Literacy is an essential skill in everyday life. It has been recognized in almost every society and community in the world and many educational systems emphasize its importance. However, in recent years many studies and evaluations have indicated certain decline in the literacy skills of children and youth. Simultaneously, the reading motivation among youth, particularly among boys, has deteriorated. This has even happened in Finland which has been the number one country in literacy. These are worrying facts that should be dealt with and solved before it is too late. In the next chapters there are some insights on why and how reading is important for children.
Why early reading is essential for the development of literacy?
“You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than | you can never be —I had a mother who read to me.” (Strickland Gillilan)
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” (Emilie Buchwald)
In literacy and linguistic development, the child’s first years are crucial. Reading out loud to a baby supports the development of literacy and language capabilities. These findings are also supported by the initial results of recent Finnish studies (DyslexiaBaby and Learning Baby). The fetus is able to hear and create memory traits into the brain since midpregnancy. A newborn recognizes its mother tongue and tries to make sounds using it. During its first year a baby slowly starts to specialize in its mother tongue. The more successful the specialization process, the more efficient is the linguistic development in the future. (Bergelson & Swingley 2012).
To learn a language, a baby needs mutual interaction with the parents and social feedback such as smiles from them. Reading out loud is a good way to build positive interaction that boosts language learning. It also improves the problem-solving skills of a baby and a small child. For preschool-aged children, stories and tales provide a safe environment where they can explore their own emotions and fears. At the same time, their social skills, imagination and ability to empathize develop. The child who is regularly read out loud to, is according to several studies more just and sociable towards other children. (Baldwin 1999). And not only the children, but the whole family benefit from the reading sessions. They create experiences of togetherness and enhance interaction between a child and a parent and help the parent to better understand the child.
Reading out loud is connected to success at school and positive attitudes towards school. In a German study, the researchers found out that 83 percent of the children who were read out loud to daily went happily to school, when among children who were rarely read aloud to, only 43 percent had positive attitudes towards school. Another positive impact of reading out loud is the growth and versatility of the vocabulary. (Vorlesestudie 2015).
All in all, home, early childhood education, school and library together create the framework and resources for children and youth to develop a desire to read. Literacy develops only when it is trained in an active and multifaceted manner. The reading habits obtained in early childhood define the habits of adolescence and adulthood. (Heikkilâ-Halttunen 2015).
How to encourage children and youth to read?
“Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes, and fill up my heart.” (Oprah Winfrey)
“Once you learn to read, you will be free forever.” (Frederick Douglass)
Literacy is linked to enjoying reading. Children who like reading, do it more. Because they read more, they read better, and because they read better, they read more. Positive attitudes create a cycle where literacy adds reading motivation and reading achievement. Literacy also supports the learning of other subjects, such as mathematics. (Finnish Institute for Educational Research 2016).
Family and home environment play a central role in reading motivation. In addition, the literacy education at school is very important. Teacher’s influence can be as significant as that of parents and friends.
Therefore, motivating to read should take a central place in the education at school. Providing access to different texts and approaches is important in the reading motivation. (Finnish National Agency for Education 2016).
Children’s reading motivation increases when they join various reading and book-related campaigns at school. For instance, visiting libraries and meeting authors, or completing reading diplomas and book projects, encourage the children and adolescents to read. (Finnish Reading Centre 2016). The annual Reading Week campaign created by the Finnish Reading Centre as well as the Great Reading Adventure campaign in 2017 are examples of Finnish initiatives that inspire children and youth to read through events and campaigns.
The nation-wide Reading Clan project coordinated by Finnish Cultural Foundation and a non-profit organization for Kopiosto aims at identifying the best practices in reading encouragement in primary and secondary schools. The preparatory survey conducted at the beginning of the project, mapped teachers” preferred practices for the creation of reading enthusiasm in a classroom. According to the 885 class teachers who responded to the survey, the most effective methods for enhancing reading motivation were book talks and reading diplomas. (Satokangas 2018)
There should be more attention in media towards reading, especially on reading role models and on newly published children’s and adolescents’ books. It is important to acknowledge that the general attitudes towards reading and literature in the society directiy influence the reading motivation and the reading performance of children and adolescents. Celebrities and media personas provide positive reading role models. The Words matter! project (2016-2017) confirmed the assumption in their rap Iyrics
workshops for vocational school students. The workshop instructors were popular young men, one of them a famous rapper, and they effectively helped the teenagers to understand better the significance of literacy. (The Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature 2017).
