Monday 14 October 2019

Sinead Moriarty: Pushy parents should let children read for fun of it

Ahmed Kilinc with a selection of books in a Dublin bookshop
Ahmed Kilinc with a selection of books in a Dublin bookshop

READING to a child is one of life's great pleasures. To see their little faces light up as you take them on a journey around the world on a magic carpet, to a school of wizardry or to Neverland, is a cherished memory.

And it doesn't last long. Before you know it, they'll be ditching books for iPads, laptops and DS consoles.

They won't have time for books. They'll no longer want you to bring them on 'fake' adventures, they'll want to go out and create their own.

The drop-off in reading amongst teenagers, especially boys is getting higher by the day.

The only hope we have of getting our children to continue reading is to make it fun and pleasurable when they are young.

Then, at least we have some hope that they won't completely ditch the written word.

But in our world of over-reaching parenting and the increasing obsession of getting our children into the best schools, apparently reading for pleasure is no longer 'useful'.

This innocent and magical time of reading stories to your child is pointless unless it's goal-oriented.

A new study carried out by Egmont, the UK's top selling children's publisher and the people that have given us the 'Mr Men' books, 'Thomas the Tank Engine' and even the timeless 'Winnie-the-Pooh', found that parents rated 'language development' as the most important advantage of reading to children.

Competitive parents no longer see reading for pleasure as a constructive use of time.

Their sole focus is to make sure their children get ahead in school and shine.

Alison David, consumer insight director at Egmont says that parents are, "associating reading with education and betterment rather than the magic of a good story."

She points out that: "No child would say they read because it develops language skills."

Egmont's Reading Street study is based on the reading habits of 12 families across the UK, along with a supporting study of over 1,000 parents of 2-16-year-olds.

In the report, Egmont says that reading is seen as a 'learning tool' and the focus is now on learning to read rather than reading as a magical pastime.

THE study found that even at the age of five, reading is task-based. It's not about fun. In the quest for achievement, the idea of reading as a pleasurable activity is getting lost.

This sad finding is not, however, just down to overly ambitious parenting. It is also the result of time-poor working parents, target driven schools and the rise of screen time.

Rob McMenemy, Senior VP Egmont English Language & Central Europe, commented: "Over half of parents we spoke to wished they had more time for reading with their children, which is fantastically positive, but many simply didn't feel they could prioritise it."

I find this statement very disheartening. Reading is one of life's great pleasures.

No matter how young or old you are, when things are going wrong around you, to disappear into a book is like a soothing salve on your wounds.

For children trying to deal with the ever changing world around them and the hustle and bustle of the school yard, a quiet hour lost in Hogwarts or the Secret Seven club is vital.

It is only during these quiet times that their imagination can develop and inspiration be born.

Children need to be able to switch off from the frantic pace of life around them.

If we make reading all about results and learning, our children won't associate reading with pleasure. It is up to us to make it enjoyable so they will want to return to a book. We want them to associate reading with fun. The poor book is trying to hold its own against the ever more sophisticated and exciting gaming world – we need to give it all the help we can.

When I read to my sons, it is the only time they sit still. The only time they are not jigging, jiving, wriggling, wrestling, poking and prodding.

They sit quietly and immerse themselves in the world of witchcraft and wizardry. The wonderful thing about books is that they force children to use their imaginations to conjure up images. Why would anyone want to ruin that creative space for a child?

For goodness sake – let children read for pleasure. They'll be weighed down with text books soon enough.

Irish Independent

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