According to a 2014 report by The Reading Agency, ‘one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11’. Furthermore, research conducted in 2015 found a similar percentage of fifteen year-olds do not possess minimum levels of reading and literacy proficiency.

Children are far more likely to struggle with other curriculum subjects if they do not have sufficient reading skills.

The report goes further to say;

‘Having books in the home is associated with both reading enjoyment and confidence. Of children who report having fewer than 10 books in their homes, 42% say they do not like reading, and only 32% say they are very confident readers. For children who report having over 200 books at home, only 12% say they do not like reading and 73% consider themselves very confident readers.’

The point here is that there’s an intrinsic correlation between reading and confidence. And the reason for this is quite simple. The more a child reads, the greater her ability to think and see things in different ways, communicate with herself and others effectively, and of-course possess a greater understanding and usage of different words; all leading to an ability to express herself more confidently and effectively, be it in writing, or verbally.

No matter how technologically advanced the world becomes, social skills will always be a necessary component of an individual’s progress and success.

The question we should be asking ourselves is why – why is reading becoming less attractive to so many children?

In one of my Creating Writing and Drama sessions, during the Christmas break, I asked a cross section of 7 to 11 year-olds if they enjoy reading, and in particular whether they enjoy reading out loud in class.

Below are some of their answers.

“I like reading but not at school. We don’t get to choose which books to read. Reading out aloud in class is boring. But acting it out would make it more interesting because it would make you want to read more of it. “

“If teachers read with more expressions and made it more exciting then I’d be able to close my eyes and imagine it. Then I’d want to read the book more.”

“What I dislike most about reading in class is being forced to do it. “

“I enjoy reading out loud because I can learn what the words are.”

“I don’t like reading out loud because it’s embarrassing. If I had more confidence it would be okay.”

“I don’t like reading out loud because I don’t like making mistakes.”

“Preparing and presenting the book, then telling the class about it would make it more interesting.”

The key to getting children to read more lies in making it a far more exciting experience from an early age. The best way to do this is via dramatising every story. In other words, there’s no point simply reading to kids as though one is airing a newsletter. There must be expressions, and a little acting involved.

We need to flip the script. Read to children not because we want them to read, but to entertain, so as to unleash their extraordinary imagination. And that of-course needs dedication and preparation. If the reader is able to place herself in the scene of what she’s reading and visualise how events unfold, then she is better able to connect with her audience. As a result, we not only fuel their imagination and desire for more, but inadvertently teach them how to connect with an audience, thereby developing their ability to communicate effectively.

Finally, on one of the days of the Christmas Holiday Club, I asked a six year-old girl and a eight year-old boy to create a short story, and prepare to read it to the whole club at lunchtime. When the time came, I was somewhat surprised it was the six-year-old who opted to read to the club – over fifty children. To be honest, I didn’t expect to be wowed in anyway, but how wrong was I!? I can honestly say I’ve never heard a six-year-old read as fluently and with as much expression as she did. I was literally gobsmacked!

“She’s just six”, I kept saying to myself. “Six!”.

Of-course, I had to confirm, and yes, ‘six!’.

I later observed how confident she was in her interactions with other children. It was the first time she attended the club (most kids are shy on their first day, let alone six-year-olds), but you would never have guessed it. I asked her how she became so good at reading, and her reply was;

“My mum reads to me every night, and the stories are always really exciting, so I started reading them myself as well.”

I know I shouldn’t, but I simple have to say it, – “Awesome job, mum!! “.

We need to flip the script.

Reading should be a form of entertainment, as against something we do to tick the right boxes. As Peter Tait, former Headmaster of Sherborne Preparatory School says, our objective should always be to enthuse and connect with children, regardless of their levels of education, in order to inspire and challenge them.”

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