Getting your kids to read!

We always want to hear from the experts. Hopefully from their lifestyle / their way of doing things / their points of views, we get to glean some tips to help our own kids. These can be gurus for parenting, relationships, finances, education etc. And today, I got a chance to interview Elly Sim, the founder and owner of Jan & Elly, one of Singapore’s premier English Language enrichment schools. We put together the questions that our readers have for Elly. I love her candid replies and her insights into Children & the English Language.


Q: Please tell us about yourself and credentials as the founder of a language school. 

I am a mother of two young ladies – Sara, 19 and Lauren, 16. They were my muses for the concept development of Jan & Elly, which I affectionately refer to as my third child. My life philosophy is that I hope to make a difference in anyone’s life whose path crosses mine.

I hold a Bachelor degree in Child Development and Psychology from the U.S. The ‘fun’ philosophy of Jan & Elly stems from my exposure to learn through play environment in the U.S more than 23 years  ago. While I was there, I realised the importance of pronunciation and diction, which has led to how we approach Phonics at Jan & Elly.


Q: Why did you start Jan & Elly?

I wanted a playschool and English language and enrichment school in which I know my children will have fun, learn life-long skills and develop a strong foundation in written and spoken English. I struggled to find a school that fulfilled those requirements and thus the birth of Jan & Elly.

Elly Sim

Q: Parent-child reading is always encouraged. How can we make it fun, when I don’t love reading?

Think of reading as a form of relaxation. Most people do not like reading because they find it boring, too difficult and a passive activity that takes up too much time. However, by looking at it differently as a form of escape from work or school, both you and your child will be able to find pleasure in reading.

One way you can encourage reading even if you aren’t an avid reader yourself is to pick books on topics that excite you. It doesn’t have to be classic stories. For example, if you and your child share an interest in sports, show your child books or magazines on sports. This can help spark an interest to get them excited about books. As a parent, modeling regular reading habits instead of surfing the net or watching television can also subtly influence your child’s behaviours.


Q: Help! I think I’m ‘boring’ when I read to my child. Sometimes I think I’m talking to myself. 

Children love being read to. If they find you boring, it probably means the book is too difficult, or simply too easy. Sometimes your child may pick a book that looks colourful on the outside, but the content is simply too lengthy and difficult. If that happens, it is okay to switch to another book that is more suited to their reading abilities, and attention span. If you’re not sure what types of books you should be reading to your child, talk to your child’s teachers and ask for their recommendations.

Another area that parents sometimes neglect is the emotion and tone of their voice when reading. As adults, it is easy to sometimes rush through the story because we absorb the content a lot quicker.

One way to ensure your child is enjoying and comprehending what you’re reading, is by asking him/her questions. Stop at a page and ask your child what he/she thinks will happen next. Ask your child to imagine the next scene. Quicken your tone when the story gets exciting, or slow it down and read in a whisper when it gets suspenseful. Simple changes in voice projections can make a world of difference to how your child visualises stories. If you’re not sure how to get started, the National Libraries often hold free storytelling sessions for children – a fun and free activity for the family!


Q: My kids are in Primary School. Is it too late to cultivate a reading habit for them?

It is never too late to get into the habit of reading. Reading can be enjoyed at any age and can become a lifelong hobby. Primary school kids are at the perfect age to start reading, if they haven’t already been introduced to it. Expose them to a wide variety of books and styles of writing. It may be difficult initially for them to appreciate different genres, but be persistent. For example, out of three books, give them the freedom to choose two books of their choice, but control the quality by picking at least one that you want them to read. However, don’t stop there. Ask them to either verbally tell you about the story, or write a short review (to practice their writing). This way, they will constantly be exposed to good writing and ideas when it comes to their own school work.


Q: Does a good reader automatically mean he/she will be a good writer? (and vice versa)

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Your child may love reading, and can read for hours, but if your child is just reading blindly, he/she may not necessarily be a good writer. Of course, reading will make the process of writing come more naturally as your child will be exposed to lots of ideas and many different writing styles. However, the difference between an average writer and a good writer, is practice.

I once read this somewhere, and it has stuck with me till today.

“Talker’s block – no one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the moment is right. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We talk poorly and then, eventually, we talk smart. It is the same with writing. Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, until you can write better. Do it every day. Every single day. Even if it is just a paragraph. Write like you talk. Often.”


Q: Do you believe in buying books for children? Is regular library visits sufficient?

There are no hard and fast rules about where you get your books from. To me, regular library visits are definitely sufficient. I fondly remember the times when my siblings and I would spend entire afternoons in the library, running around shelves looking for the best books. Every week we would read at least four books, and sometimes, switch it around, reading up to eight books a week! It was a fantastic way to get exposed to all sorts of books without any cost.

For new readers, library visits tend to be more cost-effective. If a book isn’t what you are looking for, you can always return it and pick a new one. Once your child has gotten into the habit of reading, you can then venture into bookstores and purchase a couple of books your child has been eyeing. This will serve as a nice treat for children as they grow to become avid readers. Ultimately, whichever you choose, remember the end goal of why you started in the first place.


Q: In your experience, are there gender differences for children’s reading and writing abilities?

In general, there aren’t many differences based on gender when it comes to reading and writing abilities, and that’s a good thing. What we do notice however, is the attitude towards reading. On average, girls tend to read more frequently and have a more positive attitude towards self-reading, while boys tend to pickier with their book choices. However, this difference subsides as children grow older. Girls and boys also tend to differ in their reading preferences, which can sometimes lead to different types of story ideas they churn out. But all in all, gender plays a very minor role in grooming children to be good readers and writers. Ultimately, it is the attitude and interest they show (and this can be cultivated), that will make the difference.


Q: Please share with us if there is anything in 2014 that you wish you had when you were bringing up your kids? (e.g. iPad, Youtube?)

I can truly say nothing in terms of modern technology, as I am still a firm believer in human interaction. I feel sad when I see some young families out at dinner, and everyone is busy on their tablets or mobile phones. I think meal times are wonderful opportunities to share great conversations, learn table manners and social etiquette.


We hope these helped you answer some questions or worries you had about your child’s progress in the language. If you have any other questions, do leave a comment or drop us an email, we love to hear from you!


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