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Books versus YouTube

Recent research from Australia indicates that the more access children have to digital devices, the less they read (see link, below). So what happens when you limit the screen time? Caroline Horn, editor of ReadingZone, blogs about her family's experiment with a reluctant reader.

"A new Australian report - in which researchers found that access to digital devices limits how much children read - will come as little surprise to parents as they battle the lure of iPads, YouTube and mobile phones on their children at home.

The report made me think about our own experiment in limiting our daughter's access to screens, for exactly these reasons.

In 2014, I read Alison David's book, 'Help Your Child Love Reading: The ultimate parenting book about getting your child to read', in which David highlighted how access to digital devices has removed the 'bored time' children used to have to develop as readers.

Remember the days when we as children had nothing to turn to for entertainment, other than books? That space is now filled by the tablet or 24-hour children's television.

Having discovered that our own seven/eight-year-old daughter was in danger of becoming a very reluctant reader, we decided to experiment with a ban on screen time during the week. That's right, a total ban, no tele, no tablet, no mobile - no screen, Monday to Friday.

The reaction was predictable but we hoped that, by limiting screen access in our home, we would recreate that space - that bored time - for our daughter to develop as a reader. She could still watch television / the tablet, but only at the weekends.

We had to work out how to fill that screen-shaped hole in her day. Instead of digital devices, we left non fiction books on the table at breakfast time; easy reads and graphic novels in the living room. We made frequent trips to the library and waited for the 'I'm bored' moments to point to her shelf of reading books (as well as notebooks, colouring, games etc). We spent time on the sofa, each reading our own books. And not forgetting the essential bedtime (or morning / afternoon) storytimes, to keep the idea of reading as something to be enjoyed.

Has it worked? Well, that seven-year-old reluctant reader has, now aged nine, just barrelled her way through MG Leonard's Beetle Queen. The job isn't done yet though - books still come a low second for entertainment compared to a screen. But she does now enjoy reading; a massive achievement given where we were two years ago.

It was probably because we started young, well before the 'can I have a mobile phone?' debate begins, that our non-screen regime worked. Our daughter is also very lucky to be in a household that has lots of books in it, supplemented by library visits. It also helped - I can't emphasis this enough - that her school demands 20 minutes of diaried reading every day; we needed that external encouragement, and she needed that 'rule'.

New research from Egmont also suggests the importance of reading with your children, to encourage them to read independently. We had been doing that but, by itself, this just wasn't enough to motivate our daughter to pick up books independently.

Reducing the access to screen time, and the school's diaried reading time, does seem to have provided the 'push' she needed to pick up books herself. Perhaps this is something that deserves a closer look by all those parents and teachers working with 'reluctant readers'.

The Australian report, 'The influence of access to e-readers, computers and mobile phones on children's book reading frequency', and its findings - that access to digital devices has a negative impact on children's reading for pleasure - needs to be shared more widely. It also something that, as these researchers commented, needs more research.

We have to work much harder as the parents / teachers / librarians of 'digital natives' to nuture that love of reading that so many of us - often accidentally - benefitted from in our own, very different, childhoods. But our children deserve to have the same opportunities that we had to become readers."


You can read the research findings from Australia and from Egmont in more detail here:

11/03/2017Books versus YouTube
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