Bleak National Literacy Trust report says many children are turning their backs on reading – and this is too vital an issue to ignore.
It seems almost too obvious to state – but a reading child is a successful child.
So the attention-grabbing headlines of today’s National Literacy Trust report make for dismal reading:
• 17% of youngsters would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading
• three in 10 youngsters read daily in their own time, compared with four in 10 in 2005
• 54% of those questioned said they preferred watching TV to reading
• Of those who did read outside class, 47.8% said they read fiction, down from 51.5% in 2005.
The survey was substantial – 21,000 children – and comes on the eve of tomorrow’s International Literacy Day. How to get children reading has become a political football but it’s clear this issue should be at the top of the political agenda. The National Literacy Trust director, Jonathan Douglas, said: “The fact that children are reading less than in 2005 signals a worrying shift in young people’s literacy habits. We are calling for the Government to back a campaign to halt this reading decline and to give children time to read in their daily lives.”
Time to read is vital. The more kids read, the better readers they become and giving them books that they’ll devour will make them ask for more. Encouraging children to read (especially to read for pleasure) needs money, resources and time. Closing libraries cuts off access to free books and around 160 libraries have already closed their doors or been handed over to volunteers in the past 18 months.
In addition,schools need the freedom and resources to fight a trend of children not reading. School libraries should be a magnet and there needs to be someone in a school trained and interested in running the library and who is on hand to give advice not just to pupils but to teachers, guiding them on what can be enjoyed and what should be stocked in class libraries.
Children would benefit from ‘ring-fenced’ time during every week when they have nothing else to do with a book other than to read it, hear it being read, and to discuss it in a relaxed and open way. Former children’s Laureate Michael Rosen has previously listed 20 ways on how to make a book-loving school, including the re-introduction of children’s literature courses on teacher and assistant teacher training courses.
It’s not just down to schools. We adults have a responsibility. The best role models are in the home and children need to see adults enjoying reading. The National Literacy Trust report says that young people who read outside class on a daily basis were 13 times more likely to read above the expected level for their age.
Although the findings are depressing, it’s also worth remembering that it’s not all doom and gloom. Not a single children’s bookshop closed in 2011, according to the Booksellers Association and children’s book purchases rose slightly too last year by both volume and value. This is a golden age of children’s literature and illustration. The choice of books (fiction, comic and factual) available has never been stronger or more varied. There are wonderful initiatives – such as StoryCloud, during the London 2012 Olympics – to encourage children to read. Authors spend a lot of time, for little personal reward, visiting schools and colleges and encouraging literacy.
And let’s not forget that multitudes of children DO think reading is cool. It’s heartening to attend the Hay Festival’s Hay Fever programme or the Bath Festival Of Children’s Literature and see how much children love books and how they revere authors. And, it’s true, probably be fortunate to have affluent parents who support reading habits.
Getting children reading is a challenge for the future (globally, almost 800 million people are illiterate) and it is a complex issue (you can read today’s full report at The National Literacy Trust as well as a previous one on the benefits of reading for pleasure).
Yet it’s vital that problems are addressed. Even if one single child feels embarrassed about reading, then something is badly wrong.