Recent surveys have shown potentially disturbing trends. On the whole, children are now steering away from reading physical books, with around fifty percent of them no longer reading even a novel a month for pleasure. What they are reading instead are text messages, emails and other web based text.
This trend may be problematic, especially in populations that already struggle to overcome illiteracy. On the one hand, some parents might be happy that their children are reading anything at all, and see it as a good thing that they are now reading online.
The problem is that the majority of what they will be reading in text messages, emails, social networks, and internet forums will be written by their peers, making the same kinds of mistakes that they do. It is highly likely to employ a wide range of ‘text speak’ that with its high percentage of slang and abbreviations is likely to encourage bad habits rather than overcome them.
Even magazines and websites that are aimed at children, to a certain degree will be written in such a way as to match the average child’s abilities, rather than stretching just beyond them. Adult newspapers will on the whole be better, if you can encourage your child to read them, and if they are at an age that these are appropriate.
Books on the other hand come in a range of skill levels, and with a huge range of subjects. Some may be purely for pleasure whilst others are educational, but any reading of high quality material will help your child’s reading skills to improve.
What can we as parents do? It would be wrong to make emails, or text messages off limits. These have become such important sources of interaction for today’s children that without them they may genuinely miss out on modern social practices. Instead we should be encouraging our children to read a wide range of materials. Setting aside a small amount of time each day for reading might help. Reading as a family can be useful, showing your children that it is a desirable habit for even adults to continue. Alternatively it could remain an important part of the bedtime routine, with reading always being the last activity before sleep.
Failing that, you might consider making reading more appealing by bringing it into the technological age. eBooks and eBook readers such as the Kindle are now widely available, and may be high tech enough to be attractive to those children who otherwise have shunned books for the fancier gadgets.
For those who do not wish to buy a dedicated device there are eBook reader apps for the iPhone, iPod touch and Android phones. These double up, having functions such as email, web browsing and gaming, however these additional functions may be a distraction for the reluctant reader. There are many ways to tackle the reluctant reader, and being creative can be a huge help. Good reading skills are essential in order to be able to learn from written materials, and hence are a time investment that every child can benefit from.