More screen time, less story time, contribute to decline in reading for pleasure

Posted on Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Category: News

More screen time, less story time, contribute to decline in reading for pleasure

The last decade has seen an ongoing decline in the number of children and teenagers (0-17 years) reading for pleasure. Can regular storytime in schools, and more emphasis on reading for wellbeing, help to halt the decline?

Research carried out as part of the Annual Review of Children's Reading for Pleasure, backed by publishers Farshore and HarperColllins Children's Books, suggests that an ongoing decline in children's reading for pleasure shows no signs of abating.

The research suggests that just 23% of children and teenagers aged up to 17 years read for pleasure regularly, or four or more days each week. Just over a decade ago, in 2012, that figure stood at 38%. At the same time, more children and teenagers admit that they 'rarely or never' for pleasure; up from 13% in 2012 to 22% in 2023.

Declines in reading for pleasure, by age range

The research shows that the greatest fall in reading among children is, worryingly, in the core group of eight to ten-year-olds, while one third of teenagers hardly ever read. The highest proportion of children who never read is found among 14- to 17-year-old boys.

5-7s: 35% read for pleasure daily, a 3-percentage point increase year on year. This increase was driven by boys, up from 29% in 2022.

8-10s: only 29% read daily, down year on year and almost halved since 2012.  Among this age group, although the proportion who read daily remains stubbornly low, some children are giving reading for enjoyment a bit more of their time when they do read: more boys are reading for 30-60 minutes at a sitting - up from 45% in 2022 to 60% in 2023. And more girls are spending 'from 45 mins up to an hour, or longer', which is up from 41% in 2022 to 47% in 2023. One reason may be because of a focus on reading for pleasure in the school environment; another may be that it's linked to the popularity of graphic novels.

11-13s: 1 in 5 read daily. Those who 'rarely or never read', in combination with those who read 'less than monthly' totals almost one third.

14-17s: Daily reading is low, at 16%.  Over half say they have too much schoolwork to read books for fun.  However, more young adults are reading, year on year. 

Additionally, those who 'rarely or never read' has increased across all age groups since 2012. The highest proportion of children who never read is found among 14- to 17-year-old boys: 38% (14- to 17-year-old girls: 19%)

What motivates children to read?

With its annual research into reading for pleasure spanning more than a decade, Farshore says there are clear drivers to support children to read more. Its report concludes, 'Children are motivated and enthused when they are frequently read to, when they have wide choice and free choice of reading materials. But they are disengaged from reading due to the amount of time they spend with screen-based entertainment, not being read to, and thinking of reading as little more than a subject to learn'. 

With all the evidence showing that children who read more, do better not just in school but through their lives, what can be done to halt that decline?

Storytime in schools

A recent project to research whether mandatory Storytime in School can help shift children's attitudes to reading was shown to be successful, not just in significant improvements in children's reading outcomes (reading scores went up by 12 months across the cohort), but also in a range of other measures including increased concentration levels, better engagement in the classroom, and even improvements in communication among the children. Some 88% of the teacher who took part in the trial felt that the outcomes were so positive that daily storytime in schools should be made compulsory. Currently, the government's Reading Framework recommends that schools do read to children for 20 minutes, four times a week.

Reading to children at home

Being read to at home is a key factor in helping children to develop a love of reading. However, while parents acknowledge the importance of reading and that it can improve their children's life chances, only 21% of 8- to 10-year-olds were read to daily in 2023, according to Farshore's research, and the decline is even more pronounced among younger children; 42% of three- to four-year-olds were read to daily in 2023 compared with 68% in 2012.  As a result, many children are starting school at a huge disadvantage compared to those who are read to, and with little idea that reading can be enjoyable.

A shift in our focus?

Given that 81% of millennial parents want their children to happy, rather than focused on achievement, Farshore md Cally Poplak suggests that a different approach is taken in encouraging families to read with their children; "Rather than encouraging parents and carers to read to their children because it will improve their life chances, do we need to change the focus to their children's well being?"  Among those aged eight to 25 years, nearly one third (31%) say they are generally happy. Among readers, this grows to 40% who say they are 'very happy.

Moving forwards, if schools are also to be encouraged to carve out a place for storytime, teachers will need help to find the time to do so. Finally, Poplak added, "Remember that children want to have a laugh; I suggest that there is a special place for funny books in schools." The shared experience of reading, and laughing, together could go a long way to help build wellbeing and reading communities within our schools and classrooms.

Download the report in full.