What Happens to Reading When Children Start School?

Alison David

June 28th 2013 by Alison David

Reading Street logo 2013Following our 12 families we have found that reading is seen by parents as a life skill to learn above all else – so that when children start school, parents focus is very much on the child acquiring that skill and much much less on sharing the joy of a good story.

To provide a balanced view, we wanted to see how teachers feel about children reading for pleasure so we spoke to 250 primary school teachers.  We were overwhelmed by the response from teachers wanting to take part and have their voice heard.   It quickly became clear that teachers feel very strongly about children reading for pleasure.

We found a real love of reading among teachers, and a strong desire to encourage more children to read for pleasure because they understand how very important it is. But teachers feel their hands are tied by time pressures, the education system’s emphasis on reading as a skill, teaching to tests and an overly prescriptive curriculum. In fact 82% per cent of the teachers we surveyed said the government is not doing enough to support reading for pleasure and almost half of all teachers say their school does not draw a distinction between encouraging parents to read for pleasure with their children, and doing homework practicing reading skills.

It’s clear from our study that teachers want more focus on children’s reading for pleasure but both home and school life are incredibly busy and reading for pleasure is being squeezed.  While most of the teachers we surveyed believe that parents are the biggest influencers on children’s reading, they also understand the severe time pressures that parents are under – after all many are parents themselves!

In fact it seems that both parents and the education system see reading as a skill to be mastered above all.  So from the point of view of parents, perhaps it is not so surprising that when children are relatively competent readers, many parents step right back in the belief their child will now be an independent reader. This tends to coincide with Key Stage 2 (age seven or eight). But it’s as if they let go of their child’s hand too soon. Children would benefit from more encouragement to find the magic of reading until a much older age than many people would expect.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the pleasure of reading is becoming lost in a lack of time to focus on it and the rush to master the basic skills and that an interest in reading for pure pleasure needs to be nurtured over time.   If parents and schools work together, we can encourage and inspire a love of reading. As one teacher so aptly put it ‘there is the right type of book for every child – it’s just having the time to expose the children to all the different genres and letting them read in order to establish a liking for them’.