Thursday, 22 September 2016

Inspiring, allowing, providing our children the joy of reading

Educating our primary school children cannot be done by talking alone. It cannot be done by reading and writing alone. Teaching our children to be the best they can possibly be, is ultimately done by inspiring, allowing, providing. 

I went to listen to Michael Morpurgo speak last night at the inaugural BookTrust Annual Lecture and what I heard was a quite extraordinary man, a prolific writer (and someone whose life's work has been undeniably enhanced by his childhood visits to the library), talk enthusiastically about the need to let our primary school aged children create without worrying at this stage about dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

He said, "The teaching of reading in schools can take the wonder out of stories and turn them into a subject for comprehension tests, handwriting tests and grammar tests in which at least as many children fail as succeed, leading children to give up. 
"You disappoint yourself, disappoint others. You give up. I gave up. To give up on books is to give up on education, and if you give up on education, then you can so easily give up on hope… So many avenues barred, so many possibilities never imagined, so many discoveries never made, so much understanding of yourself, of others, stunted forever.”

It's true. Left scrutinising my parenting technique I realise rather uncomfortably that I am guilty of this as much as any teacher may be. I read my daughter's homework and although I commend her for what might be a great attempt or a fantastic piece of work, I am also more than aware that I leave her with the negatives - 'Really now, why have you forgotten your capitals at the start of so many sentences? Why have you not done this, or not done that? That's not right. It is supposed to say...' I do this because it is deemed necessary. She is eight. She is learning right from wrong, right? After listening to Morpurgo last night, I'm reconsidering how I approach critiquing her homework. I shall endeavour to focus mainly on the creation it is and the effort she has put in.

Morpurgo addressed an attentive audience - honestly you could have heard a pin drop. We may as well have been sat on a mat at his knee in a classroom, for within moments of him speaking, he had evoked a grown up story time session. Master wordsmith that he is. And really that was his point.

Morpurgo would like to reinstate story time at the end of each school day. After identifying teachers in the audience, (who concurred that yes they were tired at the end of the school day), he wittingly called attention to the fact that the children are also tired, therefore suggesting why not put aside the final thirty minutes of class time to a story? He said that he wanted to be able to hear children bemoan the fact that the end of school bell had rung, simply because they longed to hear what happened next...

Morpurgo would like more parents to sit at the end of the day and read to their children, stressing that this is something a child never grows out of - you move onto other books, older ones. But research by Egmont Publishers shows that as children start school, reading enjoyment starts to slip; by the time they are ten or eleven reading as a pastime has been superseded by social media and screen time. On average 78% of children age 5-7 read to themselves at least once a week, compared to 53% of 11-13 year olds and 38% of 14-17 year olds. Hence BookTrust's Time to Read campaign is calling for families and schools to support children in developing a love of reading, keeping shared reading alive even when children are ‘too old’ for a bedtime story. 

More often than not, lately I've let my eldest read to herself. Time being what it is. I mean to correct that. Indeed, thoroughly inspired by last night's lecture, I'll try to capture a little of Michael's magic and sprinkle it on her pillow before dreamtime. And it would be so easy for teachers to also read to their class at the end of each day. Wouldn't it?
"To enjoy a special time, a fun time, devoted entirely to reading, to writing, to storytelling, to drama. No testing, no comprehension, no analysis, no interrogation. Let the children go home dreaming of the story, reliving it, wondering. All that matters at that early age is that they learn to love it, that they want to listen to more stories, read them, tell them, write them, act them out, sing them, dance them. All the rest will come later, the literacy side of things, which is important, once that seed is sown. Children have to want to learn. So give them the love of story first; the rest will follow.”
To those who already know the importance of reading to your children and grandchildren, what's needed now is to help Michael Morpurgo in his quest of reinstating story time in schools at the end of each and every day. To spread the word to those that aren't given the chance to read or be read to. What we need is to switch off digital and screen time and get our children into libraries. To bring forth a love of books and of reading, and ultimately give our children the confidence and the magic that is far too often missing in their daily lives.