Encouraging children to read

December 28, 2011 in Mums tips

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Child reading

Nikki Thomas looks at new research suggesting low levels of literacy among children. 

I was really sad when I read recently that according to research by the National Literacy Trust, one in three children has never owned a book.  That is a really shocking statistic.  Never owned a book?

I was talking to someone at school about it and they said that reading isn’t for everyone.  But I disagree with that statement completely.  Of course there are some people for whom reading is more difficult or challenging and there are always some books or types of books that don’t appeal, but reading is such a wide and varied thing, there must be something that can appeal to everyone?

I have always been an avid reader.  I love reading.  I was introduced to books from an early age by my mum and then discovered Enid Blyton in my later years at primary school and I never looked back.  There are some books that I have read over the years that I haven’t completed and there are lots of books that I wouldn’t even start.  Currently, I’m lucky if I read a whole book every six months, but I still read; newspapers, magazines and information on the Internet.

My husband claims that he is not a reader.  His mum bought him books when he was little which he showed no interest in and so she gave up.  Her assumption that he wasn’t a reader rubbed off on him, but she was wrong.  He didn’t like the books she bought him and he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the books he had to read at school, but he loves reading.  He reads biographies and autobiographies of sporting people and politicians and he recently completed the Harry Potter books, which he loved.

I am seeing a similar development with my children.  My two eldest sons love books of all sorts and love reading.  They have constantly got their heads in a fiction book and particularly with my eldest who is now sixteen, his ability in English at school is outstanding and I have no doubt that his reading has played a big part in this.  My seven year old is similar.  However, my six year old is more like my husband.  He has never settled to reading like the other two.  He does read, but he is obsessed with sport; football and rugby in particular.  He can read the sports pages of any newspaper and loves books with sporting facts and figures.  He does like some fictional books and sometimes likes books such as Horrid Henry and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  But give him the back page of a newspaper or a sport-related book or magazine and he will sit for hours reading away.

School reading schemes drive me crazy at times.  As parents we work really hard to encourage our little ones to read and some of the books they come home with are awful to say the least.  I do find it frustrating sometimes, I have filled my house with books of all types in an effort to give the children access to books for reading, for reference or to help with school work.  I’m often glad that I have as even my seven year old, who will read anything, struggles sometimes with the choice of books available.  My six year old often utters the words; “I hate reading”, when I pull another non-fiction book out of his school bag, that he has chosen for choosing sake.  I have chatted to the teacher about it, but he is sent to choose his own books from a selection within his own ‘band’. The thinking behind the system is that he has to stay within a certain band as the books in the band above are not suitable for his age group.  But surely, it is more productive to let him read something he actually enjoys reading.

I suppose my point is this.  Reading is a massively important part of growing up.  I think reading to children when they are little is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child.  It gives them a positive start and also shows them the importance of reading.  But the other point is that ‘reading’ is not just about books.  Reading is all around us and in a world that is dominated by computers, we do have to embrace the media if that is a way of encouraging our children to read.  I am happy for my six year old to read me the football results, not because I have any interest in football, but because he wants to read it and it is what he is interested in.

The findings by the National Literacy Trust were based on 11 -16 year olds, which is the age where children do become distracted by so many other things.  This to me underlines the importance of encouraging a positive attitude towards reading when they are younger, hopefully then when they reach the teenage years, they will continue to see reading as a good thing and not as a meaningless waste of time.