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Are children reading enough?


The time that teenagers and tweens spend on YouTube, TikTok, and other video-sharing sites has taken off during the pandemic, while reading time amongst these age groups remains flat.

Summer is a perfect time for children to immerse themselves in reading. Voluntary reading is, in many ways, the silver bullet. It not only improves learning outcomes and life chances but is connected to short-term and long-term health and wellbeing.

One of the key findings of a recent survey by Common Sense Media, a non-profit research organisation, shows that media use by children aged 8 to 18 was already on the upswing before the pandemic. However, the pace of the acceleration has quickened significantly during the pandemic.

The report shows that overall media use rose by 3 per cent for tweens (ages 8-12) between 2015 and 2019 and 11 per cent for teens, or children 13 to 18, over the same period.

However, in just two years — between 2019 and 2021 — social media use for both groups increased by 17 per cent, to a little more than five-and-half hours a day for tweens and just over eight and half hours for teens.

The most significant increase has come in watching online videos, which grew by 23 minutes per day for teens. Social media usage surged among tweens, with 18 per cent saying they use it everyday, compared with 13 per cent in 2019. This should be a worrying finding, considering tweens are not technically allowed to be on social media platforms at all.

While it may be tempting to conclude that extra time at home during the pandemic was the big reason for the spike in online video watching, TikTok may be at least partly behind that finding, according to the report.

Platforms like TikTok have continued to swell in popularity, which may also be driving increased use.

One survey finding that could be particularly troubling for educators is that only about a third of tweens and one in 5 teens reported spending some time reading for their pleasure everyday.

A new study published in Reading and Writing found significant differences between students’ academic achievement between those who read for pleasure outside of class — and those disengaged from voluntary reading.

To help children take reading for fun as seriously as they take the academic reading, here are some suggestions that can be helpful:

1)Expand their options - mainly the books that are not part of classical literature or do not carry literary prestige — are often considered less useful, which is a false dichotomy. We need to let children be creative, do what they want and give them plenty of choices.

Providing students with rich and varied reading material can make a difference. Children should read comic books and manga, sports writing and plays, and sci-fi and horror novels. If we want children to build literacy skills, they should consume dozens of texts that they love, connect with, or feel inspired with.

2)Loosen Up - While children’s literacy skill development begins at home, teachers play a profoundly important part in encouraging students to love reading.

We all remember teachers who encouraged us as readers and really lit a fire and those who did the exact opposite. Teachers have immense power in influencing students’ attitudes towards reading. They can change something that was once pleasurable and diminish it or model a love of reading.

Teachers who love reading themselves emphasise choice and give students opportunities to read and share during class time.

Even light reading provides a host of benefits. It is essential to teach children how to read; moreover, once we do that, we need to make it worthwhile.

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