Let us help our children read ….. for enjoyment

27 Aug

There is good news.  A national literacy survey carried out in 2019 (for which the latest figures are available) reveals that 99% of people in the United Kingdom can read and write while 1% of the country lack literacy skills.  The bad news is that this 1% represents 660,000 adults above the age of 15.

There is more bad news.  Altogether, 16.4% of adults in England (or 7.1 million) can be described as having ‘very poor literacy skills’.  According to the National Literacy Trust, “they can understand short, straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently and obtain information from everyday sources, but reading information from unfamiliar sources or about unfamiliar topics could cause problems” making them “functionally illiterate”.  Several are unwilling to admit that they have difficulties and/or ask for help.

According to an international survey, North Korea appears to have the highest level of literacy with 100% of adults knowing how to read and write.  However, it is a very ‘closed’ country and such a statistic must be taken with a pinch of salt.  This does not give us any cause for complacency, however, about our poor literacy levels.

Aristotle said centuries ago: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you a man.”  If we can look beyond the sexism of that remark, the thought behind this is profound.   To make the nation 100% literate, we must inculcate a love for reading in children before they begin school, if possible.  Sadly, schools and academies are unable to reach out to all families with young children and many academies admit them when they have few verbal skills.

In the academic year 2017/18, the National Literacy Trust mentioned that its survey of UK’s school population found the following.

  • After six years of increasing reading enjoyment levels, children and young people’s reading enjoyment decreased in 2017/18 (from 58.6% in 2016 to 56.6% in 2017/18).
  • Levels of daily reading decreased for a second consecutive year, falling from 32% in 2016 to 30.8% in 2017/18.
  • Children and young people’s reading engagement steadily fell over the past four years.
  • Children and young people are slightly more likely to read more formats in print than digitally in their free time at least once a month (2.95 print formats vs 2.12 formats on screen).
  • Children and young people who enjoy reading are five times more likely to read above the level expected for their age compared with their peers who don’t enjoy reading (17.0% vs 3.5%).
  • Children and young people who read daily are four times more likely to read above the level expected for their age compared with their peers who don’t read daily (22.3% vs 5.7%).

There are a multitude of reasons why reading books is important for our children.

(1)        It makes them better communicators and increases their vocabulary.   In the present climate it is unsurprising for many of our youngsters to pepper their conversations with a multitude of “likes”, something that has been very off-putting to old fogies like me.  Books can increase children’s vocabulary making them much more articulate.

(2)        Books educate and reading promotes concentration.  In my youth it helped me research issues about which I wanted to know more.   Okay, today we have the internet.  But we still have the job of reading what’s on the screen and if children want to know more, they use the various search engines and dig to glean knowledge.

(3)        Books keep children’s brains healthy – especially if they are reading the correct genre.  Brain cells multiply when used and engaged in reading.  When inactive they atrophy and decay.

(4)        Reading novels reduces stress levels and eases the tension created by the demands that life brings.   Reading eases depression.   A good book either provides a cathartic effect or offers opportunities to engage in escapism.  Either way, reading heightens the production of melatonin when one picks up a book just prior to retiring after a stressful day and helps one have a good night’s sleep.

(5)        Books motivate one, especially when one is reading about other human beings who have achieved so much with so little.

(6)        Books also set alight our creative talents – providing ideas that work as catalysts.

(7)        Reading connects people to one another – people who know and don’t know one another. It enables people to learn about others’ cultures. Through this process, it creates empathy.

(8)        A book is something that is concrete and tangible.   It can be read and re-read, unlike a film or television show.   Because of this feature, a book can be savoured or if the reader wants to remember something s/he forgot – re-read.  Through such a process, a book is an aid to memory.

(9)        Books make us armchair travellers.  At a time when we are essentially grounded because of Covid-19, reading a good book can waft us away to far-off places and/or make us time travellers visiting people long-gone or enable us to make forays into the future with the help of the imagination of the writers.   What can be more enjoyable? And this is without having to spend a fortune.

(10)      A good book can help one go to sleep, if one suffers from insomnia.  (A boring book, probably, even more.)

(11)      Most important of all, encouraging youngsters to read for pleasure is critical for their growth and development.  Oft do parents hear at home the signal cry: “I am bored!!!” Creating in children the reading habit presages the death of boredom.

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