Reading forms a central part of the English curriculum in schools and the benefits that children receive by encountering a range of different texts in an academic setting are varied and many. Spelling, grammar, creative writing ability and comprehension skills are all improved when children are introduced to challenging literature at an early age.
As well as forming part of children’s learning in the classroom, the importance of reading outside of school should not be underestimated. The British Cohort Study, which tracks the lives of 17,000 members who were born in the same week in 1970, found a clear link between children who read for fun in their own time and high achievers in education. The study compared children from the same social background who frequently read, at ages ten and sixteen, with those who did not. The children who read regularly were found to gain higher test results than those who read less.
Reading at home has been found to be a more important factor in social mobility and intellectual progress for children than inherited privilege. The British Cohort Study found that when looking at the intellectual progress of their participants, the impact of reading at home for pleasure was four times greater than having a parent with a university degree.
Reading introduces children to new words, therefore the positive impact of reading for fun on a child’s vocabulary is not surprising. More startling are the findings which indicate that reading for pleasure is also beneficial to a child’s mathematical progress. This is because maths questions still have to be read and understood before the answer can be calculated. Independent reading, away from the classroom, can also promote a self-sufficient approach to learning. A child who develops independent study skills will be more confident when doing their homework, and more likely to do it without parental prompting or supervision. A growing level of confidence will also mean children are more likely to tackle maths problems with a positive attitude, and not shy away from them.
Children who read independently will also regularly come across new ideas, information and concepts that challenge their thinking. This helps develop critical thinking skills and the ability to judge ideas and form positive values for living.
So, given the myriad of benefits to a child’s development, which reading for pleasure can foster, it is worrying that this important activity is declining among primary school age pupils. Part of the reason for this is the increasing number of ‘time poor’ parents who are dropping the ritual of sharing bedtime stories with their children once they start school. The availability of new technology is also a contributing factor, with books being shunned for tablets and mobile devices in many households. One way of counteracting this tendency is to download children’s books onto tablets or mobile devices. This is a great way to encourage children to read independently as it is now linked to the technology with which they are increasingly familiar.
I am a firm believer that making time for children to read independently outside the classroom is an essential part of ensuring that a child reaches their full academic potential. As well as helping to develop academic skills, discovering the joy of reading independently will fire a child’s creativity and inspire a curiosity for the written word which will bring them pleasure throughout the rest of their lives.