How That Book at Bedtime Forms the Habit of a Lifetime; Parents Have a Vital Role in Fostering Love of Reading

Daily Mail (London), June 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

How That Book at Bedtime Forms the Habit of a Lifetime; Parents Have a Vital Role in Fostering Love of Reading


Byline: KATIE GRANT

PARENTS can be divided into two groups: those who read to their children and those who don't. Among those who do are those who read the bedtime story with pleasure and those who see it as a bit of a chore.

Anybody in the latter group who persists with the ten-minute ritual long after they have been reduced to screaming by Postman Pat deserves a gold star. They will have performed a sterling service for their offspring in terms of literacy, culture and general knowledge.

Perhaps most important of all, they will have imbued their children with the notion that books are not only fun but also the definitive form of cheap, imaginative and gripping entertainment wherever you are and whatever life's travails.

The Scots have reason to be hopeful about their reading record. Statistics compiled by the Programme for International Student Assessment show we fall a not discreditable fifth in the international league table, with two-thirds of 15-year-olds reading something, even if it is just a newspaper or magazine, for 30 minutes a day.

But there is no room for complacency.

When the statistics are analysed further, we learn 35 per cent of Scottish teenagers who do read hardly ever do so for pleasure, 21 per cent of those surveyed feel reading is a waste of time and 39 per cent said they do it only if they have to.

But before you wonder if all this really counts as 'hopeful', remember the age group involved in the survey.

Teenagers are people in flux, midway between the child of the bedtime story and the young adult of the Britney/Brad poster. And while some find reading a reliable beacon of sanity in the fog of adolescent angst, many others find sleep, moping or arguing more therapeutic.

This does not mean the sleepers and mopers will never read again. I'll bet a good number of those 15-year- olds who find reading 'a waste of time' also describe getting properly dressed, brushing their teeth and eating with the rest of the family in similar terms. This phase passes.

Equally, many of the 39 per cent who only read 'if they have to' have to quite a lot of the time. Even somebody who loves reading can tire of set books and come home from school vowing never to touch Jane Austen again. Once the exams are a distant memory, they begin to read once more.

The reading picture is not all roses. But statistics are a notoriously crude way of assessing motivation behind behaviour, and these ones are no different.

The fact that, according to research company Euromonitor, spending on books in Britain has increased by more than [pounds sterling]500million since 1993, bringing the yearly figure to a massive [pounds sterling]2.6billion - with young people's books a very significant part of this - proves the 15-year-olds who do switch off books seldom do so for life.

Moreover, my own experience of visiting schools to talk about books leaves me certain that if the survey was conducted among younger children, the results would be quite different.

In all the schools I have visited in recent months, passion for reading is high, with the majority of pupils easily able to identify a huge variety of favourite authors. …

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