Books, Books, BooksPosted on: 06/03/2020
I was saddened to read an article in the Guardian newspaper last weekend which relayed the shocking statistic that a recent survey found that, in 2019, just 26% of under 18s spent some time each day reading. This is the lowest daily level recorded since the charity concerned first surveyed children’s reading habits in 2005. The research also found that fewer children enjoy reading, and that this declined with age: nearly twice as many 5 to 8 year olds as 14 to 16 year olds said they took pleasure from reading. Overall, just 53% of children said they enjoyed reading “very much” or “quite a lot” – the lowest level since 2013.
The research is so worrying because all educators and, I believe, the vast majority of parents know the value of reading for young children. Reading underpins absolutely everything in primary education: it teaches engagement, sparks curiosity, encourages focus and concentration, fires up the imagination and is the medium through which comprehension skills such as inference and extrapolation are taught and developed. By far the most important thing, educationally, that any parent can do with their young child is to model and inspire a love of books and reading, by reading widely themselves and spending time each day reading to and then with their child.
No child is too young for the joy of reading - even new-born babies enjoy the sound of a parent’s voice and the wonder and sense of discovery as that voice conveys different emotions: joy, excitement or suspense. Spending precious time with your child every day to share books is time extremely well spent. As your child grows older, you can mix it up, with you reading some parts of the book and them joining in. Children will memorise those children’s picture books that are regularly read to them and will enjoy, even before they can read themselves, telling the story as if they are reading. As they learn to associate the words on the page with the words they are hearing/saying, they are learning to read almost magically! Of course, we teach children to read at school using tried and tested methods, as well as the latest developments in pedagogical thinking, but it is at home that a love of reading can be inspired and embedded.
I am proud that, at St. Helen’s College, we inspire readers in so many ways: our teaching staff take great care to ensure that reading is regular, purposeful and enjoyable for the children; our well-stocked libraries offer a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books, and children visit the school library and begin choosing books right from Nursery. Our dedicated librarians at Upper School run reading challenges, employ pupil librarians, create interesting and inspiring displays, refresh stock constantly and with great awareness of what will be of value to children, and are always ready with a recommendation. Guided reading in English lessons throughout the school and extra reading clubs add to the children’s positive and meaningful reading experiences, as do special themed days like the wonderful World Book Day we enjoyed this week.
We live in an ever-changing world, and other media are having their moment. Films, online content including short videos and social media memes are rife and do, of course, have some value. But there is absolutely no substitution for reading books in terms of setting your child up for success both inside and outside of school. Through books, children can discover all of life. They can ‘visit’ and gain understanding of other cultures; they can explore the emotions of themselves and others; they can imagine a world of colour and interest, actively developing their creativity in ways that they simply cannot by sitting passively in front of a screen.
So please, I urge you, support your child in their reading. We ask that parents throughout the school read with their children every single day and that you question your child to make sure that they have understood what you or they have read. Depending on their age, you might ask them to retell the story, ask them to think of an alternative ending, or ask them what the characters are feeling and why. You could ask them to find the words that the author has used that prove that their answers are correct. Children who are questioned in this way grow used to thinking carefully about what they are reading, which ensures excellent comprehension.
I do hope that World Book Day has inspired your children to want to read more, and I hope that parents will feel inspired too. If you can make time for this most important of activities, your child will thrive and you will hopefully experience some real joy each day too! I am sure that, at St. Helen’s College, the number of children who would say they enjoy reading is well over 53% - but we will not, and should not, rest until we are absolutely confident that it is 100%!