By ROWENA LEE
I have always loved to read. Growing up I was fortunate to live in a home full of books and my parents read aloud regularly.
Without doubt, English lessons were always those I looked forward to most at school and I remember stages in my life by my favourite novel at that time.
Stuart Little, Black Beauty, Little Women, Rebecca, Pride and Prejudice, The Forsyte Saga and what Virginia Woolf describes as ‘one of the few novels written for grown up people’ Middlemarch. Books were almost as important to me as friends.
After training as a teacher I found myself in small schools in country NSW and began to recognise that reading was not always universally loved or valued. I realised that whilst teaching children to read was important, inspiring them to become readers could be life-changing.
Still passionate about English literature, I enrolled in an arts degree through distance education. Here I found new delights in Australian, American and especially Victorian literature; as well as my future husband amongst the library shelves.
As a new mother, I was keen to instil a love of books and reading in our young son. So I relived the joys of Beatrix Potter and nursery rhymes and welcomed the introduction of Pamela Allen and John Burningham into our daily reading sessions.
Returning to teaching, I became even more aware of the importance of inspiring readers, not just simply teaching reading. Children having access to a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books was important. Finding particular subjects that appealed to the more reluctant readers made an enormous difference and bringing literary characters to life could make an otherwise dry book exciting.
It is so important for children to not only develop strong skills, but also to increase their vocabulary, understanding and knowledge through reading widely. It was clear to me that if children were introduced early to the joys of literature and became confident, passionate readers it would positively influence not only their success at school, but ensure they become motivated life-long learners.
If young children are going to be inspired to read, then their parents need to play a key role in reading aloud at home. So I introduced reading information sessions as part of the school calendar. Reading became a shared, family activity, with the emphasis always on the experience of reading being positive and enjoyable.
In 2005 I was privileged to be appointed as Headmaster of Sydney Grammar School St Ives Preparatory School. It seemed a long way from the tiny three-teacher school where I had begun my career. Yet my goals remained the same, to provide an inspirational learning environment and to encourage each child to become an independent reader.
As the 2010 school year closed, the builder’s fences came down and the school community glimpsed for the first time a wonderful new library built right at the heart of the school. It was to become not just the centre of learning, but a place to meet, to share big ideas, to discover, to inquire and to dream.
Now in retirement, I am planning how in the next phase of my life I can inspire a new generation of readers. It was my mother who first suggested I might enjoy reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch and I now hope to encourage parents to read aloud books that can change their children’s lives.
Rowena Lee is the founder of Middlemarch.
What do you do to promote reading to your children?