A recent report published by the National Literacy Trust has revealed that “children are spending less of their own time reading and are increasingly embarrassed to be seen reading”. According to the survey, sitting down with a book just isn’t the done thing, especially for boys. So how do we tackle this problem? In an era where so may distractions compete for children’s attention, how can we inject the enthusiasm back into reading?
It seems that reading books just doesn’t cut it with the young generation anymore. When The National Literacy Trust published its report last week, ‘Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2012, Findings from the 2012 National Literacy Trust’s Annual Survey’ the overall view was a disappointing one.
Among other things, the report found that children and young people in 2012 generally held more negative attitudes towards reading than children and young people in the previous two years. In 2010, 24% of children and young people had trouble finding things to read that interested them. By 2012, that proportion increased by 7.6 percentage points to 31.6%. Similarly, and perhaps significantly, more children and young people agreed in 2012 that they would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading. Why has literature suffered such a fall in popularity?
A number of factors could be at play here:
Driven to distraction!
In our ever expanding world of entertainment, it might simply be that reading is being squeezed out as one of many things that children do in their spare time. Computer games, TV, music, film, sport, not-to-mention a host of social media platforms all compete for children’s entertainment. Whereas a hundred years ago reading might have been one of a few pastimes, now it is one of many.
Related to this argument is the fact that we live in a far less patient society. Nowadays, people want to be stimulated immediately. They want action, adventure and they want it now! Long well-woven prose are not the order of the day. Kids would rather read snippets, sound bites, and tweets. It may seem a slightly tenuous line, but it could be that (when surrounded by more immediate forms of entertainment), children just don’t have the patience to sit down and let a really good story develop.
Let me entertain you!
Could it be that the children’s books no longer excite the audience of today? Modern video games can offer a level of adventure and excitement and detail far beyond what was on offer ten or twenty years ago. Is it the case that sitting down with a book is just too boring?
This, I cannot accept. A good book can offer just as much entertainment as any Play Station or X-Box. After all, literature stimulates the most powerful computer of all – the human mind.
The National Literacy Trust report observed that 31.6% of children struggled to find something to read about that interested them. Is literature, therefore, completely out of touch with the interests of today’s youth?
Surely not. Now, more than ever before, there is literature out there to suit every taste and interest. It would be hard to think of any genre which the written word has not covered.
Furthermore, some books have even enjoyed a following on a par with ‘Grand Theft Auto V’! The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer springs to mind, not-to-mention Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’. And who could forget ‘Pottermania’?!
If children are seriously struggling to find books which are of interest to them, then perhaps they need to look a little harder. I challenge anyone to enter a good book store and fail to find a topic which attracts their interest.
Good reading starts at home!
Emilie Buchwald once said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Perhaps the crucial reason why reading is falling down the popularity polls amongst young children, is that they are not being encouraged to read from an early age at home.
Not that I blame busy mums and dads for this. In a world which is getting increasingly busy, tiring and stressful, it is not easy for exhausted parents to find the time to help their kids discover the joys of reading.
When all said and done, adults are subject to just as many distractions as their children. That said, there are a few simple ways to encourage boys and girls to pick up a book:
Join a library… or an online book store!
It would be easy for me to suggest a weekly trip to the library with the kids to select a book of their choice (though one of my friends does exactly that with her three little girls… and it works!).
Libraries are wonderful resources and can offer helpful advice that can take a child down a new literary avenue they have not even thought about. However, if the thought of traipsing down to the local library is just too much, how about making it a regular occurrence to log onto an online bookstore to check out the latest releases? Or perhaps you may wish to encourage your children to join an online book club.
In a world where reading seems to be suffering a drop in popularity, book festivals appear to be doing rather well. There are the famous ones such as the Hay Book Festival, but there are countless others.
My own home city of Manchester is currently holding its own literature festival, which offers the chance for readers to meet their literary heroes as well as immerse themselves in the enthralling world of books!
Reading – not just a source of enjoyment, but a life skill
However, we may decide to encourage our young generation to enjoy reading, it is vital that we succeed. That literature should be considered unpopular or ‘uncool’ is something we need to address straight away.
Yes, books are fun and enjoyable. Reading can become a fantastic hobby throughout one’s life, a real companion whether on the train, on the beach or in bed! However, quite apart from it being one of the linch pins of our civilised society, it is its importance as an everyday tool for communication, which should never be overlooked.
Literacy is one of the fundamental skills we all need to succeed in this world. And like any real skill, it has to be practised and nurtured. I can accept that having one’s nose buried in a book may be considered nerdy by some kids. It certainly may not be as ‘cool’ as playing the latest shoot-‘em-up or being a member of the football first team.
I also accept that literature is not something that necessarily comes easily to all. Some may have to work harder at it than others. Not everyone is going to pick up a novel by Tolstoy or a play by Shakespeare and love it! But literature does have something for everyone. It can provide, education, entertainment and excitement for all.
The fact that reading is experiencing a drop in popularity among children is not because literature is boring, tedious or too narrow in its scope. It is because we are having our heads turned by far more superficial means of entertainment and because we are not bothering to take the time to learn this magical craft.
Children may feel abashed to be seen reading. But I would argue that they would feel far more embarrassed later in life by their own illiteracy. I was saddened to read the findings of this report. Not just because of its greater ramifications, but also because it seems that more and more children are missing out on this wonderful gift.