There cannot be a teacher standing, sitting or lying down that is the least bit surprised that children who choose to read in their own time for pleasure are stronger readers; however, some of the other benefits of recreational reading are more intriguing.
Evidence that reading for pleasure promotes health, well-being and broad educational achievement, throughout an individual’s life, is growing. It is easy for someone like me, with a lifelong love of reading and a career in education and children’s literature, to wax lyrical about passing on the flame to a new generation but if you take a colder, harder look at why we should do this, it only grows in importance.
Being a frequent reader narrows the attainment gap for the disadvantaged and is more important for children’s educational outcomes than factors like family income and level of parental education. It also regulates mood, improves relationships with others and reduces the symptoms of depression and the risk of developing dementia in later life. Promoting recreational reading in school not only improves children’s reading attainment, writing ability, comprehension, grammar and vocabulary; it is also strongly associated with improved scores in Maths, stronger general knowledge and better social, emotional and cultural awareness.
With children spending less and less of their time reading, what does the research tell us about the best ways for schools to promote reading for pleasure and what does this mean? While I think all reading is valuable, not all reading is equal when it comes to bringing about the benefits discussed above. Reading for pleasure programmes need to increase the amount of time that children choose to spend on reading over and above other activities. It is not reading for pleasure if a child is reading because you have asked them to read a chapter (even if they have chosen a really cool book), it becomes reading for pleasure if they carry on reading just because they want to finish the really cool book.
What sort of frequency are we talking about and what kind of reading material? For younger children, up to the age of about 10, they would ideally be spending a short time each day choosing to read. As children get older we are talking about spending a longer time reading but not necessarily every day. The critical factors in deciding what sort of reading material to promote is that children find it interesting, enjoyable and gratifying to read and that they have a choice. A school environment rich in reading materials from comics and social media to newspapers and novels is ideal but the strongest results are found among children who chose to read fiction in their own time.
Which forms of encouragement work best? While schools can offer encouragement, opportunities and varied, fun and stimulating books, the most effective reading for pleasure programmes will also get parents and carers involved and books into the home environment. The best external rewards are literacy related, like a book or book token, but it is the internal motivation to seek out the enjoyment and gratification they will gain from reading that is most effective in promoting reading for pleasure. They have to know what it is like to love reading and it is this experience that we need to give children to turn them into lifelong readers.
I can’t sum up the importance of recreational reading better than Diana Gerald, CEO of Book Trust, “Quite simply, children who read for pleasure are happier, healthier and do better in life than those who don’t."
To view our current range of Reading for Pleasure book collections then please click here.
Written by Marcia Napp, Book Collections Manager