Is IT the new ‘it’ for reluctant readers?

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.




  1. I’m really enjoying your advent posts 🙂

    I think the original report only raises more questions and the headline in the guardian article is misleading.

    So from the original research:

    How much children enjoy looking at or reading printed stories and stories on a touch screen

    “Enjoy a lot”
    Printed stories: 77.2
    Touch screen stories: 49.7

    (p.18) – these figures are overall, not separated out for socioeconomic or gender status. I think it’s really interesting to see what a big difference in terms of enjoyment there is when it comes to reading a printed book rather than a screen book.

    The research also shows that when parents share a story on a screen they do so with less interaction than with a printed book ie with less questioning about the story, less verbal interaction with the child. (p 19). It may be that some kids spend more time looking at the screen than at a printed book, but if (especially at an early age) this “looking at” isn’t being supported by verbal interaction with an adult, how useful is the looking at / reading? What is actually being taken in?

    There’s a lot more that needs to be teased out here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Zoe,
      Thanks so much for this fascinating contribution. I dislike it when the press pull out what I would consider ‘false statistics’ – ie they make a story out of something that is more complicated than they make out. It’s important I think that the interaction angle is picked up by people – I think sometimes this is one of the most important elements of reading. Certainly children love the feeling of being close to their parents in these quiet times, so reading together brings more than just literacy skills – it builds relationships, love and trust.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting read! Computers are also great tools for children with learning disabilities–and I’m all for that. But there is also research suggesting that screen time is rewiring our brains–I wonder how that is impacting our reading habits? In our house we still have lots of paper books–my daughter loves getting lost in a graphic novel (also a great option for reluctant readers), and I think this gives her a nice break from her various screens. So I think you’re right when you say it’s good to have paper books in the home too.

    Hope you have a very Merry Christmas!


    • Thanks for your comment and your personal experiences. I totally agree – comics and graphic novels have been shown to help encourage children to read and are attractive to children who don’t enjoy traditional ‘wordy’ books. I’d be interested to know how screen time is affecting our thinking as I am sure this is the case.
      Merry Christmas to you too! x


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