When children and young people discover a love of reading, the possibilities are endless. Reading for enjoyment can fuel children’s imaginations and spark creativity, it can help children to develop empathy and promote positive mental wellbeing, and it can help change the way children see the world and their place in it.
Our research and work with schools also consistently shows that children who enjoy reading do better across all subjects at school and go on to lead happier, healthier and more successful lives.
But getting some children to pick up a book outside of the classroom can be a challenge. In 2016, we found that three in five children in the UK enjoyed reading, but there’s still a way to go. And we all have a role to play in helping to embed a transformative love of reading in children and young people.
Allow children to choose what they read
What was the last thing you read that you really enjoyed? A crime novel, a fashion magazine, an autobiography, a travel guide? Why did you choose it? Was it about something or someone you were interested in? Did a friend recommend it? Did it catch your eye in a shop or the library?
These things are just as important to children and young people as they are to us. Children are far more likely to read something they’ve chosen for themselves on a subject they’re interested in. Here’s how to ignite children’s reading fires:
- Thirty-four per cent of children say they can’t find anything to read that interests them. So encourage them to visit their school or local library on a regular basis to broaden their reading horizons.
- Let children’s interests guide their reading. There really is something for every child, whether they like sports, superheroes, cooking or gaming.
- Encourage children to explore different reading formats until they find some that they like. Some children love reading novels, while others are excited by comic books, fact books or audiobooks.
Children have the right to choose how to read
Reading should be a choice, not a chore. When it comes to helping children to discover the joy of reading, let’s take away some of the pressures and barriers they face. If a child isn’t enjoying a book, why should they have to finish it? If they’ve already found a book they love, why shouldn’t they read it over and over again?
To really see themselves as readers, children must be in charge and have ownership about their reading. Displaying Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader poster at school and at home is a wonderful way to let children know that they have the right to read what, how, where and when they want.
Be a reading role model
Peers, parents, teachers and celebrities can be positive reading role models for young people by showing them how important reading is to their everyday lives. Seeing the people they look up to valuing reading will make children much more likely to pick up a book themselves.
- Show children how reading is part of everyday life, from checking bus timetables to reading the nutritional information on a food packet.
- Explain how reading is important for every person in every profession. Librarians, teachers, students, mechanics, lawyers, doctors, architects, athletes – everyone reads.
- Read aloud with children and young people in class and at home, regardless of their age.
Get the whole school behind reading
The more children and young people are surrounded by reading, the more they will start to absorb the value of it.
- Make use of displays by covering boards in the reception area, corridors and classrooms with all things reading. You could encourage children to share book reviews and book recommendations, make a poster about their favourite book character, or create a display of a place in a book or play you are reading as a class.
- Create a calendar of reading events for your school to give students regular opportunities to celebrate and enjoy reading. World Book Day, National Poetry Day and Libraries Week are great places to start.
- Competitions are a fun way to celebrate reading. You could create your own – ask pupils to bring in photos of them reading in the most obscure places they can think of – or get involved in national reading competitions, which often offer great prizes for students and schools.
Encourage good reading habits at home
Reading outside of school can have the greatest impact on a child’s reading enjoyment and academic attainment, so parents and carers have a key encouraging role to play. There are a number of ways that teachers can also help to encourage good reading habits at home:
- Make sure students always have something to read in their school bag, whether it’s a book, a comic, a newspaper or a magazine. As part of an assignment, ask children to discuss their reading material with their parents and to ask their parents to help them choose additional texts.
- Try to include translations of books in your pupils’ home languages in your school library and let pupils take these home to share with their families.
- Offer families recommended reading lists for their children based on different reading abilities and different interests. And don’t forget audiobooks. They are a great way for families to enjoy stories together, particularly if parents aren’t confident readers themselves.
Jonathan Douglas is the director of the National Literacy Trust
Hay Festival has partnered with Tes to celebrate inspiring books for young people. To support the #BooksToInspire initiative, you can nominate your favourite titles here. Everyone who nominates a book will be entered into a prize draw to win the selected titles for a school of their choosing. A blockbuster panel of writers including Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Tishani Doshi, Huw Edwards, Daljit Nagra, Chris Riddell and Jeanette Winterson will discuss the campaign at Hay Festival 2019. Book tickets here.