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Can storytime improve children's reading?

5th Mar 19

As research reveals that the number of children aged 0-13 being read to daily has fallen to 32%, publisher Egmont has called for storytime to be an intrinsic part of the primary school day, following a successful independent study.

The number of British children being read to has fallen 4% since last year and 9% since 2012, according to Nielsen Book Research's 'Understanding the Children's Book Consumer' survey into the reading habits of UK children aged 0-17.

Most parents stop reading to their child by the age of eight. The survey found that just 19% of 8-10-year-old children have books read to them by an adult daily, down 3% points since last year, or even lower for boys at 14% - the figure is 24% for girls. The study found that this is true across all socio-economic groups, irrespective of parents' education, household income or social grade.

However, the data also shows a strong correlation between older children being read to and choosing to read independently for pleasure. 74% of 8-13-year olds who are read to each day also read independently daily for pleasure, a figure that drops to just 29% with children who are read to less than once a week.

Egmont has trialed daily storytime with St Joseph's Catholic Academy in Stoke-on-Trent to see whether daily teacher-led storytime sessions, purely for pleasure without testing, would inspire a greater love of reading in children.

Over a five-month period, teachers recorded a dramatic improvement in the children's reading skills, as well as a significantly greater level of excitement around books, magazines and the reading process.

Children's reading comprehension ages increased by an average of 10 months, twice as much as would normally be expected in the five-month timeframe, with some children progressing more than two years. Teachers also noted a profound improvement in children's wellbeing.

Laura Hamilton, the headteacher, St Joseph's Catholic Academy, said, "It is no secret that the primary curriculum is jam-packed and some days it was a struggle to fit in storytime, but the benefits were clearly evident.

"During the five months of the project, almost all children made accelerated progress in reading comprehension. However, the most notable and most important impact of the project for our school was on children's enthusiasm for reading for pleasure and on their eagerness to share stories with their family, friends and teachers." She also reported that both children and staff felt calmer, more positive and ready to learn as a result of the storytime sessions.

Nielsen's research also showed that most parents are unaware of the impact of reading to an older child. When asked what age children should be read to, in order to ensure they read for pleasure independently, only 31% thought beyond the age of eight and only 16% beyond the age of 10. A quarter of all parents felt that they need only read to their child up to the age of four in order to encourage them to read for pleasure independently.

Studies have shown that children who think positively about reading are significantly less likely to report mental health problems and that reading for pleasure has a four-times-greater impact on academic success than a parent having a degree. Indeed, if all pupils read for pleasure daily, 75% of year 6 would achieve the level that predicts 5 or more GCSE passes (currently 67%).

Alison David, consumer insight director at Egmont Publishing, called on the government to make space for storytime in the primary school curriculum. She said, "Children should experience storytime throughout primary school and ideally well into their teens.

"Being read to, just for pleasure, should be an intrinsic part of the school day, as normal, unquestionable and as unchangeable as lunch break."

Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy at the Open University and a leading researcher on the benefits of reading for pleasure, said that reading aloud to young people is key to fostering a love of reading. "It is not an optional 'extra' activity, but every child's right to hear fiction, non-fiction and poetry read aloud with passion and pleasure.

She added that Ofsted should also reinforce the importance of reading aloud for pleasure. "It is encouraging that the draft Ofsted Inspection framework (2019) underscores the value of reading aloud to children, but this is not just crucial in the early years but across primary schooling and beyond."

Author Michael Morpurgo is backing the call to action. "It is vital that children, young people and all of us have access to stories which give us the knowledge, empathy and understanding we need to negotiate life. But just as importantly, we need to give children and their teachers and parents time to read."

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