It is widely accepted that learning to read is an essential life skill, even if there is not total agreement about how this skill should be taught. Once acquired, reading is used everyday but it seems that fewer and fewer people are choosing to read in their leisure time. This decline is not restricted to adults who arguably have less leisure time at their disposal. Children are also choosing to read for pleasure less often.
But is this important? If children have the ‘basics,’ does it matter what they do outside of school? How can immersing yourself in a good book be beneficial, especially in a day and age where ‘reading for pleasure’ feels like a thing of the past?
There is a growing body of educational research evidence that links a number of benefits of children reading for pleasure. The key findings include:
- Reading for pleasure is important for both educational purposes as well as personal development and it has positive emotional and social consequences;
- There is a positive relationship between reading frequency, reading enjoyment and attainment;
- There is a positive relationship between reading for pleasure and attainment in a wide range of educational areas, including math;
- Reading enjoyment may be more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.
This last point is of particular interest because despite increased focus and, in many cases, increased funding, a child’s socio-economic background stubbornly remains the single biggest indicator of a child’s future educational outcomes. What if developing a love of reading holds the key to levelling the playing field for so many children?
The research also examined children’s perceptions of readers. It concluded that elementary-aged readers and non-readers believed that their friends saw people who read as happy and as people with a lot of friends.
It seems that the argument in favor of reading for pleasure has been won — so how can we encourage children to choose to read in their own time? One of the reasons cited for children avoiding books is a lack of reading confidence; thus, removing some of these early barriers becomes essential. Introducing children to picture books with simple vocabulary is a great start.
We know that once children can read a wide range of common words by sight, they are more likely to go on to become confident, fluent readers. These common words are those that children typically recognize within approximately 3 seconds. Amazingly, 50 percent of our written material is made up of these 100 high-frequency words and this is where game-based learning can help. Games like Skoolbo enable children to learn these words effortlessly and in a hugely enjoyable way. Children love games and are fascinated by new technology. Teaching these early reading and spelling skills in an exciting interactive learning environment allows children to get more from their reading. This builds confidence, freeing them to tackle more challenging words and focus more on the story or poem’s meaning which, in turn, leads to increased enjoyment.
Confidence, however, can be fragile and fleeting if we are not careful. Children love sharing books with friends and trusted adults and they are often very happy to read aloud when they are very young. Reading silently or ‘in their head’ is a skill that develops much later, but reading to an adult in a formal school setting can be daunting for some children. It introduces an element of judgement and can result in a drop in confidence. Innovations in educational technology can help children develop as readers independently and free of judgement until they are ready.
Zippy Shine is one such innovation which allows children to practice and record their reading independently. In this reading and performance app, children can choose from a range of exciting adventures with familiar characters or they can try their hand at telling a joke, re-recording as many times as they like until they are happy with their performance. As they listen back to their own reading, they instinctively self-assess, recognizing where previously un-noticed punctuation may have indicated a pause or change of intonation. They begin to have an awareness of audience and develop their performance accordingly. Children remain in control of their own reading development and only share their performance when they feel they are ready. Teachers will soon be able to receive recorded performances via their online teacher dashboard, providing opportunities for encouragement and informing planning for the next guided session. Similarly, parents will soon be able to listen to the recordings in their parent dashboard, which will give them the opportunity to work directly with their child on their reading skills. It can also be a great source of pride and enjoyment for both parent and child.
Technology may not be able to replace that special time curled up in your favorite place with a slightly shabby, much-loved paperback but it can go a long way to help our children develop the needed skills to get there!
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