Reading provides advantages for children on their educational path
“Reading is the gateway for children that makes all other learning possible” (Barack Obama)
“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” (Margaret Fuller)
“A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.” (Proverb)
Early shared reading experiences are reflected in the starting skills of a child when starting school.
Among any individual hobbies, reading has the greatest impact on the child’s linguistic skills, corresponding to nearly one year of life. (Finnish Education Evaluation Centre KARVI).
Readiness for reading and attitude towards literature originate from early childhood. Children who have acguired reading models and literary experience early in their life become interested in books and gain literacy more rapidiy than others. Interest in reading and books that has been raised in early childhood, supports the growth towards becoming a reader. Reading comprehension comes easier to a child who has often been read to, which also tends to spark and maintain the enthusiasm for reading. (The Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature 2018).
It is important to encourage children to take on the world of books and further their interest in books throughout their early childhood and no later than in their pre-primary school age. Children with good reading preparedness at the end of the pre-primary school year, are more skilled and eager readers than
others. This can be also seen at the end of the first school year. Cooperation between pre-primary school teachers and parents plays an important role in supporting the child’s esagerness to read. (The Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature 2018).
In order to improve literacy, we have to promote long-term deep reading. Deep reading affects the brain differentiy from superficial reading. Studies show that by reading a long narrative text, wide brain areas become activated. Students who read a lot of fiction and manage well in deep reading seem to perform better also in other subjects. (Finnish Institute for Educational Research 2018).
The most serious challenges are related to the reading situations that reguire critical thinking. Young people in Finland find interpreting and assessing the overall content of a text challenging. Critical literacy skills are also paramount in the contemporary online environment where one has to evaluate the
reliability of information and recognize trolling. YouTube videos reguire reading skills, too! (Finnish Institute for Educational Research 2017).
In Education that is carried out by a language other than the mother tongue it as egually as important to learn the language of schooling than the development of reading and writing skills. To ensure good command of the schooling language, it is necessary to support the child’s proficiency and development in their mother tongue; the more fluent they are in their first language, the easier it is for them to lecam a foreign language. The mother tongue is the basis for the child’s thinking and for the balanced development of their emotions. Encountering and recognising the child’s individual linguistic identity generates positive conditions for the learning of not only the language of schooling but also other school subjects. (Official Statistics of Finland (SVT): Leisure activities. Changes in reading 2017).
What could schools do?
Schools are where the majority of the literacy work is done, and they play a key role in committing children to reading. Teachers impact their students’ reading pursuits almost as much as their friends and parents. According to the survey, access to literature and classroom visibility of topical books for children and the young is an important factor to encourage reading in schools. (Written for the Finnish Cultural Fund 2017-2019).
Schools and teachers should try to find time and support to develop and share new pedagogical methods in literature education. Teachers should also be supported in developing their personal reader identity. In fact, the teacher’s reading habits play a great role in how often literature is utilised in the teaching of various subjects. (Written for the Finnish Cultural Fund 2017-2019).
Reading should be allocated a set time in school. For example, by scheduling weekly reading lessons. Students of all ages should have the opportunity to read at school without any performance pressures.
Cross-curricular reading projects and, for example, the use of non-fiction literature in various subjects, support multidisciplinary learning and literacy. To develop the education institution into a reading
community, the input of the whole school is needed.
“lam part of everything that | have ever read.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
“If you don’tlike to read, you haven’t found the right book.” (J.K. Rowling)
“Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” (Jim Rohn)
The article is written by
Mr. Janne Salmela
Chief Education Officer at Finnish Schools International
Executive Principal at Finnish School of Kosov