How to get modern children to fall in love with reading

While previous generations became bookworms because of boredom and rainy days, it’s not so easy with this generation who have aptastic technology to turn to, writes Arlene Harris

I can picture Dame Washalot as if I had met her in person - the same goes for Moonface and Silky and don’t get me started on Julian, Dick and Ann, George and Timmy the Dog.

For all of you who are wondering if I have finally taken leave of my senses, don’t worry, I’m merely remembering some of my favourite characters from the pages of my childhood. Yes, I was a reader – an avid one at that and nothing gave me greater joy than to head off to bed early with whatever my latest well-thumbed library loan was.

I’m still the same today and despite the world and its mother reading books off a screen, I will not be swayed – a cold, impersonal tablet can’t hold its own next to an old-fashioned book. Yes I know, every story under the sun can be downloaded in seconds to your device and, yes it is true that I have been known to display mild symptoms of panic upon realising that there is nothing left in the house that I haven’t read, but for me, nothing beats a page turner – and I mean that in the most literal sense.

I am of course behind the times and while I don’t enjoy reading from a screen, I will admit, that a love of literature, however it is gleaned, is no bad thing. And with advances in modern technology being with they are; it seems that experts are advising parents to encourage their children to read via their tablets.

A report from the National Literacy Trust in the UK found that children aged three to five often read for longer and had a better grasp of vocabulary when accessing touch-screen technology.

The study also found that the use of tablet computers had a particular impact on groups that are traditionally most resistant to reading – particularly boys and children from deprived families.

So according to the study it seems that touch-screen technology “could be a vital new weapon to combat low literacy in key target groups”.

Louise O’Connell is a primary school teacher in St Anthony’s BNS Ballinlough, in Cork. She has been teaching senior infants for around 15 years and says this is the age when children first learn to read independently and realise the importance of reading.

“When the child learns to blend sounds it can be very rewarding for them and almost addictive as it is like piecing together a jigsaw,” she explains. “When the child can read on his own, his reading confidence increases and he usually wants to read another book. These books have to be short, interesting, visually appealing and achievable, so I would highly recommend some of the graded literacy schemes that are available in tablet form.

“These can be very interactive, engaging and appealing, particularly to the reluctant learner and offer help when the child runs into difficulty.

But while the experienced teacher is enthusiastic about the use of technology as a reading tool, she believes it should not replace the traditional book. “As with everything, common sense should be used and screen time should be limited and used as a tool to enhance reading,” she says.

“Nothing replaces the value of a bedtime story or the connection between the reader and the child. Books encourage discussion, prediction, clarification, questioning, and inference — all essential comprehension tools which a child needs in order to give reading its value. A child left alone with a screen will not use these skills. Too much screen time can interfere with a child’s concentration, problem-solving and writing skills and health and social skills. Children need concrete materials to develop their social skills and the motor skills which are essential for writing and sport.

“So while tablets can be used very effectively as an enjoyable alternative to books - like everything, moderation is key.”

A love of reading is often passed down from generation to generation and while my own three boys are no stranger to screen time, they have all developed a keen interest in books and nothing gladdens my heart more than seeing them engrossed in a story.

Writer and journalist, John Murphy is also an avid reader and this he attributes to his grandmother, who did her best to ensure that all her family members were aware of the importance of reading.

“I had a wonderful and wonderfully Victorian grandmother,” he recalls. “She had been to fancy universities in France and Italy before WWI but came home and married a dull, stiff but very rich farmer and cattle dealer.

“And because she had seen more than the bogs of Laois she made it one of her life’s missions to ensure that all her grandchildren, about 40 of us, were exposed to good books. To do this she sent each of us the same book on the same birthday (but grand-daughters got different ones to grandsons).”

Before their next birthday rolled around, John’s grandmother would write to all of the children asking a series of questions about the books and they would have to show that they understood what the book was about and be able to discuss the plot and the character’s strengths and weaknesses. This, he believes, is the reason he has a passion for books today.

“My grandmother wanted to know that we had read the book with our eyes and mind open,” he says. “If anyone did not answer her questions satisfactorily we would have to re-read the book. It was a wonderful experience and created a love of books that lasts to this day right across her family. She was a very good, if very tough teacher.”

Child psychologist, David Carey says people like John’s granny should be praised for nurturing a love of books at a young age.

“There is probably nothing more beneficial to a child than developing the love of reading,” he says. “Words paint mental pictures and leave a lasting impression — books, magazines; even comics give children a view of the wider world and all its possibilities. It is the written word and our ability to read it that separates us from all living creatures. We are born with the potential to read and the fact that we alone, of all the species on the planet, can read is proof enough of its importance.”

Current research indicates that children who read regularly do better in all school subjects, learn how to think about what they are reading and become life-long readers. The Dublin-based psychologist says while books in any format are beneficial, nothing beats the real thing and parents should do all they can to encourage their children to get engrossed in a book.

“E-Readers are great tools for travelling, commuting and casual reading but nothing surpasses a book which can be held and kept readily at hand on the night table,” he says. “Owning a book is like having a pet - it can be caressed and cared for over many years.

“The best way to encourage children to read is by making sure they see you reading. It doesn’t matter what you read so long as the children see you reading. Having some quiet time in the family home while people read is a great way to show children than reading is pleasurable.

“So make sure they have access to interesting material to read because the things in the world that interest them are going to be the things they want to read about.”

Okay— grudgingly, I am willing to admit that reading in any format is good for children, but I for one, will not be giving up my library card any time soon.


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