As a children’s publisher our company purpose is to make every child a proud reader. It’s ambitious. And it’s so important. Children’s reading is critical to the publishing industry. From infants through to adulthood, reading for pleasure is the driver for reading or buying the next book. Children who choose to read for pleasure are our supply chain of new consumers. Without them, we have no sustainable market: they will not become the adult readers in the future. The implications for our industry are profound. And the implications for children’s life chances are profound, too. Children who read for pleasure simply do better in life. They have a better sense of well-being. They reach greater levels of attainment, in all subjects. By feeding knowledge, imagination and by engaging empathy, reading nurtures children’s growing humanity.
So we track the trends in children’s reading and see, with concern, that it is in long term decline. 26% of children 0-17 read books for pleasure daily or nearly every day in 2019, down from 38% in 2012. Of course propensity to read varies a lot by age, both in proportion and in frequency, but across all ages lesser reading frequencies have been growing since 2012, as can be seen in the chart below.
Source: Nielsen Book: Understanding the Children's Book Consumer 2012/2019
We invest in consumer insight to understand what helps and hinders children’s reading for pleasure. And we know that one of the most effective ways to encourage children to read independently is to read aloud to them, well beyond the point at which they’re capable of reading (ideally well into their teens).
However, just third of children 0-13 were read to daily / nearly every day by parents in 2019 and this is also in long term decline (41% in 2012).1 Typically parents stop reading aloud when their child is around 7/8. Because children’s lives are full of distractions, typically with phones and tablets at their fingertips, any leisure time is more likely to be filled with the immediacy of digital entertainment than with reading. They also tend to associate reading with school, seeing it more as a subject to learn rather than a great choice of entertainment.
Reading aloud to children frequently can overcome these challenges because it creates a routine where reading becomes habitual. It also very effectively ignites enthusiasm and motivation to read independently. This is in part due to the deep emotional impact and the sheer joy children feel; in families, children bask in the focused attention they receive from their parents when they are read to. It is true quality time. Simply, children associate reading with pleasure which they want to repeat and replicate.
And it really works. For instance, when 5-7 year olds are read to by their parents on a weekly basis, 33% choose to read independently, daily. But when 5-7s are read to by their parents every day, 61% read daily themselves, too.2
If children are not being read to at home in great enough numbers, we can make a huge difference to their experiences if we ensure they are read to at school. However, despite reading for pleasure being on the statutory curriculum, storytime is not.
The Stories and Choices project
Egmont decided to test the impact of daily storytime at a primary school in Stoke on Trent during the autumn term 2018. The project, called ‘Stories and Choices’, aimed to find out whether motivation to read independently would increase if key stage 2 children (7 – 11 year olds) were read to daily by their teachers with no testing. The children responded very positively to the experience, they were enthused and motivated, read more themselves and asked to be read to. Storytime made them so happy; they enjoyed the relaxation and experienced an improved sense of well-being. A key finding was that teachers could not fit daily storytime in with the heavy demands of the curriculum, instead managing to read aloud only 3 – 4 times a week. Even at this frequency, the children’s reading comprehension levels improved at an astonishing speed. In fact they improved at double the expected rate, by an average of 10.25 months over 5 months.
We returned to the school at the end of the school year to talk to children and teachers. Comprehension was tested again. We found that the children were still keen to read independently (the impact of the term of storytime had been lasting). But the teachers had not been able to carry on with frequently reading aloud, despite the extraordinary results in the first term, due to the burden of delivering a very crammed curriculum. The comprehension test at the end of the school year revealed the children’s progress had slowed dramatically, to an average of 2.6 months over a 5 month period, half the expected rate.
The campaign for daily storytime
The project has inspired Egmont to lobby Government to change the curriculum, to free it up and to create time for teachers to read aloud to their class every day. Importantly, there should be no formal teaching agenda, just sharing the pleasure of a story. By taking the pressure off, children will have the chance to fall in love with reading. It will bring joy to their lives, their school day, and improve their attainment. Storytime is highly effective, simple to implement and low cost. I can’t think of any good reason not to create time for this in every school, every day.
It’s absolutely great news that the Copyright Licensing Agency support this initiative. Please lend your support, too! You can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-make-daily-storytime-compulsory-for-all-primary-school-children. Together we can make the changes necessary to ensure every child is read to every day, no matter what their family circumstance. It would be the ultimate in inclusivity with not child being left out or left behind. The impact on their lives, society and the publishing industry will be extraordinary.
About the Author
Alison David is Consumer Insight Director at Egmont UK.
1Nielsen Book. Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer 2019
2Nielsen Book. Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer 2019
3Nielsen Book. Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer 2019