According to research by the National Literacy Trust in the U.K., children today read less frequently than any previous generation and enjoy reading less than young people did in the past. In 2019 a mere 26% of under-18s opened a book each day to read. Younger children also display a disturbing aversion to reading. Only 53% of children said they enjoyed reading “very much” or “quite a lot”. Many children begin their schooling with a love of books. Nearly twice as many 5-14 year olds said they liked reading as 14-18 year olds. At some point, somewhere, children fall out of love with reading.
Why does this antipathy to reading matter? It matters because there are now many major longitudinal studies that show that reading for pleasure when young is a greater indicator of academic success and social mobility than anything else. Reading makes you smarter and it makes you more financially secure. Reading for pleasure, therefore, is important. Our children and our students need to do more of it.
However, before we start waving books at our teenage charges it is helpful to know exactly what is meant by reading for pleasure. Reading for pleasure can be defined as reading that is freely chosen or that is freely and enthusiastically continued after it is assigned. In Reading Unbound, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm and Michael Smith identify several types of pleasure gained from reading. The most important of these types of pleasure is, what they term, play pleasure or immersive pleasure. This is when a reader gets lost in a book. It is a prerequisite to all the other forms of pleasure one can gain from reading. It develops the capacity to engage and immerse oneself, visualise meanings, relate to characters, and participate in making meaning. Thus, it goes without saying, our goal as teachers and parents is to encourage our pupils and our children to get well and truly lost, in books.
How do we lose our pupils and our children to books? The answer is surprisingly simple. If we want our pupils to be readers, if we want our children to read and to have all the benefits that accrue from a lifetime of reading then we need to be reading ourselves. We need to be seen reading. We need to be heard talking about books, magazines, blogs and comics. We need to share what we read with our young people and encourage their own efforts at reading for pleasure. Here are some practical steps we can all take to encourage young people to read more:
- Read books aloud to each other or listen to audio books together.
- If it’s difficult to find books with convincing female characters, change the gender of characters as you read. Cross out ‘He’, write in ‘She’.
- Encourage reading for pleasure in any form. It doesn’t matter what they read so long as they are reading. Obviously, we have to be mindful that the material is age appropriate, but other than that anything goes.
- Try some reverse psychology. If you really want your class or your child to read ‘Watership Down’, tell them it’s ‘too difficult’, ‘too old’ or ‘too terrifying’ for them. They’ll soon be clamouring to read it!
- Take them to the library. Take them to book shops and charity shops. Give them plenty of time to choose what they want to read.
- Allocate space and time for reading, particularly when there is nothing else to do.
- Take books with you wherever you go.
If we do these things, we will lose our pupils and our children to books and to the pleasures of reading. Help them get lost. They’ll thank you for it.