Reading for pleasure – ideas that work
There is an independent bookshop near my son’s school that is, in my mind, exactly what a bookshop should be; eminently browsable and so filled with books for bibliophiles that it is easy to lose track of time. The children’s section is a treasure trove (it reminds me of The Shop Around the Corner in You’ve Got Mail) so inviting that I have seen children run to get in there. The selection on offer is brilliantly curated and I have no doubt that many happy memories are embedded there.
This shop is by no means unique, however. There are booksellers and librarians across the country working wonders within the tightest of margins to entice children into a lifelong love of books and reading. And there is no doubt that these efforts are working on many of the children they manage to reach. However, research on young people’s engagement with reading undertaken by the National Literacy Trust in 2022 (Annual Literacy Survey) found that fewer than 1 in 2 (47.8%) children aged 8-18 said they enjoyed reading in 2022. Fewer boys than girls said they enjoyed reading and fewer than 3 in 10 children and young people aged 8-18 said they read daily. Looking at this evidence, combined with the detrimental impact that the recent pandemic had particularly on children from lower income households, it is imperative that we support children as they develop a life of reading.
What do the statistics say?
Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust, also acknowledges the urgent importance of boosting children’s reading. She told Eteach, “Our latest insights tell us that, as well as helping them do well at school, children recognise how reading benefits their mood and their mental health. For BookTrust’s Christmas Appeal, we commissioned research to ask children how reading makes them feel. More than half (53%) said reading makes them feel happy, while 40% said reading makes them feel calm. When asked what kinds of books they would like to be given for Christmas, 72% said they would like to receive a book that either makes them laugh or takes them on an adventure.
“Giving children a choice of high-quality books was important to us when we selected the titles which will be gifted to families using foodbanks and children in care across the UK as part of our Christmas Appeal (www.booktrust.org.uk/xmas). Children who read are happier, healthier, more empathetic, and more creative and they also do better at school. However, for children to grow up to be readers and enjoy the full benefits of reading, they need to be inspired to start reading early in life. Reading together at an early age can help with brain development, developing good habits, and be a great way for families to bond – it's never too early to start.”
Programmes that can inspire young readers
The Young Readers Programme team at the National Literacy Trust has many ideas for encouraging children to love reading. Top tips for teachers include building communities of readers and making one-to-one reader recommendations tailored to specific children, led by their individual interests. Making time for children to recommend books to one another and to teachers helps, too.
The Young Readers Programme team also suggests that it helps if teachers expand their knowledge of children's texts. Having a broad knowledge of diverse children's literature greatly supports reading for pleasure. Ask your local librarian/bookseller for recommendations, or check out these websites for a range of booklists which can help you develop your knowledge:
- https://www.booksfortopics.com/branching-out<< has some great ‘if you like this, you should try that..’ suggestions.
Also from the National Literacy Trust Young Readers Programme team are the suggestions to make sure that you offer a broad and diverse range of texts in your school library or class library for your pupils to choose from (including magazines, graphic novels, manga, non-fiction books), and create social reading environments which offer a comfy space to read, relax and browse. In these spaces, make time for booktalk, recommendations, reading aloud and independent reading.
Dawn Woods, Member Development Librarian at the School Library Association, also highlights the benefits we derive from the skill of reading. “Reading is fun,” Woods explained. “It is a skill we are taught in school to help us navigate our way through education and life. It’s vital for learning but also for wellbeing. We can’t visit the many places we’d like to in our lifetime – but you can via books. If you’ve ever felt alone, there will be a book which helps you realise you are not. Reading doesn’t always come easily to some of us, but there is help out there.”
The cry from all experts in the field of reading is that we should be encouraging our whole communities to read. As Woods said, “Book choice is a hugely important factor. You don’t need lots of money yourself if you have a local or a school library which offers books of all genres and levels. It’s ok to re-read favourites. It’s fine to go at your own pace. If you prefer information books to fiction – that’s perfectly acceptable. Everyone enjoys books with pictures – graphic novels are much loved among the book community.”
Woods also suggests that listening to audio books “absolutely does count as reading them.” It takes concentration to listen which is a skill itself. So don’t be put off if you prefer to listen to books on the go. Some people prefer to read on a screen, some prefer a hard copy. Personal choice is important so don’t be deterred from accessing your favourite format.”
Another strategy to consider is becoming a Reading School. Woods explained, “Is the whole community talking about books? Teachers and pupils alike?” She suggests that pupils recommend books to their peers. “If you are stuck for suggestions for a next read,” Woods said, “use the many book websites and book blogs for recommendations. Start a Library Book Club with others so you can share ideas of books you have read that others may enjoy.”
The literature on reading, and the benefits of reading, seems to be unambiguous. It deserves a place at the front and centre of any curriculum, helping children to engage with the world, to question and to think critically about what they encounter. I, for one, will definitely be visiting my local bookshop this festive season for presents and respite in the busy-ness (and did I mention they have cake, too?!). Perhaps the greatest gift we can give children and young people is the chance and desire to get lost in a book they can really connect with this winter time.
Research highlighted by the National Literacy Trust:
- Children and young people’s reading enjoyment is linked with their reading attainment (Clark & Teravainen-Goff, 2020), maths attainment (Sullivan & Brown, 2013), and mental wellbeing (Clark & Teravainen-Goff, 2018).
- Fewer than 1 in 2 (47.8%) children and young people aged 8 to 18 told us in 2022 that they enjoy reading (Cole, Brown, Clark and Picton, 2022).
- 1 in 5 children aged 5-8 said in 2022 they don’t have a book of their own at home. (Cole, Brown and Clark, 2022)
Find out more…
- Children and young people's reading engagement in 2022 | National Literacy Trust
- Get Everyone Reading (sla.org.uk)
- Daniel Pennac’s Rights of the Reader poster: Microsoft Word - HO 11 Rights of the reader.doc (literacytrust.org.uk)
- Wellbeing through Reading (sla.org.uk)
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.