If your child has lost all interest in books since starting secondary school, then this might just be for you…

Only last week, I was reading in the paper the sad news that for a large proportion of young people, the  move from primary school to secondary school results in a significant drop in reading age. At primary school, their reading is closely monitored and they are encouraged to choose material that will challenge and extend them, whilst at secondary school, they are less closely monitored and will continue to choose their old favourites.

Research cited in the article said that the top three books read by primary school children are: ‘The Twits’ (Roald Dahl), ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Old School’ (Jeff Kinney) and ‘Gangsta Granny’ (David Walliams). At secondary school, the top three books are startlingly similar: ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Old School’ (Jeff Kinney), ‘Gangsta Granny’ (David Walliams) and ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Rodrick Rules’ (Jeff Kinney).

These are all great books, particularly for engaging boys, and in a world where there are so many other distractions for young people, the last thing any parent or teacher wants to do is with hold a book because it’s too easy. But there needs to be a balance.

The Problem:

With all the hard work put in at primary school, most children will finish year 6 with a reading age that is equal to their own. However, a summer without reading and less enthusiasm for reading or choosing challenging material means that by the end of year 7, many children’s reading ages have fallen to at least one year below their actual age. A statistic I can verify as a secondary school English teacher.

Why does this matter?

Well, essentially if a child follows this trend in secondary school, then it means that when they leave school at the age of 16, they are likely to have a reading age of approximately 13. Exam questions are written for 16 year olds so if a child has a reading age of 13 when they take their GCSEs, there is a good chance that they will struggle to understand the questions on the paper before they even attempt an answer.

The challenge:

As I see it, there are two main challenges that parents and teachers face here with secondary school aged children and reading: 1. Maintaining a child’s interest in reading so that it continues to be part of their daily routine and 2. Ensuring that the material they are reading is challenging enough to keep them moving forward.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are still your child’s biggest role model and the example and values you promote will do more for your child’s perception of reading than anything school might do.

Some solutions:

  1. Be an example. Make time each day to sit down and read so that your child knows that it is something you value and not just something school values.
  2. Talk about what you’re reading: would you recommend it; what’s it about; what’s it taught you; did you find it difficult; how did you get past the difficulty.
  3. If your child is struggling with an English classic (something written before 1900), then encourage them to persevere with the language; you might even download a film version of the book as a way of aiding their understanding of the plot and allowing them to focus on the language.
  4. Have a family book shelf that includes an array of genres. This could be something that you add to as a family.
  5. Buy book vouchers as gifts.
  6. Look out for author visits at your local library or bookshop. This is a great way to ignite your child’s interest.
  7. Look for articles in the paper that may be of interest and then discuss their reactions to what they’ve read. Alternatively, there are a lot of magazines available for young people which you could also look into if it relates to a hobby or interest.
  8. Remember the important word ‘balance’. If your twelve year old loves reading ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’, that’s fine but try to monitor what else s/he is reading . The ideal is that 60% of the time reading material should be providing challenge.

Good luck!