According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, children’s participation in reading for pleasure dropped by 7% between 2017 and 2022. What are we to make of this in light of the fabulous Book Week we just enjoyed? Are we losing the battle for children to read for pleasure?
What is more disturbing is that the report said that ACT had the highest participation rate in reading (83%) while children in Queensland had the lowest (67%). You might be tempted to say, “Well, there is nothing else to do in ACT” and the huge variety of outdoor activities we enjoy in Queensland could be a contributing factor however, it is still a disturbing statistic when it comes to reading.
Should we throw our hands up in the air, wave the white flag and surrender to this sliding trend? Or do we grit our teeth, rail against the statistics and try and claw those percentages back?
Looking for clues in history
Even though the earliest forms of written communication date back thousands of years, it’s only been a few hundred years since literacy has been on the rise. The invention of the printing press in 1455 by Johann Gutenberg was instrumental in bringing literature to the masses. The Renaissance (French for rebirth) in the 14 and 15th centuries saw a revival of classical learning and literature which has been growing ever since. The 2016 graph below shows that literature is still on the rise but it is growing more slowly than in previous years.
The slowing of literacy could be attributed to the many other factors that have been on the rise over the last two decades in particular. For example, books first had to compete with TV, then videos, then gaming systems and now you can have the whole lot with you wherever you go in the form of a mobile phone. Children are also more involved in extracurricular activities like sports, dance, drama and art than they ever were before. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities but they take time and that time has to come from somewhere. It’s no wonder that reading books for pleasure is on the decline.
However, the ability to read well remains an essential skill in today’s society and a reliable predictor of future success both at school and beyond. It stands to reason that if a tennis player doesn’t enjoy tennis he will find training gruelling and monotonous and will not flourish in the sport. Students read better when they enjoy reading.
Five ways GCC encourages reading for pleasure
I strongly believe we should equip our students with everything they need so they can read for pleasure. There are many ways we do this at College including:
- Teaching students to read from a young age means that it will come easier to them and will be more enjoyable when it is not hard work. At GCC, we devote large chunks of our professional development time and budget ensuring that we are utilising the best programs and methods to help our young people to read.
- We have small reading groups to help those who struggle to read and our fantastic Learning Support and Enhancement Department assists many students.
- Showing that reading is fun. Gone are the days when most of the books available in school (in my parents’ time) were like textbooks. They were dry and for the sole purpose of learning new words. These days we are spoiled with all sorts of fun and zany books with colourful pictures and creative ideas that stretch the imagination.
- We have an amazing library that is a hub of activity. It has cosy corners for quiet readers and other areas where students explore coding, games and activities. We purchase an average of 300 books per term so there is always something new to read.
- Throughout the year the Library invites a variety of authors and illustrators to speak to the students about their creative processes and even involve them in creating their own text and illustrations. We don’t just celebrate authors during Book Week.
- Book Week is the pinnacle celebration of reading for pleasure. It involves creativity, craft, resourcefulness and that’s just from the parents trying to work out the costume! The parades and activities expose children to all sorts of books, authors and creative themes. Book Week is a wonderful way to encourage reading for pleasure.
One more reason to read for pleasure
Reading for pleasure helps our children develop their imagination, progress their language skills, and improve their spelling and grammar. It does this better than a movie, a YouTube or some other screen-related activity.
In a world where hyperactivity seems to be on the increase, the lost art of being still by reading for pleasure is a way our children can slow down and switch off from what is happening around them. There is nothing like escaping into a good book; it’s almost like a holiday!
Mike Curtis, Principal