Nicki Rowell, Learning Support Assistant, Broadstone First School
02 October 2022
For me, reading is one of the best ways to relax, escape and enter another world. Within a few pages you can be down the rabbit hole with Alice or on a desert island with Kensuki. I was fortunate as a child as my dad introduced me to enjoying reading and encouraged me to read at any opportunity. I was always tucked away somewhere reading the latest Nancy Drew book, Enid Blyton mystery or re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia for the hundredth time. However, it has only been since working in schools that I have started to understand the real importance of reading and the huge benefits of it.
There has been a vast amount of research into the value of reading, and there is international agreement that if a child reads at home, daily, for 10 minutes or more, then he or she will likely read at a level above their expected age level and have greater chance of academic success. However, evidence also shows a worrying correlation between reading and social-economic class. Children from a disadvantaged background are less likely to read for enjoyment than those children from higher social class. This disparity widens as children move up in school years having worrying implications for their education and adult working life. It seems that, in reading, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Those that can read will be more likely to succeed than those that can not read as well.
As a society, we are aware that far too many children do not read or write well enough by the time they leave primary school, so with this in mind, and knowing that schools want to give children an equal chance to succeed, some are changing their approaches to reading. Currently, more than a quarter of all primary schools in the UK now use Read Write Inc. This is a phonics program that provides a systematic approach to teaching literacy in early years and is designed to create confident readers, speakers and writers by teaching children how to decode, blend and understand words and sentences. With testing carried out regularly, teachers are able to quickly detect gaps in learning and pick children up and give extra help where needed.
So now with our children leaving early years armed with amazing phonics knowledge and reading skills, we can start to see their success. They have the equal potential to gain greater access to education and books and the benefits of this seem endless:
1. They can start to read questions for themselves, rather than relying on a member of staff for help. This gives them greater independence which in turn boost their confidence levels. Evidence tells us that children are more likely to read more when they have a positive attitude towards reading
2. When reading more, children constantly expose themselves to new words, meaning that they can increase their vocabulary and writing ability. With an ever increasing memory bank of beautiful words they can write better stories, poems or letters and replace boring words, like sad or happy with words like sorrowful and overjoyed.
3. By reading more a child eventually gains a higher reading ability and with that comes a better imagination, and we know imagination to be essential to a child’s development. It enables children to create new ideas and images without needing to see or sense it. With better imagination children can predict story-lines and invent scenarios which is great for role-play and story writing. When I was working in YR2 during our Narnia topic, I recall a child that was really struggling to write a story that had a similar plot to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. He just couldn’t imagine a setting. There was a lack of creativity. At that time we helped the boy by giving him suggestions but now I look back I can understand that he lacked imagination partly because he wasn’t a good reader and didn’t read a lot at home.
4. Those that read more have better comprehension skills. This means that they have the ability to read and understand what they have read but more importantly they are able to recognize when they have not understood a text and then use meta cognitive skills to overcome the problem. They also have increased analytical skills and generally do better in reading assessments.
5. When a person reads more their memory, concentration and brain function is increased. Whether you read textbooks or the latest best-sellers you’re giving your brain a workout with every page you turn. Science has discovered that reading benefits your brain in many measurable ways and a few examples of this include: readers can process visual information more and reading increases the ability to process information. Additionally, it has been proven by giving our brains a good workout we can reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Whilst this is an issue that doesn’t necessarily affect our children the importance is the encouragement of good reading habits and the benefits they can have in later life.
6. Considering the unprecedented times we find ourselves living in, the mental health of children (and adults) has really become an important issue to address. Children have had to endure a year of not seeing family and friends as often as they would like and they have had to come to terms with a new online, virtual way of learning. It is of no surprise to read that the mental health of children has really suffered and that some children are not coping with all these changes. Reading may not be the main solution to this, but it can certainly help relieve the stresses and anxieties a child may be feeling. If I can just read you the following quote from Dr David Lewis who summarizes my point:
“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination. This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”
So, to conclude, there are clearly a great number of benefits of reading. But, as I say to the children, just because you can read well doesn’t mean that you can stop reading. In my opinion it is important for schools and parents to work together to encourage children to read and to continue reading, especially in KS2 and KS3 where there is evidence of a decline. Starting at the beginning we must inspire our parents to read to our pre-school children A LOT. Evidence has it that when these children start school they have about 30,000 more words than children who are not read to. Once we get these children reading we have to keep promoting reading so that the children expose themselves to NEW words, NEW cultures, NEW values and NEW types of literature. Also so they don’t lose all the skills that they have learned! We can do this by having an extensive variety of books available both at home and at school. We can make reading enjoyable by continuing our World Book Day dress up (I have my costume ready!). But most importantly, we must lead by example and be good role models and let children see us adults reading and enjoying books.