Reading for pleasure and success
A few years ago, when computers were starting to change the way we live and work, some people predicted that writing and reading would become less important than speaking and listening; we would talk to computers, or perhaps they would even read our minds. Maybe such changes may happen in the future: at the moment the amount of reading material available, and the different types of reading we have to do in our daily lives, have increased rapidly, and will continue to do so. Anyone who has access to the internet has a library at their fingertips greater than that of even the wealthiest book-collectors of the past. We can read for free the classics of English literature, and, if we care to look, challenging journalism and creative writing of all kinds. Making use of our opportunities is of great benefit to us. There is now a wealth of evidence to show that reading for pleasure regularly at the age of 15 is a strong factor in determining success in the world of work. Most of us would not be surprised to discover that university researchers have shown that students who read regularly develop a better vocabulary, and that their spelling, punctuation and grammar improve significantly, compared to students who do not read. We might be surprised to learn that students who read regularly for pleasure on average do 10% better in maths at GCSE than those who do not.
All kinds of reading are useful
Reading novels helps prepare us for our English and literature exams, but it also feeds our imagination, enriches our vocabulary, inspires us with ideas for our own writing. Reading non-fiction deepens our knowledge and understanding, and helps prepare to process the wealth of information we encounter every day in our adult lives. Reading magazines and news articles, on paper or on the web, helps prepare us for the writing we do in GCSE English exams. Reading biographies helps build our understanding of people and the world, our empathy. A good reading diet, like a good diet of food, might contain variety: light comedy to make us laugh; novels written before 1900 to challenge us; books and articles that satisfy our curiosity, or inform us.
One of the most important ways we can help our children as they grow is to read with them from a very early age. From a few months old babies can look at books and become fascinated with pictures and later words on the page. Many parents stop reading with their children when their son or daughter can read independently. This is a great shame because sharing books is a vital way of learning and bonding; reading books together or in groups was very common in the nineteenth century, and book clubs for adults have become very popular. Some of the students who score most highly in reading tests have parents who have continued to read with them all through primary school and key stage three.
It’s never too late to start reading – or regain the habit
Some children lose the habit of reading for pleasure in the later years of primary school, but this need not be so. Recently one parent told me of her 13 year old son who had just caught the reading habit and was now reading avidly – working his way through the Harry Potter series. In 2013 nearly 200, 000 new or revised books were published in the UK – more books per person than in any other country: now, surely, there must be something in that lot to get each of us reading?