As schools begin the new school term we have our usual list of aspirations for education in this country and indeed globally. There are revolutions happening across the world and still in the UK we are stuck with an archaic, anachronistic system that hasn’t even recognised the fact that we live in a digital age that, as Sir Tim Berners Lee says, doesn’t have an “off” button.
We want our children to be computer literate. We also want our children to be able to empathise and understand other people, to know who they themselves are and what they are passionate about, to enable them to be in their ‘element’ both in and out of school through the excitement and challenge of learning.
We want our young people to appreciate the world beyond their immediate environment but we also want them to be able to take advantage and enjoy what their local area has to offer.
We want them to be physically intelligent and able to use their senses to appreciate this world.
We want them to have opportunities to work together, to develop their skills and attitudes, to learn about equality and prejudice, to know how to be a good citizen, a good friend and a good person.
Our children are perhaps materially better off than previous generations but to what cost to their social development?
Today there’s another article with another survey with another set of unsurprising results. Apparently children aren’t reading for pleasure as often as they used to. When the survey was previously carried out, four in ten children said they read for pleasure daily, which was a worrying outcome in 2005. This has now reduced to three in ten.
What a complete indictment of our education system!
Of course many might say that you can’t pin this down to education alone. There are other factors involved like parental choices on how to spend any spare cash or their willingness to take their children to a library. Everyone appears to have the choice to read for pleasure, so why isn’t this happening?
The 3Di team are avid readers. We read daily. We hopefully encourage others to do the same, and enjoy the fact that friends and family choose to read for enjoyment as much as for information and research.
One of our main aims with our model of intelligences is to develop creativity and to encourage a love of learning, for which regular reading for enjoyment and purpose is an integral part.
So early in this term, we would like all educators to consider precisely how they are going to encourage children and young people in their care to consider their literary paths of enjoyment.
There are so many brilliant books available ranging from the incredible story books that you can share with young children to new books specifically written to encourage older boys, in particular, to read.
When J.K.Rowling came on the scene with her Harry Potter septology, there were many who were slightly concerned that children would read the adventures of the child magicians and would read nothing else. Their concerns in the main were unfounded because once children had experienced the adrenalin rush of reading for pleasure, they would want to find it from other sources, which indeed they did. Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy proved a popular development from Rowling, and now teenagers who were brought up on Harry Potter are spending time reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins. For younger children, there are books such as “The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” series that had new life breathed into them once children caught onto the idea of reading a series of books. People like Jacqueline Wilson became a household name with her “Tracey Beaker” stories as did authors such as Michael Rosen and Michael Morpurgo with their classic children’s stories.
But how do we encourage this? Can we teach a child to enjoy learning?
When Key Stage One SATs were first introduced into this country there was an outcry from authors, some mentioned in the previous paragraph, who were appalled that their books were being categorised according to “text level” rather than for the story itself. “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” became a ‘levelled’ book due to its brilliant repetition and simple, effective text – but that was not why it was written. It was written to share, to enjoy, to engage, to entertain, to amuse, to scare even – or confront fears in a safe place.
“Kensuke’s Kingdom” is now seen as an important text for children but Michael Morpurgo wants it to be read for its content, for its amazing portrayal of relationship, abandonment, growing up – not because it has certain words in it that warrant it to be levelled as a “four”!
Over time, we would like to write about some of the books that we think would be good to read with children. The reason we would recommend these books is mainly because they are good stories that are well written but another reason we recommend books is for what the stories say about human nature, about social and emotional intelligence and we can learn about ourselves and others through reading.
Text level is one thing. Enjoying a damn good story is another.
In days gone by, at 3pm in primary schools you would see children gathered together calmly at the end of the day listening to a story being read to them. Eleven year olds enjoyed this time as much as the younger children but somehow this vital time was lost to the demands of standardised tests. This in itself would be laughable, were it not for the tragedy, for many, many children, particularly those who found reading difficult, who came to learn about and love literature through these sessions. It encouraged their reading and writing far more than a formal lesson on the complexities of English grammar.
There were also times when the entire school dropped everything and read. DEaR sessions happened throughout the school. This message was loud and clear. There should be a time each week when everything was put on hold for quiet, undisturbed reading. The head teacher would stop. The office would switch off the phones and read. The nursery children would sit on the mat, each with their own books. The junior children all sat quietly, all reading according to their own interest.
You could walk through the schools that did this with a heart-warming pleasure at the collectiveness of this act of every single person reading.
Why can’t this happen now?
Children learn by example and if we as adults can show how much we enjoy our reading, then this can be imparted to children. If we watch television all day, then there’s every possibility that our children will do the same. If we go to the library and choose books for ourselves, then our children might want to do the same. If we afford proper time in schools for reading, then there is every chance that children will choose to do this in their own time too. If we encourage conversations about books, we are opening a new world to our children, and this discussion of books is a brilliant way of getting children to listen, to converse, to cooperate – all skills that employers see as vital.
So our message on this sunny September day is this. Do something about reading. Do it for yourself and do it for our next generation. Consider how we can get children to love reading, and encourage them every important step of the way.
Finding yourself and others through reading is invigorating and life-enhancing. We must afford time in our schools to read properly.