Today, Thursday 7th March, is World Book Day.
Children, it seems are becoming less interested in reading books and less inclined to pick one up in their leisure time, according to a study last autumn, [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19511825].
What a shock! Who would have thought it? And what has caused this ‘drop off’ of interest in books? Again, no surprises here. It is the rise and rise of screen based activities [or rather, non-activities, since sitting in front of one can hardly be described as active].
Most people take for granted the fact that developing technology is, broadly speaking a good thing, and of course it is. It improves life in countless ways. But myself, I’d have to say that for young children it is something that they need exposure to in moderation. Computer games were in their infancy when my own children were young so I suppose I was fortunate not to have to face too much in the way of battles over restricting access, but if I were dealing with the situation now I would feel obliged to impose limits to playing on games consoles etc
You could argue that it doesn’t matter, or that screen based games are beneficial. Late in my previous life as a proper working teacher there was one small boy who violently resisted all efforts to educate him and was both unable and unwilling to sit down and either read, write or listen to anything. His mum claimed that this behaviour was at odds with his manner at home, because he could sit for hours to concentrate on his Playstation games. Apparently, an ability to focus on shooting space aliens or achieving the next level in a car crash game denotes high order thinking. In order to address his fixation with computers we allowed him unbridled access to one in the classroom for writing tasks and so on. The result was not a success and he could generally be seen climbing around and under the worktop or disrupting others as before.
And does it matter if they don’t read books? Well, no, as long as they read something. Because without the skill of reading life really does become very limited and difficult. There is a true story on the World Book Night website [[http://www.worldbooknight.org/books/2013] more of which in later posts] of an adult woman who’d never learned to read, and of the difficulties she faced in almost every area of her life. But I always told parents who complained that their child didn’t want to read a book that they could read a comic, a football magazine, a cereal packet or the Argos catalogue if they liked, as long as they read something.
But aren’t we missing a trick? If our children are wanting to spend all their spare time in front of computer games then it is the games that should change, isn’t it? Surely it is not beyond the wit of manufacturers to incorporate text into them? There should be instructions, written dialogue, signs to identify, captions. I’m sure such games exist already, although probably not the popular ones, the ones they want to play. I’d make it compulsory to add text to computer games.
To me, books, and in particular children’s books are simply wonderful, and will no doubt be the saving of bookshops, since there is no substitute whatsoever for sitting down to share a gorgeous, colourful, lift-the-flap, scratch and sniff, rhyming, pictorially stimulating, exciting or hilarious BOOK.