Why we must get children reading

I will be honest, when I was at secondary school I was never a big reader. There had been a few books that captivated my interest, like the Harry Potter series or His Dark Materials trilogy but apart from that I did not read much at all. I did, however, pick up the reading bug at Sixth Form College, and have been hooked ever since.

Now, it is my firm and fundamental belief that reading is the most important activity in education. A child who learns to be a good confident reader – but also finds a passion for reading – will most likely go on to achieve great things in formal education. Someone who reads really can learn anything; all they must do is pick up a book and read it. Of course it is not all that simple, and I am certainly not saying that there is not a role for teachers in this desired method of education – what I am saying is that reading is very important to individual study. Indeed, it is a skill which becomes more important as children progress in education.

However, my feeling is that increasingly we are moving away from teaching the joys reading can incite – and I truly believe it is fair to use the word ‘joy’. In secondary school I cannot remember many occasions where children were actively encouraged to read. Of course, I am fully aware that this is personal experience, but I also know that in the GCSE curriculum it is not required for children to have read more than one book and for many, generally lower achieving, schools, this book is read in class not in students’ own time.

I have empathy for teachers. They know they need the children to read books to have any chance of passing the relevant exams but unfortunately this is a treatment of the symptoms, not the illness. Is it not startling that we cannot simply give a book to a fifteen year old and expect them to read it from cover to cover? Exams are important, but if children are not learning to enjoy reading and are not reading widely, then we have already failed them , regardless of whether we can cram them full of information about a book for a test that they may not have even read.

I believe that encouraging children to read is necessary as soon as they reach secondary school. There is a scheme used in some schools called ‘Drop Everything And Read‘ or DEAR. This is a scheme where for fifteen minutes of every day everyone in a given school reads. And they mean everyone. Not just all students and teachers, but secretarial staff and janitors. Everyone. This scheme has been very successful in encouraging young people to read as it gives them role models to look up to and follow, and creates an environment in which they are surrounded by adults that read, something they may not be used to at home.

I think the decline in reading is often attributed to the rise in technology. This may indeed be true in the sense that people do not read as much as they used to, but this does not excuse the fact that there are children growing up never having read. No one ever said it was easy, but the benefits are so overwhelming that if we do not try we are failing hundreds of thousands of children. How can anyone hope to raise their aspirations and attend university if they do not expand their knowledge in their own time? Of course, we can learn in many different ways now but we cannot let that fact make us neglect this obviously greatly consistent method of learning.

The benefits are too great. Not only will we give children a life long passion and interest, but spelling, grammar, vocabulary can all be greatly improved by just reading. As someone who suffers from dyslexia, even I noticed the difference in my spelling when I started reading regularly, and if it helped me it will certainly help others. If we wish to have children that are articulate, well rounded and intellectually curious, I believe we should do everything we can to encourage reading – it may not be something that can be easily examined and marked – but education is so much more than just grades. It is a process, and reading is fundamental to it. Let us not forget that.

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10 thoughts on “Why we must get children reading

  1. Hi Michael. This post really interested me as I have just completed an assignment on the importance of early reading on a child’s education. I agree completely the problem is that children are not learning to read for pleasure, it is seen as a chore. This is why children must be actively encouraged to read from as young an age as possible. A significant problem however is that children need this input both in school and at home and teachers have little to no say on what happens at home- this is down to the parents.

    I too disagree that the decline in reading interest is linked to rise in technology. The Amazon Kindle sold millions of units last year becoming one of the most popular e-readers, so I think there is a place for technology within reading, and a place for reading within technology!

    • I am glad you liked it! I agree completely that reading at the home is very important – both my parents read so I was probably always bound to pick it up anyway – that is why I think that the ‘drop everything and read’ scheme is important, as it gives adult role models that read.

      There is certainly a place for technology in reading culture, it really irritates me that people use technology as an excuse – children need to be taught and also learn themselves that reading and watching a film or watching youtube videos are different experiences, i worry that this distinction is not made enough.

  2. Great post.

    I have a great passion for reading which came very early on as a young child. As a ‘millennial’ (am I a Generation Y?) I agree wholeheartedly that the decline of reading has come due to the upsurge in technology. That’s a great shame _ I have no idea who would prefer the plastic oblong screen to a beautiful newly bought book. I also agree with you that any child who learns to love reading will probably go on to do well in formal education.

  3. I agree. I am a Digital Literacy specialist so I’m fully supportive of using technology to aid and support learning, not replace it. Reading is still vital and one of the most, if not the most important part of education particularly in early years.

  4. Michael you wrote an excellent article, 0-3 is such a critical time during brain development for a child to bond and attach to their mommy’s. I think reading is such a positive way to hold a child close, affectionately, and read to them, or better yet, let them model reading to their parent. Their is greater gift than a mother’s love for her child, looking straight into the eyes of their infant with great joy and attachment.

    Friday’s are papa day with my youngest granddaughter. I put my work aside and she gets papa’s full attention. One of the greatest joys is her wanting to sit on my lap and have me read to her. After going through 15 books, she wants to feel like she is reading to me. The differently in vocabulary between a child that is read to compared to a child that is not read to is staggering. One starts school very successfully and the other child has gaping delays.

    Thanks for sharing your article with me through Twitter, I really enjoyed it and feel you make an excellent point. Blessings, Jim Sporleder/SporLin

  5. Thanks for this.

    I think when looking at the so called decline in reading it’s worth thinking long term. In 1876 1 in 5 people in the UK could not even sign their own name and today we have more people who have obtained a degree from a university than at any other time in history – so we’re in a context of historically high literacy rates.

    It seems to me that there are two key areas, which are related but definitely separate, that a reading drive could help achieve.

    The first is the “bottom rung” of the ladder. Being unable to read is a severe social disadvantage. 50% of the prison population have difficulty reading for example. We need to make real inroads into that smallish but real group of people who’ve been hard to reach educationally.

    The second is about enriching the cultural life of the nation. I don’t mean high art (although yes, let’s have that) but ensuring that education is not something that’s simply about school and qualifications. Where people read poetry for fun. Where they discuss philosophy because it interests them. That, I think, is essential and so the government attacks on the arts council, for instance, is taking us in exactly the wrong direction.

    Embracing new technology like the Kindle is an opportunity to increase reading and it would be great to increase the amount of good free books available.

  6. I agree with the importance of joy in teaching–reading, as well as math and all the rest. I remember the “free reading” times some teachers had in school, and how I could just relax. I know I was becoming a better reader, but it was all so painless! Thanks for this article and for reminding us of the value and the importance of helping kids become skilled and joyful readers.

  7. Hey, I enjoyed your article! You are right, reading is important. I believe that both parents and children should be encouraged and provide opportunities for their children to read books. As early as when they they learn to read in primary school. Of course, there are those families who are unable to support their children, financially or otherwise yet public spaces (f.i. libraries, community centers) could do a lot to give those families extra support and encouragement to spend time on reading and learning in general. With myself, I’ve always noticed that reading actual printed books improves my concentration, and creativity.

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