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Modern life means children miss out on pleasures of reading a good book

Modern life means children miss out on pleasures of reading a good book

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Busy parents are dropping bedtime stories and teachers lack time to instil a love of reading, conference told.

Reading for pleasure is declining among primary-age pupils, and increasing numbers of "time poor" parents are dropping the ritual of sharing bedtime stories with their children once they start school.

Research presented to the Children's Media Conference in Sheffield last week found that, while parents read to pre-schoolers, this later tails off, and by the final year of primary school only around 2% read to their children every day. Once children can read competently, parents tend to step back, and this usually happens at the age of seven or eight.

The report, entitled Is Children's Reading a Casualty of Modern Life?, also found that 82% of teachers blame the government's "target-driven" education policies for the fact that fewer children are reading for pleasure.

They believe that a "straitjacket" of regimented schooling is squeezing young people's ability to read more widely. Two-thirds of teachers polled said they lacked time in the school day to introduce a variety of books and that this was a "major barrier to being able to develop a level of reading".

Teachers also cited as contributory factors the reduction in the number of school librarians, who could put interesting books before children, and the rise in "screen time", diverting children from reading to playing games.

The majority of teachers said the curriculum's "emphasis on reading as a skill to be mastered" was "cranking up the pressure". This was compounded by parents who saw reading just as a focus of learning, a skill critical to career advancement in a competitive world.

Reading habits and the digital revolution in publishing were key topics of debate at the conference. The theme of the impoverishment of British culture was echoed by children's writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote the scripts for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics. "We discovered the whole nation had collectively forgotten that they did the industrial revolution," he said. "Books are so central to it; books can be written by anyone. A lot of the pleasure of a book is listening to somebody read it to you."

The survey of 1,000 parents and 250 teachers, plus studies of 12 families, is part of a research project funded by publishing group Egmont. "We found a real love of reading among teachers, and a strong desire to encourage more children to read for pleasure," said Egmont senior vice-president Rob McMenemy. "However, the teachers also had an overwhelming sense of frustration with their situation."

A team from the BBC's CBeebies channel presented a paper that looked ahead to the next five years in children's media. It noted that last Christmas was a tipping point in the sale of tablet computers: "The CBeebies website saw a huge shift in numbers of its users trying to access it by devices other than laptops and personal computers."

"Touch-screen phones and tablets are intuitive to children," it said, and predicted a period of "awkwardness" as everyone else adapts. By 2018, children's television will have adopted the presence of this second screen, and it "will be odd not to have children at home drawing along on tablets and then having these appearing live in the show".

The hope is that user-friendly screens could, if material is adapted and downloaded easily, present an opportunity for more ambitious publishing – for example, books children can either read or choose to have read to them; or digital books with moving pictures instead of photos to illustrate factual and scientific points.

Parental controls that are easy to use would be key, the conference was told, such as "an alert for when devices use the Wi-Fi, especially after bedtimes", to allow parents to shut off access to children in the home.

The CBeebies paper concluded: "Wrapping a cheap tablet in a washable surround is where children's products are going."


  1. The Guardian:
    Kids missing out of good books.


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