhuman in one way or another. My superhuman skill is failure. I am not afraid of failing at all. I can stare a failure in the face and say you don't scare me because my whole life, I was a failure.

Andy Psarianos

Now, is that something you want to do? No, because I think most people who are serial failures end up being perpetual failures, right? Yeah. It's not something... But for me, for some reason, I was able to turn that into a skill that I could use and as an adult, I discovered these things on my own terms. That's part of me, that's part of my personality. That's not something I would say that is not a strategy with your child but it's just an interesting one. I had to come to it on my own terms.


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Emily Guille-Marrett

I remember at school just thinking about what you were saying and it was really interesting because it made me think of the rights of the reader. I know there's... I can't remember the author of the book, but there's also a poster, I think Quentin Blake illustrated and it's really fascinating because children... Well, adults, we have readers rights and I think one of them is the right not to read. And there's this real obsession, I think sometimes that there are certain rules that we give children that parents have.

I remember going into a bookshop and hearing a child going to choose We're Going On A Bear Hunt, and they were probably around the age of about... I don't know, maybe six or seven and they were like, "Oh, We're Going On A Bear Hunt." And they almost got chastised by their parent, to be honest with you because the parent said, "That book's got pictures. That's for little children. You're a grown up child now. You need to go over and pick the books that are words that don't have pictures." And I thought to myself, what a fascinating... Who decided that you are going to get told off because you've gone and chosen a book that has got pictures...

I felt like saying, "You do know it's the ex children's Laureate, Michael Rosen... It's Helen Oxenbury. It's one of the greatest picture books of all time." I'm in my thirties as I was at the time and I read that book. But the point was, it was fascinating to me that we constantly... We have these rules and it's a bit like... I know it was different, Andy, but it was... It's that sort of sense of... And then what turns you on?

So at the moment, for my youngest son, he is just... He just sometimes struggles with his fluency and you were saying, Adam is the right to read comics. For him, he's into graphic novels and I found a series of books about dragons at the moment, which are... They're based on the comics in terms of that graphic novel style but the vocabulary level is high. I think there's weight... There's always a way to find a door that you can open to get someone...

Emily Guille-Marrett

Even you back in that day, I reckon if they'd the right thing, maybe it was philosophy. I don't know what it was, but somebody could have found something that might have floated your boat and I do think that kind of sense of how we do that and the rights of the reader as parents and educators, we need to think about.

Andy Psarianos

Make sure there's stuff that they're interested in. Don't wait for them and don't force them, but make sure there's stuff there.

Emily Guille-Marrett

And I have to say, please use your libraries because they don't cost you. You don't have to... Books can be expensive, but if you can't... If you go to the library, you can just walk in there and you say to your child, go on, fill your boots. You can have five books today. You can have many. Go and find some things and they will... They'll find something.

And then, the number of times that my kids have said, "Oh, not a bookshop or a library." They're not in the mood. They're in their heads. Soon as they're in those spaces, just... It's a bit like you were saying, Andy. I'm getting something for me. I'm just going to get myself a couple of things. I need to go in here. How many... "Can we take this back?" And inside, I'm thinking, "Oh, I thought you didn't want to be in the library. I thought you didn't want to be in the bookshop." This was for me and it's-

Andy Psarianos

And don't be too critical about their choices, right?

Emily Guille-Marrett

No, don't be critical about their... It's nothing... Can you imagine how I would be feeling pretty hacked off about people having their view... And people do it with adults. It's amazing the snobbery of reading. You hear, "Oh, that's chicklet or that's..." And I think, come on. It's books. If you're into reading, great. Just go for your life.

Adam Gifford

My two last little top tips that goes back to the library. I always used to say that parents, every time you go to the library, let your child take the maximum number of books out. And of course, the biggest argument is, "Do you know how much that's going to cost us, Adam because bound to be one or two of them lost?" I did it on a few occasions where I said, "Listen, I'll pay for the book. If it gets lost, I'll pay for it. You let your kid take out however many you want."

Of course, you have to have a word to the child the next day in the classroom. Then you say, "Listen, mate, I'm doing your favor here. You can pick as many as you want. Don't lose them. It's coming out of my pocket." But what it does allow them to do, and this is sort of part of the second bit as well, is it allows them to get the books that maybe their mates get. The ones that they can stick under their arm. They look quite cool because this is hard to read. I can't read it but in amongst the eight that I read, there might be one that's the right one for me.

And I think that it goes back to sort of what you were saying about the right of the reader. Emily is... And I do this all the time. There's so many books that I haven't finished, but that's not a bad thing. I'm reading. I might get three quarters the way through and just go, "Oh no, that's not for me." But the whole point is I'm reading.

And the second part is I think we need to be really mindful particularly with older... And I've got a very dear friend who I think of who couldn't read for a long time. I think that we have to be really mindful that as children get into sort of upper key stage two or for those who... The UK audience, we're talking sort of 10 years old, 11, 12, even 13 into high school as well as... If children have kind of lived with and it does, I think become a bit of a stigma of not being able to read... God, if they could wave a magic wand, of course, they'd want to read, is I think those children need a bit of space, particularly to explore, just to get back into... Because of course the pressure ramps up for teachers, parents...

Everyone's anxious. This 10-year old or 9-year old child that can't read and they start feeling the heat. Then it's a tricky one. And I just think for those people that really struggle with reading, there's got to be a bit of arm around the shoulder. This is okay. Here's a load of stuff you can have a look at and just see what happens because I just think there needs to be a bit of... The pressure increases and people, I think... I've never known anything more emotional in schools where people get more emotional than people that can't read. It's the one thing that... You ask any educator and any parent, if a child can't read, that's the pinnacle of... That's the worst.

Andy Psarianos

All right. Closing words? Emily, go on. What do parents need to do to support their child's reading at home?

Emily Guille-Marrett

Read to their child, ensure that they have access to books. I think there's probably another session on actually specific practical activities, but I think really that's what we've seen today. My big thing is please remember the rights of the reader because that can make a huge difference.

Andy Psarianos

All right. I think that's it. Thanks guys.

Emily Guille-Marrett

Thank you.


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