Have you read with your child today? Research suggests that the answer is probably
no. Education expert Robert Watts investigates how this may affect your child
In a recent poll of parents almost half admitted they found it
difficult to schedule a story at bedtime, with some confessing
that the only way they could find the time was to read to their
offspring while they brushed their teeth.
Meanwhile, a survey of 500 primary teachers found that almost half were concerned
about children’s attitudes to reading and believed that more parents should prioritise
reading at home. Should we worry that we are creating a generation of reluctant readers?
If it’s true that our children are increasingly less inclined to read, who is to
blame – parents, teachers, or even children themselves? Oxford University Press carried
out a survey of 1,000 parents and nearly half of them (44 per cent) skipped bedtime
stories. They offered a range of excuses. Some claimed their offspring were already
independent readers who needed little help with literacy; others admitted that tiredness
and tetchiness made reading difficult, while many confessed that the temptations
of technology were greater than those of the written word in their home! The research
concluded that these parents greatly underestimated the value of reading with children.
Former head teacher James Clements says: ‘It’s a real shame that
parents don’t realise that just 10 minutes of reading with their child
each day is one of the best waysthey can support their education’. He questions
why parents are often prepared to pay for extra tuition for their children when reading
together on a regular basis can do so much to help? ‘Reading together six days a
week means hours of extra support for a child. It’s definitely cheaper than an hour
with a tutor and it could make a much bigger difference,’ he argues.
Did you know...
Reading can boost the following life and learning skills
• Communication – speech and language transfer to general academic ability.
• Emotional literacy – sharing responses to stories.
• Diversity of experience – understanding other people’s lives are different from
• Thinking skills – deduction and inference – predicting what
will happen next.
When time is tight
Busy parents shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for children’s declining interest in
reading. Cast your mind back to your own schooldays and youmight recall how your
teachers tried to nurture their love of reading in you. Until the 2000s, silent reading
and storytime each had regular slots in the school timetable, periods of the day
when children could lose themselves in books without worrying whether they were meeting
their teacher’s latest ‘learning objectives’.
In today’s schools, children are far less likely to hear teachers read stories to
them. It’s not that English is any less important in schools, says primary teacher
Jane Golding, It’s because the nature of English teaching in primary schools has
changed dramatically. ‘In the past five years there’s been a far greater emphasis
on teaching the decoding of words and developing grammatical skills’ she explains.
‘It’s become harder and harder to inspire children to enjoy their reading,’ adds
Jane. ‘In the past, children spent more time reading and listening to stories as
well as creating their own. Today, the younger children have a phonics lessons every
day while the older ones need to learn much more in terms of conjugating verbs and
Educationalists who support this increased emphasis on grammar point to the progress
made by children in other countries since 2000. In 2016 the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD) compared the attainment of 500,000 children in
70 countries in maths, science and literacy. Children in Singapore, Canada, Finland
and Ireland found themselves at the top of the international league table for reading,
while the UK struggled to make the top 20.
It’s not that British children are getting worse – our kids’ scores have remained
remarkably consistent since the turn of the century – it’s just that those in many
other countries are getting better. So successive governments have looked overseas
for solutions to a perceived decline of standards in UK schools Currently, the spotlight
is on phonics and grammar.
Yet there’s no escaping the fact that the increased emphasis on
grammar has coincided with a decline in children’s interest in reading. Literacy
experts like author Michael Morpurgo argue for a re-introduction of storytime in
schools, and more than half of primary teachers wish they were able to spend more
time on reading according to BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity.
HOW PARENTS CAN SHARE AT HOME
Make a date – set aside a time and space for regular reading.
Bring books alive – try out funny voices, talk about illustrations.
Choose a variety of books (fiction and non-fiction) to explore
different types of language.
Take turns to read aloud to each other.
Allow children time to work out tricky words alone.
Talk about the book – make predictions, discuss characters.
Define new words, explain unusual phrases.
Trouble with technology
Four in 10 teachers say children read far less than they did five years ago, while
more than 60 per cent feel that children today have too many distractions. Yes, parents
could do more to help at home and yes, schools are under pressure to meet government
targets on spelling and grammar. But many teachers also
believe there are other reasons why
children are losing interest in reading.
Most parents will guess what is coming next, particularly those
who spend half their waking hours persuading children to part with their iPads! In
2011, only seven per cent of British 5-15-year-olds had access to a tablet computer,
but that figure rose to 71 per cent by 2015. But does this mean that they are reading
No, according to research by the National Literacy Trust. In 2010, only 29 per cent
of 5-11-year-olds read every day, compared with 41 per cent in 2014. How can this
be? The answer lies in the type of reading that children are doing. Activities such
browsing, texting and Snapchatting require only a limited attention span from children.
Joanna De Guia, whose Story Habit organisation holds events to promote children’s
literature, is concerned that reading on screen has become a dangerous distraction
from longer reading. ‘The amount of concentration required on any digital device
short,’ she explains.
Joanna argues that children use tablets in ways that create very
short attention spans and it delays the development of their long-term reading skills.
‘Children want instant gratification,’ she says. ‘If they’re not getting that from
the book they’re reading, they can just play a game instead.’ She believes that children
will develop more positive attitudes to reading at school if parents prioritise
it at home. At the end of the day, nothing beats a book at bedtime.
WE ALL SHOULD ENJOY IT!
Art Eldridge has just turned six and is the youngest of Lia and
Kipper’s three children.
Kipper says: ‘We now realise the importance of reading together. Our experience has
taught us it’s important to make reading a priority. Art enjoys reading and he enjoys
being read to. We both work full time, but we always make sure that one of us makes
time for reading with Art.
‘We have a routine – we go up at seven every evening and Art reads his school book
to one of us – then he chooses one of his own books or one he’s brought home from
the school library. We try not to rush it and we try to enjoy it – we know that if
we’re not enjoying it then he won’t enjoy it!’
SIX TOP PICKS
Recommended books for reception level that children
and parents can enjoy together.
We’re going on a bear hunt by Michael Rosen (Walker Books).
Children’s classic recently transferred to TV.
Let’s go home, Little Bear by Martin Waddell (Walker Books).
Atmospheric illustrations bring warmth to snowy story.
I will not ever eat a tomato by Lauren Child (Orchard Books).
Engaging characters combined with innovative design.
Tusk Tusk by David McKee (Andersen).
A gentle way of exploring conflict – lots to discuss.
Charlie Cook’s favourite book by Julia Donaldson (MacMillan).
Anything by Julia Donaldson is highly recommended – this is a
wonderful book about reading and the imagination.
The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg (Puffin).
Interactive, pop-up, fold-out masterpiece!
See http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books/bookfinder/ for further recommendations