Why not keep the World Book Day ‘party’ going all year round?
Now that the excitement of World Book Day has passed, and the costumes have been cast aside, Nigel Lashbrook, Headmaster at Oakham School in Rutland, argues it is time to focus on what really matters – reading.
A week ago, classrooms across the country were filled with eclectic collections of literary characters.
Of course World Book Day is an incredibly high profile and important day for reading nationally, providing a great impetus for everyone to enjoy books. Indeed, we’ve certainly been joining in the fun and have celebrated it for many years at Oakham (almost since it began, as our Smallbone Library has also recently celebrated its 20th anniversary). Over the years, just like many schools around the country, our librarians have dressed up, pitched ‘reading tents’, held story-building competitions and Balloon Debates, run book sales and reading sessions.
However, World Book Day is, ultimately, just one day. It’s our collective responsibility, as schools, libraries and parents, to endeavour to nurture and develop a love of reading all year round. With this in mind, perhaps then we should consider World Book Day as a ‘birthday celebration’ that takes place after 364 days of reading? As such, whilst the World Book Day birthday party should be a fun and engaging celebration of our favourite literary characters, we should be resolutely focused on actively encouraging all children, of all ages, to read each and every day.
The benefits of reading are well researched, incredibly clear and notably widespread. Regular reading impacts on academic success, future earnings and improved well-being. It really is rare to find an activity that has so many benefits at so many levels.
Firstly, it’s proven that a reading child is a successful child. Research from The London Institute for Education found that ‘reading for pleasure was more important for cognitive development between the ages of 10 and 16 than parents’ level of education’. The message that we give all of our students, and their parents, is that put simply, the more reading they can put in, the more they will get out. This is because when you read more, your comprehension (understanding) develops in parallel. This is certainly not a new idea, nor a complex one. Research back in 1987 (Nagy and Herman) made clear the benefit of investing just 20 minutes of reading each day, which saw a child encountering over 1,800,000 words a year compared to the 8,000 words of a child who reads for only one minute per day. The key is how these 20 minutes of reading are encouraged and applied. We urge our pupils to think that putting words in their head is a bit like putting petrol in a car. The more you put in, the further you can go. We also encourage both our boarding houses and our day parents to allocate and make time for reading every evening.
Aside from helping students to increase their vocabulary and expand their knowledge, reading also helps them to simultaneously inform themselves and form their own opinions. The impact of reading on a child’s financial future is clear too, with the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggesting that reading ability at age 10 predicts future income at 42.
Secondly, in regards to well-being, there is an immediate benefit to reading because being absorbed in a book is thought to reduce anxiety. Coined ‘Readaxation’ by Nicola Morgan, the idea is to encourage reading to specifically reduce stress and boost well-being. Given the current emphasis and importance of developing pupils’ well-being, reading can and should play an important role, alongside other strategies and approaches.
So, how can we continue to encourage reading all-year round? At Oakham we are in the incredibly fortunate position to have a large, well-stocked library and a team of dedicated, professional librarians and library assistants. There is a raft of activities to encourage a love of reading (and to encourage students to borrow, read and enjoy just some of our 30,000 library books). Each year group in our Lower School has a different scheme to encourage reading and to embed this as a pleasurable activity. Clever ways have been devised to encourage pupils to read, to experience different genres and to discover a real love for reading. In our youngest year group, ‘Scale the Heights’ encourages pupils to add the books they have read to a ‘ladder’ with prizes along the way. Older year groups take part in ‘The Reading Passport’ and ‘The Reading Wall’, which encourage pupils to read different types of books (adventure, historical, real life, etc) and provide suggested booklists. Stickers, certificates and awards given in assembly encourage pupils, whilst class ‘reading walls’ displayed in the library add a competitive element! We then designate time for older pupils to read in ‘Carry On Reading’ sessions and encourage them to read each evening.
We also actively try to keep reading at the forefront of our older students’ minds. Our Library’s Instagram account provides inspiration on books and this World Book Day our teachers were encouraged to bring in their current, or favourite book, to share with their students. The idea was to start a conversation about reading, to show the breadth of books being read amongst the teachers, and to hopefully further encourage students to embark on a lifelong reading journey.
Ultimately, we all need to keep the World Book Day ‘party’ going all year round. Not via costumes, but through a concerted effort to keep our children reading.