Our mission at BookTrust Cymru is to get every child in Wales reading for pleasure. So it probably won’t surprise you that we were thrilled to see ‘literature fires imagination and inspires creativity’ as one of the statements of what matters in the Languages, Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE).
But it may surprise you to hear that for us the really exciting and potentially transformative content was in the Area of Health and Wellbeing. It contains an understanding that reading and literacy have a key role to play in supporting mental health, emotional wellbeing and holistic development.
The Guidance maps connections between the two AOLEs including articulating views with confidence; developing identity, empathy and relationships; expressing emotions; and exploring social influences through literature.
At BookTrust, we know that enjoying reading is about much more than developing literacy skills. Research describes reading for pleasure’s cognitive, social and personal benefits, many of which have a direct relationship to well-being. These include relationship-building, empathy, relaxation, self-understanding, understanding of the world and others, imagination and creativity.
Last December’s PISA results, whilst encouraging, suggested there’s work do on pupil well-being. We’d argue that reading for pleasure has an important role to play here.
PISA also said that learners in Wales are more likely to read online than read a novel. This matters because research suggests that what learners read makes a difference, and that reading fiction is particularly beneficial.
Analysis of the 2009 PISA results identified ‘the fiction effect’. Teenagers who read fiction almost every day scored around 26 points higher than those who didn’t – even if they were frequently reading newspapers, magazines, comics and non-fiction books. New research suggests that’s the equivalent of around 10 months of additional schooling.
So as the new Curriculum for Wales is interpreted in schools, we suggest that they re-visit the importance of reading and put reading for pleasure at the heart.
But how do we help the child who struggles to read for three minutes become lost in the latest Cressida Cowell or Manon Steffan Ros – let alone enjoy it?
We’d say it requires four key things: genuine commitment from the early years through to leaving school; creating conditions and opportunities to develop positive reading habits; belief in the holistic benefits of reading for pleasure; and patience.
With that in mind, here are some ‘training tips’ for making reading for pleasure core to the Curriculum for Wales.
Start early and don’t stop. It really is never too early to start sharing books. But it’s surprising how many parents/ carers still wait to start. Early years providers have a crucial role to play in communicating this message – and schools need to keep it alive.
Genuinely focus on enjoyment. Whether learners are 15 months or 15 years old, do you make time to simply enjoy books and stories? Do you talk to parents/ carers about why enjoying reading matters? Are there opportunities for free and fun reading alongside reading schemes and set texts?
Read aloud. Reading aloud shouldn’t stop when children master the technical skills of reading. Hearing books means that learners can enjoy stories that they might struggle to read for themselves. It can create a valuable shared experience, and remind reluctant readers that books really are enjoyable.
Be careful with ‘challenge’. If we want children and young people to read independently, then we need to respect their choices as readers. Telling a learner that a book is ‘too easy’ or ‘too hard’ can be demotivating. The ‘right’ book to enjoy is the one the reader chooses.
Develop role models and make reading visible. Do children and young people see adults in their lives reading (and enjoying it)? Do you talk about what you’re reading? Talking about books is especially important if you read on a digital device – after all, you could just be checking Instagram! And whatever the benefits of e-readers, we need books in our schools and settings. Books are objects that make reading visible, tangible and easily shareable.
Invest in great books. Be honest: do you have books available that learners want to read? Are the books available for ‘free reading’ going to help children journey from learner-reader to independent, motivated reader? Do learners help choose what’s available? And a small selection of really exciting books can be more engaging shelves of uninspiring titles.
Know what’s out there. Finding the right books to encourage different learners to enjoy reading is a tough task, but these sources might help:
- The BookTrust Bookfinder lets you search for books by age and theme. We also have theme and issues-based book lists
- The Books Council Wales Blwyddlyfr Llyfrau Plant a Phobl Ifanc/ Children and Young Adults Yearbook provides up to date details of Welsh books.
- Young people need access to books that reflect their lives and experiences. The Tir na n-Og Award shortlists are a good starting point for books with a genuine Welsh context.
- Public libraries offer advice and expertise about what to read, as well as free access to books.
This Blog post was written by Helen Wales, Head of BookTrust Cymru. BookTrust is the UK’s largest children’s reading charity. BookTrust Cymru works to inspire a love of reading in children.