Chapter one: 'why a holistic approach is best'

24th August 2012 at 01:00
Experts advise trying a different method with literacy and reading

A panel of experts on children's reading and literacy has called for the adoption of a more holistic approach to literacy that goes beyond the work done in schools.

Miranda McKearney, chief executive of the UK-wide Reading Agency, told a Festival of Politics event - The Importance of Reading to Children and to Society - that the debate around how to get children to read had become too narrow and focused on schools and literacy outcomes.

New solutions and new thinking were required to "crack" the UK's literacy problems; getting health professionals and other groups involved would allow for a "much more holistic approach", she told the audience at the Holyrood parliament.

Health benefits associated with reading included a marked reduction in stress levels, while stories opened children up to developing empathy, said Ms McKearney.

Marc Lambert, chief executive of the Scottish Book Trust, picked up the same point - that reading and stories were a way for young children to begin to understand others.

"Very young people have to develop a sense of other people. They can't figure out that what is going on in someone else's mind is actually different from what is in their mind. Reading is one of the ways in which children can begin this learning process of socialisation," he said.

Reading was also essential for young people to become "21st-century employees" who were able to access and consider the huge amounts of information available.

Mr Lambert argued that children in Scotland are taught to read too early. He saw a connection between the educational success of Finland and the fact that Finnish children are not taught formal reading and grammar until the age of seven - two years later than in Scotland.

Scottish children were exposed to these formal rules when their brains were "not ready for it". This might be one of the reasons why research had shown that so many chose not to read for pleasure as teenagers, he suggested.

Children's author and former librarian Theresa Breslin said it was important to ensure that any move to delay the age when children were taught to read did not limit their access to books and would not lead to a loss of qualified literacy specialists in early primary. She had become a librarian because of a "love of stories", she said.

None of the panel members expressed concern about the impact of modern technology on children's reading.

"I have great concern about people talking about the threat of the digital age. It's about the words, whether on a page or on a tablet," said Annie Mauger from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

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