Our CEO was once paid to read to a child because the affluent family, couldn’t ‘afford the time’.
Reflecting on the week in which Sir Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman called for a greater investment in early years reading, Sarah shares her thoughts.
For those of us who were fortunate enough to have grown up surrounded by books, are we merely blinded by privilege? Does the fact that I had parents who would buy me all kinds of fables, tales and stories, and who would regularly take me to the library as a schoolchild – does it make me less able to comprehend the disaster scenario of a society in which reading is not the early-years priority it should be?
Not at all. As a former teacher, and as a parent and a literacy company CEO, naturally I read about the letter sent to government by so many laureates, and I am both saddened at their reflections, but heartened that they might enforce change.
There are lots of factors which rise to the surface from their letter, in particular about parenting, access, deprivation and disadvantage.
Let’s start with parenting?
It may shock you to know I was once paid to read to a child from a very affluent family, simply because they didn’t have time to read to their child.
Poor judgment by that family?
Or a sign that they do want to find whatever resource possible to encourage reading for their child?
Is it too easy to wag a finger at parents who don’t read their child a bedtime story?
Should we chastise other adults for not making a ritual of something which a youngster like me was blessed to have?
And while we’re on ‘adulting’, there’s the issue of adult literacy.
My company, Lexonik, works predominantly in schools to enhance reading ensure no child should miss out through an inability to read – but equally, we speak to adults and employers all the time, who point out what an issue adult illiteracy continues to be.
My research points to the fact that the National Literacy Trust estimates 7.1 million adults in England are functionally illiterate, meaning that they have a reading age of 11 or below and can understand only the most straightforward, short texts on familiar topics.
What can we make of this – other than that if you can’t read yourself, you’re unlikely to read to your own child for fear of ‘getting it wrong’.
Taking this a stage further, there’s also an issue for adults around the reading ‘role models’ they have.
Do we do enough to talk as adults about our reading pursuits and to share in daily conversation about the joy of reading?
Should we do more?
Should there be a far greater number of ‘reading groups’, book clubs and company-based book initiatives which would engender a reading culture?
Of course, money is at the root of so many issues such as this.
We know that on personal and family levels, the cost of living is biting hard, and no doubt this is leading many families to consider carefully whether they can afford additional spend on books.
On the more community-based level to this, we’re seeing more and more library closures (spending on libraries nationally as apparently fallen by almost half since 2010).
There is, as I hope I’m painting here, no clear one-action-fix.
If anything, we have to remind ourselves – whether parents, teachers or members of our own community – that there is a role to play, and that effort and emphasis is necessary if we want to reignite a culture of childhood reading.
To me, among the priorities are:
- Let’s all share our joy of reading with one another (more clubs, groups and activities which embrace reading at all age and stage)
- Use your library and campaign hard to maintain it as a resource
- Share or donate books you’ve finished with. Give them the chance of new life
- Make time for reading, by yourself or as part of a family
- Express early concerns to teachers about a child who seems not to be fully engaging in reading or getting the access to books that they might otherwise
- Involve reading and literacy resources and solutions in enhancing your child’s ability to read
- Encourage an employer to grant you access to improved adult reading opportunities if it feels appropriate
- Read everything, everywhere, whenever.
What would you add to this list? I’d love your thoughts…