In a world where literacy is being challenged, parents, teachers and other influential caregivers are urged to nurture and encourage reading in children. In order to instil good reading habits, however, it is vital, first, to understand the habits that already exist. Dianne Dickinson, associate lecturer at the University of Western Australia, with Susan Barclay, recently undertook the Children and Reading Literature Review in the hopes of gaining some insight into the leisure reading habits of Australian children.
The review discusses the current Australian and international research in the field of children’s leisure reading, “understood as the reading children choose to engage in”, rather than the reading they are assigned at school. While there has been a decline in children reading for pleasure since 2003, it appears that the majority of Australian children do read (a fact I found pleasantly surprising). Much like adults, children read to relax, to relieve boredom, and to escape, as well as to do better at school.
Some leisure reading patterns were evident in the research covered by the review: children’s leisure reading declines as adolescence approaches; girls appear to enjoy reading more than boys; indigenous Australian children, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to read for pleasure. Children with positive attitudes to reading, who are encouraged to read, and who have average and above average reading abilities are more likely to read for pleasure, as are those who live in a household with a substantial number of books. It is also clear that increasing time demands is one of the biggest influencing factors on the decline of leisure reading (the same reason most adults will give for not reading as much, or at all).
To reverse the decline of leisure reading in children, perhaps there are few areas that need to be explored in greater depth, areas that the review found to be lacking in the research to date. There appears to be little research on the reading preferences of children, nor on when and where they tend to read. It would also be beneficial to find out more about where children acquire their reading advice, though it seems this comes mostly from family and friends. Further, it seems that most research in this area has been focused on readers aged eight to eleven years – but these literary habits must be formed from a much younger age. So, what is needed to facilitate the building of these foundations? What are the reading habits of the four to seven year olds?
At the moment there are gaps in the research, and the Australian Arts Council is one body that has called for more investigation into reading for pleasure amongst our youth. Perhaps, if we can better understand which children like to read, what their reading preferences are, how they decide what to read, and when and where they read, then we might be in a better position to create the right opportunities for them to indulge.