17/10/2014 06:16 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Encouraging Children To Read And Enjoy Books

A mother and daughter reading a book

Our children are a great disappointment to us, according to new research by Ofcom, the UK's media and telecommunications regulator. We want them to read books; they want to watch TV, play computer games and faff around online.

Hardly surprising, really, when over a third of children aged between five and 15 own their own tablet, and over six in 10 children use a tablet at home, up 50 of parents said "read".

Almost one in five said "watch TV", while 8 said "gaming" and another 4 of parents NOT prefer their children to read a book, over and above any other media-based activity? Have they not read the parenting handbook?


Or perhaps we should be congratulating these parents on their awesome honesty. Perhaps they don't like it when their children read books, because they have to help them with the hard words and answer their irritating questions.

Perhaps it's just easier for parents to put their children in front of the television and let them zone out. They're less trouble that way, aren't they?

And children would rather not be reading. When asked: "Given the choice, which one of these would you prefer to do?" only 15 of parents don't really care, that doesn't bode well, does it?

Even if you do care, it's not easy to buck the trend. My daughters own hundreds of books. That doesn't stop them from wanting to watch endless episodes of Kerwizz on the iPlayer.


Yes, I wish they would read more books and play on the laptop less. The trouble is, you can take the device away, but you can't force them to pick up a book instead. Instead, you have to watch them sit there sulking and poking one another.


What's the answer? I asked Anne Sarrag, director of the Summer Reading Challenge at the Reading Agency.

She says children who can read, but choose not to, are some of the most challenging to reach, but it's not hopeless.

"A lot of children go through that stage and they come out the other end; as long as they've got those skills, they will turn to books later in life," says Anne.

"Children at school have an awful lot being thrust at them, and they've also got a school environment that's not necessarily encouraging reading for pleasure as a priority."

However, she says, that is changing, with an emphasis on reading for pleasure now in the school curriculum.

And there are a number of other initiatives aimed at getting children to enjoy reading – for good reason, as children who read for pleasure have better life outcomes and develop more empathy towards others.

The Summer Reading Challenge has been successful in engaging children, especially harder-to-reach boys, with books. The SRC website also has a 'book sorter' feature, where children can input details about their age and preferences and it will suggest books for them to read.

"The Summer Reading Challenge is a personal challenge, you get a medal at the end of it, and they like that competitive element," says Anne.

We have a responsibility too, though – how often do YOU pick up a book? "Children are modelling themselves on their parents and the people around them," says Anne.

She suggests that parents could set aside some time, perhaps even once a week, to have a 'quiet time' where everybody in the family stops what they are doing and reads.

And even if you can't find time to read to your child every night, audio books can be good for children's imagination. "They can develop a real sense of a love of stories by just listening," says Anne.

When I was a child, I read the same books, over and over again, until they fell apart. I'm not really sure how much that expanded my mind. We also played Chuckie Egg and Pengo for hours. At least the computer games these days are marginally more stimulating.

I'm sure our parents wished we would read more edifying books than Enid Blyton and Michael Hardcastle's interminable series about football. In fact, I remember having to borrow copies of Malory Towers from a friend and read them in secret.

But at least I was reading. Anne says we should focus on getting our children to read, and not worry too much about what they're reading. And tablets aren't necessarily the work of the devil.

"They may be looking at the Top Gear website, they may be looking at the CBBC website, but they are reading more text than they would be just by watching a TV," says Anne.

What's really important is that children are surrounded by books in the same way that they are surrounded by other media.

"If they don't get that early love of books from their parents or carers, they do struggle to make that up," says Anne. "That early years period is just so important.

"Libraries are working so hard to appeal to parents of very young children, which breaks down the barriers. Engagement at a really young age also means that those parents who are struggling with literacy skills can also access help there."

But don't panic too much and don't push too hard. "Don't get too anxious about it," says Anne. "Small children don't need phonics exercise books – they just need to be read to."

And try putting away your iPad once in a while and picking up a book.

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