'World Book Day shouldn't be about dressing up – the focus should be a love of reading'

One headteacher explains why her school ditched the costumes for World Book Day and instead encouraged pupils to be creative in expressing their favourite book

Cassandra Young

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World Book Day is one of my favourite times of year. How could you not love it? It encourages children across the globe to get involved in reading, an activity that can improve lives an immeasurable amount. It has become remarkably successful, with the help of schools (at least in this country), at genuinely engaging pupils – something that parents and teachers reading this will know is easier said than done.

Too often, though, I think people can lose sight a little bit of what World Book Day is actually about. I fully believe that the joys of reading know no bounds, as long as one is able to fully engage with what is being read. World Book Day is there to help children engage with stories, and to help them achieve fluency in reading whilst simultaneously enjoying the experience.

But for me – and I’m guessing many others – it sometimes feels like this has been overtaken by a need to dress up. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – World Book Day rightfully encourages creativity in parents, teachers and pupils – but when it becomes the focus of the day, it means that someone is missing the point. As well as arguably putting unfair pressure on parents to provide the latest costume, the more time that is spent focusing on costumes, the less time there will be for actual reading. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up for World Book Day – it just shouldn’t be the main focus.

Fancy dress? Give parents a break

Because of this, this year my school has decided to step away from the dressing up theme of World Book Day. We have instead asked children to be "creative" (which is our theme of the week) and suggested they decorate a potato as their favourite book character – this idea was taken from the World Book Day website. We hope that this will allow pupils to express their creativity and love for reading without detracting from the reading itself, and it will definitely give overworked parents a break from dealing with the need for a new costume.

I wanted the focus to be very much back on the enjoyment and sharing of books, getting parents and teachers involved, pupils remembering the books that they’ve enjoyed and reading for pleasure. Aside from potato decorating, key stage 2 have been working hard this week to write their own traditional tales, ready to share them with their KS1 buddy, and they will then gift their book to the class to promote ongoing reading throughout the year. The parents and governors have also been invited to attend the school on Thursday for a "sharing a story" afternoon; this will be an opportunity to share familiar and well-known tales and celebrate the great story writing from across the school. These are the kind of creative activities that encourage a love of reading without added distraction and stress.

It is also important to remember that although this is a day of celebrating reading, we must continue to encourage this behaviour for every other day of the year as well. As a primary headteacher, one of my greatest sources of pride in our school is how teachers look upon reading and sharing stories as part of the normal routine of the day. World Book Day aims to install a lifelong love of reading, which can and should manifest itself in all kinds of different ways at school and at home. Simply put, if a school were to pull out all the stops for World Book Day and then go back to not having a specific focus on reading the next day, then it would have failed its pupils.

As I said at the start, I love World Book Day, and I think most primary teachers and parents do as well. I hope that this year will be the best one yet for our school, and really encourage the pupils to love reading for all the joy it can bring. And I also hope that the same is true for schools and pupils across the country. World Book Day is an amazing opportunity – we need to make sure we make the most of it.

Cassandra Young is head of school at Brenzett CE Primary in Kent, part of the Aquila MAT.

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Cassandra Young

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