Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Why Reading Is Different

How much time do your children spend in front of a screen each day?  And how much time do you spend reading to or with them?

Leading book store The Works aims to promote the many benefits of reading books over watching screens.  Not only can you save yourself cash by buying books for your children rather than expensive computer games and gadgets, but there is much evidence that reading books is far better for young children's development than watching screens.

This BBC article claims that the average 10 year old has access to five different screens at home, which I personally find shocking.  Even worse a child born today will have spent a full YEAR glued to screens of some description by the time they are seven!  If the old Jesuit adage of "give me a child until they are 7 and I will show you the man" holds true, then there isn't much hope for adults of the future!

Having interviewed a number of leading experts in the field, including Dr Sandra Williams of the University of Brighton and the National Literacy Trust, The Works offers further information on the infinite benefits of reading books.

Dr Sandra Williams said:

“Reading a book, together with the tactile turning of the page is pleasurable and a good picture book has qualities that may not be found in electronic media.  What is important is the construction of the child and many good quality picture books invite active participation and involvement.  Significantly the authors/illustrators leave gaps for the readers to fill. There is a tension between text and picture which invites consideration.”

The Works hopes that the printed book will survive the digital revolution.  Reading doesn’t provide ready-made answers; it leaves room for imagination and extended periods of focus. This is increasingly important in today’s multi-media world, in which the over-abundance of information can be heavily distracting.

Conal Presho, Head of Development at the National Literacy Trust, agrees:

“Only time will tell if print books will be excluded from children’s reading altogether, although it seems unlikely…there is an inherent value in a book as a physical item, particularly when given as a present. We are also very aware that print books are currently much more accessible to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and printed books can be more easily shared or passed on from child to child.”

The Works kindly sent us a copy of the Disney 365 Stories for Girls book, which Lara has really enjoyed dipping in and out of.  As the name implies it has a story for every day of the year, and the initial excitement of seeing what story was on her birthday or Christmas Day or another randomly picked day hasn't worn off!

Lara is familiar with some of the Disney characters by sight, but hasn't seen many of the films yet, so reading the stories was very fresh and new to her.  But I imagine they would delight seasoned Disney watchers too.  We have really enjoyed reading the different stories, usually just opening the book at a random page, rather than following it through chronologically.

Lara enjoys talking about the characters and the pictures, and being only a page long the stories are short enough to keep her attention.  She has also got to the stage of being able to make simple predictions about what will happen next, and talking about characters feelings, which is all great fun for the former teacher in me!

We read a lot at home anyway, and don't go in for electronic devices (I don't even have a mobile phone!), but I must admit the television is on more than I would like.  It is so nice to turn it off and just sit and talk, or read, and this helps engender more conversations and even our own story telling, which is lovely.  I marvel daily at how a two or three year old can already form a basic story verbally, and reading to our children continually (from printed books!) is vital for that.

Maybe this week you could try to boost your children's reading and 'down time' above their scren time, and just see what conversations and cognitive development that engenders.  They might even realise that reading is as much fun, if not more so, than staring at myriad screens all day!

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