Updated: Nov 22, 2022
I’ve just spent some time reading some very interesting articles on the Literacy Trust website. It was of no surprise to read that literacy development is pivotal in a child’s overall development and essential for future years and much research has been conducted in this area.
No books at all!
A few articles really stood out though – one being just how many children don’t have a book at all. Again, this is broken down and analysed. But to think so many children are missing out on that feeling of opening a brand-new book or turning the pages of second-hand classic. Now, I know as adults we have places set up for book swaps. Once you’ve finished with a book, you pass it on to someone else to enjoy. Does this work the same for children’s books? I’m as guilty as the next person here. I took my child’s old books to the charity shop – thought I was doing the right thing and yes to a certain extent I was. Maybe, I should have split them. Half to a charity shop and half to a free book collection point. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to buy books even from a charity shop. The research found that the higher percentage of children who didn’t own a book came from a disadvantaged background.
Schools have more than enough on their hands as it is, but they seem the obvious place to ‘book swap’. When I was a teacher, I spent some of the summer holidays trawling the charity shops and buying some books that I thought my new class would like. As a teacher, you don’t mind spending a bit of your own money to help the school out, support the children’s learning or because you know the budget is tight. But, year in year out it’s not fair. It’s almost become part of the job role. But no matter how hard you try to instil respect of other people’s property, books come back chewed, bent, washed or in many cases, they don’t come back at all. So eventually, this goodwill runs out.
I performed a quick search online to try and find where the support lies. I found Bookstart and in their words, ‘Bookstart is a national programme that encourages all parents and carers to enjoy books with their children from as early an age as possible. It aims to provide free book packs to every child in the UK.’ The OxfordOwl is a great website that has games, ideas, resources, and online books to support learning. Storyline online is a site where an adult reads your chosen book to you. If you know someone who finds reading to their children difficult, then this might just help. I believe guidance and support is out there if you are willing to sacrifice a little time to it. Maybe you could encourage your local school to promote a termly book swap or as part of World Book Day – it only needs to take ten minutes in a morning. Every little helps and you might just be helping to set one child’s life on the path to success through the book you give them!
Could school libraries be a thing of the past?
When I was teaching, I liked nothing better than to go to the school library with my class to get some books out to do some research or reading around a particular subject. That, unfortunately, is where the problems started. Class of thirty. One book between four children I thought seemed possible from the resources. I should be so lucky. Maybe four books between thirty pupils. Hold on - let’s just check the date the book was published… 1984 that was…well, many years ago. Now atlases, they are a different animal, out-dated? More than likely! But to be fair they have been used. You won’t find a intact spine on an atlas, even though there are fifty on the shelves, consisting of five different types. Mr Mackinnon, what’s Ceylon? Is West Germany anywhere near Germany? The list goes on! I’m sure this sounds familiar to many teaching staff. For those who don’t work in a school, this is reality I’m afraid. Oh, I forgot to add the price of books. You are at school ordering some new books…’You are a school you say, wanting to order some books you say?’ The phone goes quiet for a second, a voice whispers on the other end of the phone, ‘how much extra do we add when a school is ordering books?’ What I’m getting at here is that for something that is so important, schools must pay what seems like extortionate amounts extra for their resources. We can all do our bit to ensure children have access to a range of books. Take a look at the https://literacytrust.org.uk/programmes/love-our-libraries/ webpage. They have lots of ideas, online courses, resources, and heart-warming success stories.
Electrical devices have taken over. Type in a question – you get an answer. In today’s school, where time is limited this may be the way forward and to be fair to the children, what they are used to. But where is that page-turning enjoyment? Reading enjoyment is on the decline, with only 1 in 2 young people stating they enjoyed reading. Then, it’s not surprising to hear comments like; children prefer to play on computer games these days, don’t they? Why would I read a book when I can listen to one? I haven’t got time to read! Books are a thing of the past. All too familiar comments unfortunately. But it is becoming acceptable. Who is challenging this ethos? Yes, audiobooks are a step in the right direction for today’s generation. They encourage a young person to engage with a story, help improve their reading comprehension and in time might show more of an interest in an actual book. Dare I say it, they help encourage boys in to reading. They help promote an interest in diversity, an interest in different backgrounds and cultures. I agree totally with the fact they are good for mental health and wellbeing. You can lose yourself in a story regardless of how it is presented even on a tablet. But, it is time on a screen and I’m sure there are many of you out there who are trying to reduce screen time.
When you really think about it, everywhere you go you read something. A sign in the street, an offer in the supermarket, adverts on the television or even a post on social media. Now imagine not being able to understand what is written. This will be the case for more and more people. Children leaving primary education not ready for secondary school because they haven’t achieved the necessary standards. “A quarter of primary school leavers are unable to read or write properly,” “Too many children leave school unable to read and write properly… you have nearly 25% of primary school leavers unable to read,” Quotes from a politician in June of 2019. It is perhaps then, not surprising to hear that many of you trying to decipher a text message from an eleven-year-old son or daughter is near on impossible at times. Everything is shortened, abbreviated, or spelt completely incorrectly. Fortnight actually ends in ‘ight’ not ‘ite’! Mobile phones have changed the lives of our young people for the better no doubt but there are so many down sides. Predictive text can be a life saver as an adult but can also lead to some embarrassing ‘mistypes’ shall we say? But when you have used the predictive text to help with a spelling, did you look at how to spell it. See now, children will argue that going forward they can just use this method to help them so why learn how to spell words correctly. I often came back with, in a job interview, if they asked you to write out something as part of the process you are potentially going to struggle. That’s if you get passed the CV shortlisting.
We’ve all heard that children are like sponges, and they absorb all of what is around them. If this is true then, surely parents are the first building block in a child’s development. Again, we are all guilty of sticking the TV on to give us five minutes peace. The old excuse, I’m tired, I’ve had a busy a day at work – straight to bed! But we need to remember the importance of communicating with our children. Playing games (not computer games – early years games that include rhyming and making sounds), games with pictures, sounds and counting, children don’t need to necessarily know what the word syllable means but you could be breaking up words and blending them to help with reading, reading a book with them or to them but with discussion or just having a conversation about the day – one that lasts longer than, ‘What have you done today?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘Ok, you can go and play now.’ Make time to listen to your children -show an interest. It helps build their self-esteem. They are valued and you care. Try to avoid being one of those parents who says in years to come, ‘they grew up so fast, I wish I’d spent more time with them.’ Even non-verbal communication is important. You are modelling behaviour. A smile or eye-contact shows you are engaged with them. How often have you had to ask you child to put their phone down as you were speaking to them, and they appeared to be ignoring you? It’s rude, right?
Maybe I’m just a dinosaur?
Life is always moving on, and trends come and go. Technology is moving forward faster each year. Maybe I am just a dinosaur and like to look back at those traditional things in life. I know I won’t be the only one to say this but, ‘If it was good enough then, it’s good enough now.’ Some of the greatest human achievements have all been recorded in written form and in books. Communicated and passed down through the generations. My childhood was at a time when computers were just starting to come out. The ZX Spectrum (rubber keys)! But my parents certainly didn’t have computers. Books were there then though. My parents have done ok by growing up with the humble book. If you have ever seen the film, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, where basically the world freezes over. A group of people find their way to a library and ride out the disaster there. To keep warm, they lit a fire and I’m sure you’ve guessed it they used books to keep the fire going. As hard as it was to watch them burn books, I guess somewhat ironically books saved them! Regardless of how things are progressing, I’m standing up and giving a shout out to the ‘Humble Book’ and long may they live!