When you reflect on your childhood you hopefully recall some pleasurable literary experiences. Your parents, grandparents, adult friends and teachers may have guided you through enchanting picture books. This may, like me, have led to you relishing reading the adventures of the Famous Five or the Secret Seven (and crying when Charlotte the spider died in Charlotte’s Web, no matter how much I dislike spiders in real life!) Reading story books from an early age certainly helps to fuel a life-long passion for reading.

If you were not so inclined to read, or lacked the people to help you, you will have missed out on some great entertainment, education and possibly this particular avenue of life is still something of a cul-de-sac to you.

Abysmal decline in reading

Today, it seems, children’s story books are in danger of being consigned to the dustbin of history. Research conducted by charity Save the Children has revealed that one in four children are unable to read to a good standard by the time they leave primary school. Furthermore, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has reported that 46% of 16 to 24-year-olds don’t read for pleasure. It’s worth questioning the importance of reading and considering different means of engaging children in literary worlds.

Children who read widely from an early age stand a far better chance of educational achievement than their non-reading counterparts. Researchers from the Institute of Education have found that reading has a greater bearing upon children’s cognitive development than the parents’ standard of education. Enthusiastic readers develop wide vocabularies and are better able to express themselves. They develop an understanding of the written word, essential for success in academic tests. Teenagers who read inside and outside the classroom have the best chance of attaining managerial and professional jobs. However, children who don’t engage with literature stand a relatively high chance of being excluded and failing to develop the skills necessary for employment.

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How to encourage children to read

Parents, carers and teachers have a responsibility to encourage reading. However, it’s important to maintain wide horizons with regard to the provision of suitable books. Children’s reading preferences are likely to vary in accordance with the rapidly changing modern world. Popular author Neil Gaiman encourages children to ‘Read. Read anything. Read the things they say are good for you and the things they claim are junk.’ We shouldn’t discard classics by the likes of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. And more modern thanks are due to JK Rowling for giving us the Harry Potter series. Aside from set texts, and with a nod to parental guidance, children should have the freedom to choose graphic novels, comics and sci-fi books. They should have the opportunity to forge their own literary paths, free from judgement.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the positive power of books. They can be a rewarding source of escapism when events in the ‘real world’ are too hard to bear. Regular readers learn valuable lessons about different cultures and histories. Identification with literary characters enables the development of empathy and understanding (like me with spiders, for example; I cannot kill one, to this day, as I recall the brilliance of Charlotte). Such traits are of vital importance for the unification of ethnically diverse communities. People who read from an early age develop passion for learning and a curiosity for the everyday wonders of life. They are better able to adapt and come through the tough times.

There are many ways to encourage children to read. Borrow or buy books in accordance with the child’s interests. Take time to read aloud and discuss preferences for different types of books. Primary school children should be allowed to exercise their imaginations in the creation of variously themed stories. Make fair corrections to maintain confidence in the freedom of expression. Regular library visits and sessions with local authors should be arranged in attempts to inspire the next generation.

One specific idea is to engage with Readathon. See http://www.readathon.org/. This is best when embraced as a school or class effort. It’s an incredible charity which helps children to set their own reading challenges, giving them targets and goals with certificates for achievement. At the same time, children raise money through sponsorship to fund school books and to fund storytellers and infection-free books for very ill children in hospitals. To my mind, and to many others, this is an absolutely fantastic, easy, fully supported channel to get kids reading and achieving.

Another idea is to enrol an online tutor who can help you or your child to read. It’s inexpensive, interactive and fun.

If you conduct a little research – I’ve included small snippets here – social success and lifelong satisfaction depends upon the promotion and acceptance of reading for pleasure.

Now, where did I put my book?…

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.