It's time to turn the page and get children reading
Only one in three British children own a book. Two out of five teenagers say they only read when they have to. The Minister for Schools Nick Gibb explains why he thinks it's so important to get children to enjoy reading, and asks how parents can encourage their children to read more books.
One of my greatest pleasures when visiting a good school is listening to children talk with real passion about their favourite books – the characters they love and the stories they tell. We want all children to read widely and well, exploring all sorts of books and poems.
According to the National Literacy Trust, just one in three children now owns a book. International evidence says the UK is ranked a lowly 47th out of 65 nations on the number of young people who read for enjoyment. So it’s vital that we find the secrets of encouraging more reluctant readers: whether it’s a matter of making sure they’ve always got a book close to hand, taking them to the library or simply making sure that there is a bed time story every night.
Every parent will have their own views on this. I believe that reading is at the heart of education, and that to get to where they should be, children need to learn to love books from a young age. Parents can play a vital part in this. Research results confirm what most parents know: children – of all ages – benefit from their parents’ active interest in them. Research also suggests that it’s not the quantity of time that makes the difference, but rather the depth of parental engagement.
First, though, what are we in Government doing? There is strong research evidence that the best way of teaching children to read is through systematic synthetic phonics. This approach means teaching young children the sounds of the alphabet and how to blend these sounds into words. The Government is providing extra funding to schools with children aged 5-7 to help teachers with this. From this coming June, every child at the end of year 1 will take a phonics screening check – and this will help teachers to identify the children who need more support.
But it’s not just the mechanics of reading that matters. Children need to learn to read books for enjoyment, and be encouraged to read widely and deeply – the more they read, the better they will achieve. We want to do what we can in Government to help – for example, we are setting up a new reading competition which will start later this year. But we would never say that we have all the answers on this. A lot depends on schools, and even more depends on parents.
If we work together to encourage reading, I believe we can see a real change in this country – from a place where two out of five 15 year olds say they only read when they have to, from a place where one in three children say they do not own a book of their own, to a place where books are seen to matter, and where reading books is as integral to the lives of young people as the internet and Facebook.
So how do Mumsnet users encourage their children to read? How do you share books with their babies and toddlers? What do you find changes as your children grow older? How do you support enthusiastic readers? How can schools best support parents with their children’s reading? What are your own children’s top ten books – and at what age?