Tick, tock, tick, tock… It’s the 21st of December and tonight’s topic is about screen reading.
A short article in the Guardian online by Anna Baddeley featured E-books and their potential to encourage boys, in particular, to read. This is one of the aims of the new and huge ‘Read On. Get On’ campaign, backed by such charities as Save the Children and The National Literacy Trust to address the alarming statistic that 40% of the poorest children in the UK leave school without the vital literacy skills they need to live a successful and healthy life – something that everyone deserves, surely?
Boys have always been the bane of reading activists. Statistically they are less inclined to read, preferring more active pastimes to the sedentary and often solitary habit of reading a book. However, recent research published by the National Literacy Trust and Pearson publishers points to the possibility that E-books hold the key to engaging or re-engaging reluctant male readers, especially those who belong to low-income families. The attraction, it appears, is the more engaging nature of E-books, particularly in the three- to five-year-old age group.
Unfortunately Ms Baddeley did not expand on the reasons why this might be so, so it’s something I want to look into in further detail. I was surprised to read these stats as, in my experience, children who are so young tend to respond very well to actual books – it’s when they get older that they are more drawn to technology. Certainly in recent months in a primary school library, I have seen four- and five-year-old boys eagerly listen to a story (often more quietly and attentively than the girls) and when it’s their turn to choose a book to take home, they all do so with little help or encouragement. The older boys show a little more reluctance, although generally most of our children enjoy reading something, be it comics, Beast Quest or non-fiction.
Perhaps children are becoming more drawn to technology because it is becoming such an integral part of their lives. I am constantly astounded at the skill shown by some children in operating tablets, iPads, mobile phones and other gadgets, while I fumble around uselessly. Perhaps technology is more interesting for reluctant readers because they feel they are doing something more practical. A tablet can be interactive too in a way that a book is not… although I would argue that books are interactive with the imagination, which takes a little more effort and work to engage.
Having originally disliked the idea of E-books (I like actually holding a book and flicking through the pages), I must say I like my Kindle app on my iPad. It’s particularly useful at night as I can read without disturbing my husband by keeping the lights on, and it saves bulk, weight and space when travelling. However, picture books tend not to reproduce so well on a tablet, unless they have been specifically designed for that purpose, and formatting can often be an issue.
Holly now wants a Kindle and, since she has been going through a reading ‘lull’ at the moment, we are hoping this might help re-engage her. I will be sure to report back on this if and when she gets one.
If E-books are the answer to motivating children to read, then this surely must be a good thing. However, I would urge adults not to turn their backs on physical books. In my experience, often what puts children off reading is more than just preference for technology. It’s lack of experience with books at home, it’s lack of confidence in reading generally, and more often than not, it’s not having found the book that sparks their imagination and compels them to read further. I firmly believe that once children have found what fascinates them, they will read. One boy I worked with couldn’t put down a collection of poetry by Ogden Nash. Two dyslexic boys I used to work with adored The Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business. A young Holly, aged six, hated reading on her own until she discovered Enid Blyton, having previously been drip-fed Biff and Chip at school. Everyone has a book with their name on it… they just need some help sometimes finding it.