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The Power of Reading

By Miss Walton, Head of English and Mrs Stevns, Librarian.

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel... is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become”

Ursula K Le Guin

Since the advent of the smart phone, tablet and Kindle, print books have been usurped as the only portable form of entertainment. As educators it is our role and duty to support young people as they navigate this world of ever-present technology. However, we must ensure that this generation of children do not miss out on the many known benefits that can be gained from reading, and from the pure joy of holding a physical book in your hand.

Studies show that primary and secondary school aged children who regularly read for pleasure demonstrate higher levels of empathy, stronger social skills, and improved attainment across all areas of the curriculum. In 2017, researchers also found that teenagers who read for pleasure every day understood 26 per cent more words than those who never read at all in their spare time. Teenagers from book-loving homes knew 42 per cent more words than their peers who had grown up with few books.

Having books in the home is associated with both reading enjoyment and confidence. Parents and carers remain the most influential role models for children. Witnessing an adult indulging in recreational reading will increase the chances of a child choosing to read for pleasure.  Adults may also benefit, as studies show that a person who reads for even just 30 minutes per week is 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction.

Research shows that if positive reading habits are ingrained at an early age, then a natural reduction in reading for pleasure in the teenage years will not affect the long-term benefits that reading can bestow. Another way in which adults can act as positive role models is to value and celebrate children’s own reading choices, whether that be fiction or non-fiction. We can fill the gaps ourselves by reading out loud to them the more complicated or challenging books.

Parents who put aside even just 10 minutes every day to read to their child will be sharing 600,000 words with them every year.  A 2019 study showed that most parents stop reading to their child by the age of eight, with just 19% of eight to 10-year-olds read to daily by an adult. Furthermore, boys were less likely to be read to daily than girls at 14%, compared with 24%. The same study showed that 74% of eight to 13-year-olds who were read to each day also read independently, compared with just 29% of those who were read to less than once a week. It does not matter what age the child is, being read to by an adult is both enjoyable and beneficial for them.

In summary, if reading for pleasure has so many benefits to a child’s attainment, mental health and well-being, why wouldn’t we, as teachers and parents, encourage it, model it and support it as much as possible?

“Reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success, more than family circumstances, parents’ educational background, or income.”

OECD and others