Literacy: Fewer children reading in spare time, research suggests

Boy reading Reading is most popular among eight to 11-year-olds, the survey suggests

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Fewer children across the UK are reading in their own time and one in five is embarrassed to be caught with a book, a survey suggests.

Just over a quarter of 35,000 children from 188 schools told the National Literacy Trust that they read outside of school.

About the same number said they did not think their parents cared if they read.

The trust says a similar survey in 2005 found one in three children read in their own time.

The survey for the trust involved children filling in online questionnaires last winter.

Half of those taking part said they enjoyed reading either "very much" or "quite a lot" and a high proportion (four out of five) agreed with the statement "the more I read, the better I become".

Nearly two in five agreed reading was "cool", but about one in three said they only read when they had to.

'Literacy heroes' search

Report author Christina Clark, from the Literacy Trust, said young people who enjoyed reading very much were four times as likely to read above the level expected for their age compared with those who did not enjoy reading at all.

Those who read outside of class every day were five times as likely to read above the expected level compared with those who never did.

Start Quote

I firmly believe in the importance of igniting a passion for reading in the next generation”

End Quote Duchess of Cornwall

And children who do not think "reading is cool" were four times more likely to be below-average readers, the report says.

National Literacy Trust director Jonathan Douglas said: "Our research not only reveals that children are reading less and developing more negative attitudes towards reading, but also that there is a clear correlation between this and their performance in reading tests."

The study, of children aged from eight to 16, found that the proportion who read e-books outside of school had doubled since 2010 to 12%.

Reading is most popular among eight to 11-year-olds, the survey suggests, although teenagers are more likely to read for longer.

The charity released the research to coincide with a new campaign to find the UK's "literacy heroes".

It is asking the public to name people who might have inspired a love of books or helped to improve reading skills.

Anyone from a parent, teacher or young person who has overcome a personal literacy problem to a favourite author or celebrity can be nominated, the Literacy Trust said.

The campaign is being supported by the Duchess of Cornwall, who said: "I firmly believe in the importance of igniting a passion for reading in the next generation.

"In a world where the written word competes with so many other calls on our attention, we need more literacy heroes to keep inspiring young people to find the pleasure and power of reading for themselves."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    181. Peter N

    "in the land of the blind the one eyed man is King"

    I don't see the use of other media sources as well as books to share content as Dumbing Down per se.

    Access to content and the ability to scrutinise that content is an essential skill in the modern world. Its all about multi channel.

    The one eyed man would soon be left behind if everyone was blind as eyes become irrelevant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Off topic, Today's HYS choices are "a re-work of Emma", and "Fewer children reading" spare time"

    Me-thinks today's moderator has a qualification in "reading".

    On topic, why do publishers need to rework classics - profits, maybe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Reading to children when they are small will go some way toward encouraging a love of books in children but the best thing to keep children reading into their teen and beyond is to see their parents reading for pleasure. The adults should switch off their phones, computers and games if they want their children to do the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    If chidlren are brought up with a wide variety of books in the home and see their parents reading for pleasure, they will read. They may not want the "classics" their parents read at their age, but given the opportunity and variety they will find a genre that interests them. It's also a case of time - don't have a TV in a child's bedroom, but allow them 30 minutes reading before "lights out" etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    All of my 5 kids enjoy reading.They have all had daily bedtime stories from a very young age, this continues through to their on-going desire to read. The written word opens up worlds of imagination beyond the small screen of television, console games and the internet which we as responsible parents should be celebrating with our children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    "billy goat gruff
    Shall we try that with talking and see how we get on with that?"

    Unfortunately that is actually happening: there are much higher numbers of children entering school with very limited ability to talk (and not toilet trained either) because they are not being talked to by their parents.

    We read books to all our kids in bed from an early age. All are avid readers of books.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    My 7 year old is an avid reader and can easily read a novel a day. We started reading to her at 3 months and she's had proper bedtime stories every night until she wanted to read for herself.

    But I'm not advocating a reading-only approach: she has an ipod for games/educational apps/e-books, occasionally turns the telly on, does a range of activities and plays a lot. Isn't it all about balance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    I suppose they will have to read the re-worked Jane Austen? Nothing else on offer from the Beeb today

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    188 James

    'It is now cool to be thick.'

    It was cool to be thick 40 years ago. I grew up in Birmingham and if I hadn't been handy with my fists I'd have been battered for being a 'swot' at primary school.

    Even at grammar school there was mocking of anybody who was trying hard to the point where I never dared ask a teacher for help - although that might be for fear they'd just humiliate you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    @180 i'm sorry because YOUR daughter likes to read it then that rule of thumb applies for all. It's quite easy to see in the statistics and opinions of young people provided that the MAJORITY of young people and children find old texts out of touch.
    I agree though parents need to inspire their children to read but not geared towards the books YOU read as a child.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    @109. Liv
    "Why is reading a book deemed intellectually superior to watching a Youtube video or referencing the vast internet, Wikipedia and all the rest?"

    I wasn't referring to reading books specifically. I was just commenting on the fact that current youth culture tends to attack anyone who comes across as intellectual.

    It is now cool to be thick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Texting speed and social media shorthand may be de rigueur for our nation's youth, but if not countered by exposure to well structured writing, be it taught or self read, then I don't envy the poor HR or Agency clerks who'll have to sift through this generation's CVs over the next few years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Children today have more things to do/watch or play with than I did 40 years ago. Therefore, it's only natural that they spend less time reading and more time on the internet, watching TV etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    175. Wandalust1956
    "Encourage a child to read a child of your acquintance a book for Christmas...perhaps one you enjoyed at their age"
    My youngest (5 & 7) are currently working through my childhood books, some the exact ones that were passed to me from my mum. Not only are they enjoying Famous Five etc, we've had the discussion about what "2/6d" means on the front cover!

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    With my kid, I found it difficult to get him into reading.

    I bought him books of a whole host of genres, from classics like Bronte right through to Star Wars novels. By trying all sorts of things, I doubt there's a person in the world who won't find something they like...

    Also, with younger ones, an ereader is amazing. Books are 'boring', but reading with a gadget... Can't stop 'em now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    177. billy goat gruff
    @174 "How about this for a novel idea? Don't teach children to read until they are old enough to decide for themselves."

    Shall we try that with talking and see how we get on with that?
    Could make for a quieter environment. (Tongue in cheek, as much as my last comment).

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    178 Konrad

    'I used to read very little apart from non-fiction.

    I only ever read fiction on holiday. I discovered a set of books, quite by chance, that I loved.'

    I too eschewed story books for years until I decided to give Dickens a go. Read 'The Pickwick Papers'. Hilarious. Read a whole bunch more Dickens until I got to 'Bleak House'. I had to give up on it. Haven't read Dickens since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    128. billbi - "Youu need to define positive & negative. Change happens because its popular, not because its positive. If you fight popular change you'll lose."

    Actually I disagree and that was my point - if the 'popular' change is negative (a dumbing down if you like), and you are not part of it you will NOT be disadvantaged - in the land of the blind the one eyed man is King.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    'We need role models and authors who are alive today, J K Rowling and so fourth to set the standard and pace, and who can relate to the children of today and not the children of 100 years ago.'

    Rubbish. My nine year-old loves Sherlock Holmes. It is up to parents to inspire their children to read because you can't rely on a teacher.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Yet another programme of research from the University of the Bloody Obvious !


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