“There is no substitute for books in the life of a child” – May Ellen Chase
In one instance, when a friend shared with me on how she spends her free time by reading, I got curious and upon further probing, she narrated that she developed reading from a very early age as reading was mandatory in her school during library classes once a week. In an era where the library is not given much importance anymore because of the easy availability of materials on the internet, I am not sure if library classes are still made mandatory in all educational setups.
The best habit a person can inculcate in his/her life is the habit of reading because as it is said, one becomes what s/he reads. It goes without saying that the best way to get acquainted with extraordinary words is by reading thoroughly. The more children read, the more, words will find their way into their vocabulary. Books play a significant role in the life of every individual. A magical world full of creativity, books fuel up a reader’s imagination and make people adaptive to new ideas (Times of India, 2019).
Nielsen Book data suggests that 32 per cent of children read books every day, and 60 per cent every week. But these percentages are falling as digital entertainment rises. 32 per cent of children still read books for pleasure on a daily basis, the second most popular activity behind watching Television (36 per cent), and well ahead of social networking (20 per cent) is watching videos on YouTube (17 per cent) and playing mobile games and apps (16 per cent). These are 2013 data and since then, the three activities which kept increasing in percentage terms are playing mobile games and apps, visiting YouTube and texting. Reading as a trend has really gone down (Support The Guardian, 2020).
A new study led by the University of Malaga and University College London (2020), and published in the peer-reviewed journal – Oxford Review of Education provides substantial evidence that those children who enjoy reading high-quality books daily score higher in tests. The study was done using longitudinal census data to look at more than 43,000 students, aged 10 to 11 years and then again when they were 13 to 14 years of age.
Interestingly, what was noticed in this research was that there are no significant advantages for children who read daily newspapers, comics and or magazines, but only marginal benefits from short stories. The findings, however, have important implications for parents, teachers and policymakers, recommending that young people should devote their reading time solely to books. It further stated that in an increasingly digital world, it is important that children are encouraged to find time to read good books. Also, it is not only whether children read or not that matters—but also what they read.
The pandemic which has resulted in the closure of schools for months has facilitated children with a lot of extra time, after their usual studies. In a recent webinar, when the topic of how to keep the children occupied during their free time surfaced, one concrete suggestion was to involve them with literary activities (English/ vernacular language), such as poetry, learning the art of writing, reading, exchanging of books with friends, composing songs amongst others. The same could be shared in literacy clubs through online platforms. Pictorial information-based books, fairy tales, folklore awakens children’s myth-related development, and interactive books are few of such examples. The amount of time children spend reading is already understood to help develop their literacy skills. This ability increases through practice and by trying longer and more challenging texts.
An interesting news item which appeared in The Hindu recently entitled “Poetry in the times of Covid-19” reported about how people have taken to verse to express their new realities and the internet abounds with poetry – on this new lifestyle that has taught us not to take anything for granted, this new quietude we are very unused to (Menon, 2020). Bhaskaran Bara, a renowned artist, writer and poet was right in saying that “Humans have always had their own ways to cope with disaster and literature and poetry have always been born out of great suffering”.
The same pattern was noticed in children across the world, who took up writing as a means to express themselves, something which was rarely noticed earlier. 58,346 children and young people aged 9 to 18 in the UK took part in the Annual Literacy Survey between January and March 2020, while 4,141 children and young people aged 8 to 18 in the UK took part in the survey during lockdown between May and early June 2020. Some of the key findings showed that 2 in 5 (39.8 per cent) children and young people said at the beginning of 2020 that they enjoy writing; this is an increase on the number of children and young people from the year before (35.8 per cent) and 1 in 6 (17.5 per cent) children and young people said they enjoyed writing more during lockdown than they had before. More children and young people are expressing themselves through creative writing during lockdown: 2 in 5 have written more short stories or fiction (39.7 per cent) and letters (39.3 per cent), 1 in 4 (27.1 per cent) have written more in a diary or journal and 1 in 5 (20.8 per cent) have written more poetry. This means to suggest that the amount of reading has also happened adequately which has led these young ones to write, and the lockdown has given them more time and space to think and generate ideas (The National Literacy Trust, England, 2020).
Reading, therefore, is vital to a child’s development not just academically but in daily life. Regular reading helps them in understanding their changing world, widens the power of their imagination, improves their creative thinking and also boosts their vocabulary. On this Children’s Day, when most children are spending maximum time in the four walls of their houses, planning for proper utilisation of their time every single day will be required and one of the regular engagements could be reading.
Homeschooling has become an ‘in thing’ – in fact – the better byproducts of Covid-19. Besides parents and family member’s involvement in assisting their children in learning, motivating them to learn outside the school prescribed curriculum is of utmost importance which can be done best by reading. Since homeschooling is not curriculum-based teaching, the various aspects to it, such as experiential learning, cooking, cleaning, organising, managing time and other things which are closer to life skills can be part of making a productive time besides informal reading.
A research report on School Libraries Impact Studies, compiled by Colorado Department of Education’s Library Research Service (LRS) provides compelling evidence that school libraries and library staff have a positive impact on student’s achievement. Studies show that this remains true when variables such as socioeconomic factors are accounted for. The research into school library impact shows improved reading test scores, higher academic achievement, and positive attitudes towards learning (National Library of New Zealand, 2020). This is something that cannot be compensated by any other medium of learning.
Children are the future of the nation and making them knowledgeable citizens through the habit of reading can be indeed enriching. Katherine Patterson has rightly said and I quote “It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own”. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])