There is a wealth of research and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the positive effect reading for pleasure has on children’s academic and social development. Research has shown that reading for pleasure has a bigger impact on children’s cognitive development than their parent’s level of education and their socioeconomic background. However, in England the percentage of children that report reading for pleasure is significantly lower than those in many other countries. How can we promote reading for enjoyment for children?
Consider how your book corner or school library represents the children who make use of them. The Cooperative Children’s Book Centre has been tracking the level of diversity in children’s literature since 1985. In 2017 they reported that a mere 9% of children’s books published in that year featured black characters in a significant role. This is clearly a misrepresentation of our multicultural society. It is important that we consider the literature offerings we are making available to children how these reflect the religions/races/cultures/families of 21st century society and our school communities. As practitioners we need to be self-reflective and consider if the books we are providing reflective of those that read them to ensure children are able to self-identify with them and so that they promote their sense of self-worth. This will encourage children to read to read for pleasure.
Additionally, 20% of the pupils in primary schools are exposed to another language at home. How are we valuing these languages? The use of dual language texts or books in a child’s home language can be useful to welcome new EAL learners into our classrooms demonstrate how their home language is valued and encourage these pupils to read for pleasure.
Do reading opportunities on offer reflect 21st century life for children? Research has demonstrated that magazines, websites and emails are among most common choices of material for children to read. Can we increase the scope of texts on offer to encourage children to read for pleasure? E-readers, tablets, blogs, comics, magazines, child-friendly newspapers and even song lyrics used to complement your poetry offerings can promote children’s engagement in reading. However, it is important we remain mindful of the quality and age appropriateness of literature we expose children to in schools.
We need to provide literature that is related to children’s interests whilst being mindful that these can change cohort to cohort, term to term, week to week… (day to day!). Providing children with literature related to their own interests will encourage children to engage with text. It is important we do not simply assume children’s interests and that we make use of pupil voice and encourage children to tell us what topics they would like texts to focus on. This element of choice will encourage children to take further ownership of their reading collection and, therefore, encourage reading for pleasure. Research has found that choice of reading material is fundamental in encouraging children to read for their own enjoyment.
Opportunities to read for enjoyment
If we want children to read for pleasure, we need to build in time and opportunities for them to read solely for enjoyment. Although the school day can be busy we need to ensure time is planned for so that children can enjoy reading.
We also need to encourage, and devote time to, children sharing books they have enjoyed. Recent research in Australia highlighted that children having time to talk about texts they have enjoyed was a factor that predetermined their reported enjoyment of reading. Encouraging children to talk about texts allows them to refine their likes and dislikes, encourages them to read more as they are recommended books by their peers and also encourages and the shared and social aspects of reading which can contribute to a whole-school reading culture.
Use of libraries
Libraries and librarians can be a fantastic way to encourage reading for pleasure for all ages. Having a school library is a brilliant way to showcase the range of genres and types of books available to children. Public libraries are a fantastic free resource which have the power to transform attitudes to reading and lives. Children who use a public library are twice as likely to be reading outside of school than their peers . We need to be promoting the use of public libraries for our children and their families. This can be achieved by inviting librarians into schools to talk to children, visiting a local library, sharing information with families and promoting local library competitions and events such as summer reading schemes.
Reading role models
Children need to see adults enjoying reading. One way schools can make adults enjoyment of reading visible is by creating displays that showcase the books staff are currently reading or that they enjoyed reading when they were younger. This helps establish a whole school culture of readers and can prompt discussion around books and reading. Adults also need to share books with children that are above the level of those which they can read independently. This helps model the skills of reading, develops children’s vocabulary and helps foster a love of stories and reading. Additionally, the use of a ‘buddy system’ where older and younger children are paired together and given time to share and talk about books is also an effective way of children seeing reading role models.