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How Can We Get Children Reading?

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In recent years, children's reading across all formats from books and magazines to websites has dropped significantly. Our research published last September revealed that only three young people in 10 read daily in their own time, compared with four young people in 10 in 2005. This highlights a significant drop in children reading for enjoyment. More alarmingly, nearly a fifth of children and young people surveyed would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading. The study also showed that children who read in their own time are 13 times more likely to have above average reading skills. Therefore, the decline in reading has worrying implications for children's chances of success at school and beyond.

Clearly, we need to support more children to read in their own time if we are to address the impact it can have on their attainment. At the National Literacy Trust, we give disadvantaged children books of their own to keep for the first time, teach them how to choose reading materials and take them to their local libraries. Children taking part in our programmes attend inspirational storyteller events and book parties. These spark an interest in reading that can lead to these children becoming lifelong readers. We have also found that one of the best ways to encourage reluctant readers is to use popular culture. We draw on a range of cultural influences, from football, with our Premier League Reading Stars programme, to competitions with WWE wrestlers, to support struggling young readers and show them that books, magazines or blogs are relevant to their interests.

We also recognise that many parents need support, particularly those who are unconfident of their own literacy or have had difficult experiences of education. We campaign to raise parents' awareness of their role in developing a child's language and reading habits. We want all parents to talk with their child from birth, to read stories together and to act as reading role models and talk about their reading of books, magazines and news. Our grassroots projects provide workshops for parents and one-to-one support. Parents are encouraged to share books with their children and are introduced to fun learning activities that they can take part in with their child.

Initiatives like McDonald's Happy Readers campaign can also provide extremely effective ways to get books into the hands of families that otherwise might not buy them or search them out. The company has recently replaced the toy in its Happy Meals with a book until 13 February. With our research showing that only half of children really enjoy reading, McDonald's restaurant environment and its focus on families having fun together could encourage many parents and children to enjoy sharing books. Over the next two years it has committed to handing out at least 15 million fiction and non-fiction books to families across the UK.

The children we work with don't have the opportunities that most of us take for granted. For example, one eight-year-old girl we worked with, Mia, is growing up on a tough estate. Her parents are illiterate; there are no books at home or stories at bedtime. Her brothers left school unable to read or write and the eldest has recently been in prison. But Mia attended our storytelling events and chose books of her own to keep. Thanks to our support, she has become the first reader in her family. Watch her story, narrated by Mariella Frostrup.

Our charity receives no government funding and we need to raise £1million to work with 38,000 disadvantaged children and young people who need our support this year. Money raised could help us to provide books and storytelling events for children from low-income homes; workshops to help struggling teenagers prepare for the job market; and one-to-one support for parents who lack confidence with literacy.

Make a donation to help children like Mia. Just £7 could inspire a child to become a lifelong reader with a storyteller event and a book to keep.

Or if you live in the London area, you could take part in our Where's Wally? fundraising run on 24 March. Walk, run or jog 5K or 10K to help disadvantaged children. Find out more and sign up.

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Read to our children? We can't even read ourselves!