Laura O'Hare

For the love of reading

There are plenty of fun ways to engage young people with the written word – and don’t forget that any reading is better than none. While youngsters are being lured away from printed books by smartphones and tablets, the good news is that literacy is far from dead: it’s just changing. 

The concept of ‘literacy’ is evolving, as young people's reading habits keep shifting in today’s digital world. As adults, we should see this shift as a positive opportunity to re-engage children with the joy of reading in as many ways as we can.  
If you’re a parent or teacher, you might sometimes think that children and teens have given up on books for good.
We all know the culprit: the mobile phone. A generation ago, our only sources for the written word were books, supplemented by newspapers, magazines and comics. Today, it’s hard to wrestle kids away from their phones. It’s a decade since the original iPhone appeared, followed by the first Android handsets in 2008. Since then, mobile devices have been steadily pulling eyeballs away from printed text.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that ‘reading is in decline’. The Guardian newspaper reported in 2014 that library book borrowings had dropped by 20% in a five-year period. And as parents know all too well, yesterday’s illicit thrill of reading under the bedclothes by torchlight has been replaced by the glare of a smartphone screen long after bedtime.
Let’s not point the finger at young people, either. As adults we’re just the same, obsessively checking our phones at home or on the train to work instead of settling down for a quiet hour with a newspaper or book.
So what’s happened? Is reading disappearing for good? Should we care? And what can we do about it?
Reports of literacy’s impending death are grossly exaggerated. Many of us spend a big chunk of our working lives composing emails, reading documents (and maybe catching up surreptitiously with Facebook) in front of a PC. And even when kids are glued to their smartphone screens, they’re reading something – whether it’s a news story, Pinterest post or a celeb’s 140-character tweet.
Reading is an essential life skill for every child. But as educators and parents it’s easy to forget that it’s meant to be fun, too. Stories and non-fiction alike stretch the imagination, boosting self-confidence and helping us relax while escaping our own worries and stresses.
There’s strong evidence linking reading for pleasure with positive academic outcomes. And it’s no surprise that the benefits of a good read stretch far beyond the exam room into lifelong learning.
As parents and teachers we can all do our bit to keep kids reading - so think laterally. Even if they’re turned off by the classics, youngsters will eagerly devour books about their favourite hobbies and interests - whether it’s model making or the biography of their favourite pop group. And nothing’s as powerful as peer pressure. Encourage your pupils to recommend books they’ve enjoyed to friends and other classmates.
And most of all, don’t get too stressed what your kids are looking at. From Harry Potter to online video game reviews, the point is that they’re reading something – anything – that interests them. It’s all good.



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