Can All Reading Help Children?
It is generally acknowledged that reading is an important part of a child’s learning process. Reading is a way for children to make connections between what they already know and what they see around them. These connections help children understand the world they are in, and, through books, children are exposed to characters and cultures that they may not otherwise interact with in real life.
A recent debate has examined what kinds of reading are best for children and whether any type of reading is beneficial. Many children are attracted to one genre or type of book, or they may have a favourite author that they like to read time and time again. Even though children may enjoy reading a single type of literature, they can be gently introduced to other genres. ‘Gently’ is important, because parents or teachers do not want to push too hard and run the risk of turning the child off reading. So, why is it important for children to read a variety of books and stories? Primary school teacher, Carol Anderson explains that there are several good reasons. “The exposure to different authors and genres of books can give your child insight into other societies, worldwide locations, and new vocabulary.” Child-specific genres also provide a key link from the present to the past. Anderson again explains. “These genres are often stories that are passed down from generation to generation and they can be fascinating. Folk tales, fairy tales, fables, legends and myths, while retaining much of their original flavour and content, have to evolve in subtle ways to remain meaningful in different eras. They are a great starting point to introduce children to the concept of a story and to introduce them to different types of stories or genres.”
But is all reading good? There is so much written that is done so badly and with questionable content. But if those are the only books a reluctant reader will pick up, do their drawbacks outweigh the benefit of having the student finally turning pages? “I think you should be glad they’re reading anything at all,” says Patricia Edwards, distinguished professor of language and literacy at Michigan State University. In her area of specialisation of creating home reading environments for families, she has become accustomed to the reality that there are often not typically strong reading role models for students at the end of the day. “A lot of parents don’t have reading as a tradition and there aren’t any books they would suggest their children read. So if a student gravitates toward a book, even if it’s not a classic from the literary canon, that shouldn’t be cause for alarm.”
Joining her in the any-reading-is-good camp is Deborah Wooten, a board member of the Children’s Literature Assembly. Children learn how language and writing work, even when reading books dismissed by some as piffle, says Wooten. Wooten is also concerned with other issues. “There is decreased readership among children and young adults because of digital distractions.” To prove her point, she cites a recent study that showed teenagers spend roughly four hours a night in front of a television or computer.
But plenty of parents put themselves in the opposite camp. Don Croft, a parent of a six-year-old boy, recently wrote in an online review of a book that he saw his child reading, that he had to stop after every other sentence and talk about how his child should not follow the examples he read about in this particular book. “I had to point out that we don’t call people stupid, we don’t judge others by the fact that you can beat them up, and you don’t deal with being afraid by calling everyone names and hitting them.”
Librarian, Mike Howard, disagrees. “The books that we believe to be poor quality may introduce students to reading. After they are hooked with these books, it is our job as educators and parents to slowly begin introducing new books to these students. As long as the students are able to develop the skill of visualising what they are reading, they are learning.” Another point of view is that ‘low quality literature’ can give the opportunity to teach a child to be a critical thinker and that parents can use the child’s interest as a springboard for recommendations for other, more substantive literature. Author, Judy Blume, who has had her books banned by various organisations, feels that parents worry too much about their children’s reading material. “If a book is really unsuitable, the children themselves will simply self-censor themselves.” Although Blume has sold over 80 million of her books worldwide, she still finds people critical of what she has written. “A lot of people want to control everything in their children’s lives, or everything in other people’s children’s lives.”
Reading for pleasure is an activity that has real consequences in the life of a child. There is a growing body of evidence that emphasises the importance of reading for pleasure, for both educational purposes as well as personal development. The evidence strongly supports the argument that those who read more are better readers and do significantly better at school.
Children who read very little do not have the benefits that come with reading, and studies show that when struggling readers are not motivated to read, their opportunities to gain knowledge decrease significantly. Whether any type of reading can be considered beneficial is moot and it probably lies with parents and teachers to lay down their own beliefs in guiding children’s reading patterns.
Questions 1 - 8
Look at the following statements (questions 1 - 8) and the list of people below. Match each statement with the correct person’s initials.
Write the correct initials in boxes 1 - 8 on your answer sheet.
1.Some books provide unsuitable role models.
2.Some adults are motivated to interfere in all aspects of children’s lives.
3.Different book types can teach children about different cultures.
4.Reading books has been affected by modern media usage.
5.Too many children don’t have parental role models who read.
6.Different types of children’s literature is a good starting point for children to learn about how stories work.
7.If reading can induce the process of imagination, then it is a valuable learning experience.
8.Children can learn about how language functions, even from poorly written books.