The Reader - An Endangered Species
19th November 2018
By Christina Taylor – Associate ELT consultant
It’s coming up to the festive time of year. Many of us will ask our loved ones “What would you like from Santa Claus?” The answers are predictable; adults may say: a new perfume, makeup, a new handbag, after shave, electronic goods or gadgets. Children may say: a new doll or car, a bicycle, a computer console or game. Do any of your loved ones ever ask for a new book? Apart from reading for work or research; when was the last time you read for pleasure?
Now I know that I am amongst an educated group of people here, who probably do enjoy a good fiction title. However, if we asked the general population, how many of them could say they have read for pleasure in the last week/month/year? Various research shows that less people are reading for pleasure. Reasons being - the fast paced life style, having no time, having more important things to do, preferring other leisure activities. What about our children? Why do a lot of them not read for pleasure? Do they have the opportunities to? Again, there are lots of publications detailing the rise of the electronic device with children and the decline in literacy skills possibly as a result? Have children changed or have we enabled that change?
I have been out of the classroom now for two years. I resigned from teaching to have my little boy. I didn’t last long being away from schools; I now work indirectly with schools through my role as an Usborne Books Organiser. This has allowed me to see the relationships that children have with books (and technology) from lots of different angles. I’d like to share my take on it.
In school, the children are mostly surrounded by books. They now have access to more and more technology than ever before – but thankfully, I’m happy to say, that in my experience there are still lots of books in most schools. The children know they are going to be expected to look at books to find the answer to their questions. Many of them actually look forward to the teacher reading them a story at the end of the day. Obviously there are children who struggle to access books for various reasons (poverty, disabilities, learning difficulties etc.) but that issue is for a different blog. What you will observe in schools is that most children enjoy a book or certainly they don’t show any fierce resistance to them. In fact, (you may have heard of the term ‘golden time’ or words to that effect, in which children are allowed to choose which activity they would like to do) many of them do choose to snuggle up in the reading corner.
What about at home? In my role as Head of Inclusion and Special Educational Needs Coordinator I visited lots of children in their home. There were very few that had an obvious book shelf or book area; in fact a single title could not be found in some. My visits may have been limited to certain families with difficulties but through friends and family and other various ventures I believe I have seen a wide range of abodes that children reside in. The lack of books or quality books is evident in a lot of them. In fact here is an interesting story that contradicts my preconceptions. Recently I have held pop-up book shops in various school. I will compare the two that surprised me the most. One was in an inner-city school, multi-cultural and relatively deprived area. I was expecting to make minimal sales – maybe prejudged but I’m just being honest. The children were pushing each other out of the way to get to the books, they were so excited by the variety, and it was lovely to see. The parents were doing their best to ensure that the children got what they wanted from the stall. My other event was in an “Outstanding” school in an affluent little village. The children showed minimal interest in the stall and were more interested in other things. The parents were the most shocking, they didn’t even pop over for a browse. Instead they sat and enjoyed the “refreshments” in the sunshine and when approached most weren’t even interested in winning some free books for their children. I packed up early that day. I came to the conclusion that maybe they were lucky enough to have access to many beautiful books already and did not feel like they or their children needed anymore? I don’t know. It’s just an interesting observation.
From a home point of view as a parent, I can only talk about my experience so far with my little boy. I read all the time. It’s a treat for me to get lost in a good book, my way of relaxing. My little boy has been surrounded by a range of books from an early age; located on accessible books shelves that he could access from when he was crawling. He would often choose a book over an electronic toy. In fact, books are such a big part of our lives that he gets quite angry if his routine of four stories aren’t read to him before bed every night. It is a calming activity that he enjoys independently or together depending on his mood – but it’s safe to say that books are on par with other “toys” in our house.
Often when I do stalls I hear parents saying to me “he’s not a good reader”, “he hates reading”, “she has no interest in books”, “and she finds books boring”. I would ask “do you enjoy reading?” The reply – “no”, “no not really”. How are our children going to fall in love with reading if their adults don’t?
The main message of my blog is that we must provide opportunities and invest the time outside of the classroom to allow our children to access and enjoy reading for pleasure. Another thing that seems to be on the rise is anxiety/stress/mental health issues in children at younger and younger ages. Again, from personal experience, if my child has more than an hour of TV he becomes a little wild. That’s because it’s such a passive activity, you don’t really require any skills to observe a TV programme. Children love to learn, they like to be challenged, they relish on praise when progress is made. Books can take you on endless adventures, stretch the imagination, help you relax and unwind. We must allow our children to enjoy imaginative play and develop and explore their creative side. We must feed this part of their brain by ensuring that they have access to beautiful, quality books.
Going from education to sales was a step I never thought I would take, but Usborne offer so many incentives for schools and other charities that I am proud to be working with them to get books into the hands of all children – no matter their circumstance.