Education: Few things are more important than making time to read together
Once upon a time, there was a city in the north of England where schools were taking some fantastic steps inspiring children into a lifelong love of reading.
Some of the primary schools there have a dedicated “reading area” in each classroom where kids can curl up with a favourite book on comfy cushions.
And just a few weeks ago, the kingdom engaged in World Book Day, a stupendous celebration of books that involved dressing up as favourite characters.
Not only did this mean going to school as Fantastic Mr Fox, The Boy in the Dress or Hermione Granger, it also saw many schools championing other initiatives and competitions to make sure that the love of books lasts for much longer than just 24 hours.
World Book Day is pretty much universally embraced in Sheffield’s primary schools.
It’s a key date in the academic calendar.
This year, it was great to see some secondary schools taking part as well, although the uptake in this area is far more hit and miss.
But there were secondaries where teachers took part and dressed up, which was great to see.
What would be even greater to see is the secondary timetable stopped for a day to allow literature-related learning, and the students – especially the Year 7s – given the opportunity to dress up and bring their enthusiasm for World Book Day into secondary school.
Back in the primary school where books are cherished and reading corners loved, there are also charts on the wall to show which students read at home.
Some of the youngsters fill the chart in regularly. There is a definite competition going on between some of the children.
Yet some have hardly any “home reads” on the chart at all.
This is either because parents don’t read with their children or they don’t fill in their reading diary.
Either way, the result is a blank sheet on the wall that screams out loudly in desperation.
Metaphorically, that is. I know I tried to start this column off like a children’s book, but I’m not entering a world of make-believe.
This stuff is too important.
The old adage – that people who do not like to read have simply not found the right book – is true.
There are huge numbers of children who still scoff at the idea of sitting down to read a book, especially when there is an X-Box or a PS4 readily available as an alternative.
Parents have a huge responsibility when it comes to inspiring children to read. It’s not a job that should be left to the teachers – they are doing as much as they can in the time allowed.
This is something that families should encourage every single day of the week, and soon there may come a magical day when children just do it without having to be asked.
Limit access to the games console.
Turn off the television. Tidy up the toys.
Pause the music. When the kids are bathed or showered, it’s time to get out a book.
It’s time to curl up on the bed and enter a world of dragons, detectives, fairies, footballers, monsters, pirates or whatever else takes their fancy.
It doesn’t matter who is doing the reading.
It’s brilliant to hear children reading to you, and it’s great to encourage them to read on their own.
But it’s also a mind-blowing experience to pick a book and read it to children yourself.
Sharing the experience of a good book, a chapter at a time, is something that can take weeks, prompt conversations during the day, stir imagination in children and adults, provide a need to know that has them avidly looking forward to the next chapter.
Of course, parents do have busy lives and there are time constraints more pressing now than ever before in today’s society.
But if a parent ever told me they were too busy to read to their son or daughter, I would ask them to list precisely what they do that is so important.
And then I’d suggest that, when it comes to priorities, there are very few things that are more important than sitting down with a child to read for just 15 minutes every evening.
When a child reads at home, it can be a calming experience that contributes to the bedtime ritual and eases what can be a difficult time for youngsters.
When a child reads at home, they are of course developing important literacy skills that will benefit them in their school life both now and in subsequent years still to come.
Our young people will, of course, benefit at Key Stage Three, in their GCSEs and A Levels if they are confident readers.
Perhaps most importantly, when a child reads at home they experience calm, quiet down time Minecraft, FIFA 17 or social media cannot come close to providing.
Ironically, although schools emphasise reading largely to get students through tests and boost their chances in exams, the time spent indulging in a good book can be essential for reducing other stresses brought about by the education system.
Quiet time with a book is the epitome of wellness.
And as for finding the right book, this job is a lot easier than you might think it would be.
Just Google “Children Book Awards” and you’ll come across list after list of prize-nominated novels that other young people around the world are enjoying.
Choose the right adventure and your family could be reading happily ever after.
n Read about Sheffield’s part in the history of rambling and an upcoming literary lunch in our books feature, page 41.