Read at your Leisure: The Battle for Books


by Jill Eggleton
August 2021

Stimulating Post-Lockdown Reading

As learners return to school for the second half of the year after an extended holiday compounded by the Covid-19 induced lockdown, I feel a sense of anxiety for parents and teachers. How do you entice students to read every day to make up for the disruptions of the year and the extended absence from the formality of school?

We are now living in a different world—a world where our students are surrounded by digital technology. This has accelerated as digital classrooms become the norm, to the extent that many probably view reading a book during leisure time as outdated as writing with a feather quill. How do you lure them from the grip of devices they seem to prize above all else?

In these digitally fuelled times, I ache for the book that sits unopened on the shelf. And while I absolutely know that we could never regress to a world not driven by technology, I still mourn the absence of a book in a child’s hands.

I am driven with a passion to battle for books.

While students can of course read on screens, digital reading is different from reading printed text. According to science, reading printed text has advantages over digital in that readers generally can comprehend better and remember more.

My desire is to encourage all who have the responsibility of educating the mind of a child to do everything within your power to keep books alive. How can we ensure they don’t languish on shelves leaving fish-moths to devour the pages?  How can we ensure that, a book is opened, read, and above all—enjoyed?

A book must be engaging—far more engaging than a device—and herein lies the challenge.

It makes me sad to acknowledge this, but given the option, I believe that most students today would choose a device over a book during leisure time or lockdown. So, the task for teachers and parents is enormous—how can you win the battle for books?

As teachers, you will naturally be cognizant of the importance of knowing your readers—knowing what stories they like, knowing that they will enjoy the story, and knowing for absolute certain they can read it without stress or struggle.

In order for students to find reading enjoyable, they have to be able to do it with confidence as reading independently is of little value unless students can read the text at 98% accuracy.

To foster a desire to at their leisure, it is essential for teachers to have established a daily independent reading program, so that when the weekend or holiday arrives or lockdown occurs, learners are already familiar with expectations of reading independently.

In the classroom, I would expect every student from Grade 1 and beyond to be reading some printed text every day.

For students who are emerging readers, this would be a book or a poem they have been introduced to—a familiar text. They would have a set time of 5-10 minutes daily to read and reread these texts. As the texts are short, they should be practicing at least five every day.

For the more fluent readers, the same daily reading routine needs to be established. Now however, the texts can be unseen, and the length of reading increased to at least 20 minutes. Again, students must be able to read the text at 98% accuracy—and crucial to winning the battle—is a book that will engage them.

How can this work for leisure or lockdown?

Providing parents with a list of suitable books they could find in the local library, or providing the books themselves, is one of the best ways to make leisure reading an actuality.

If teachers don’t supply the list, many students will opt for books that are beyond their reading level, and this can create anxiety and frustration—the very thing we need to avoid if we want to lure them from devices.

I would also provide every parent with some uncomplicated, practical suggestions for ensuring that l leisure reading is given the same importance as eating and brushing teeth!

Make it a plan:

  • Choose a regular time each day for independent reading time. This will provide a routine that establishes expectations.
  • For beginning readers, daily independent reading time can be 5-10 minutes. For older children, it should be at least 20 minutes.
  • Keep a log to record the day’s reading and set a reward for completing a week.
  • Help your child to choose and create a comfortable, cozy reading space.
  • Above all, make daily reading a special, enjoyable time.
  • Make it together time.
  • While your child is reading, read yourself—a book, magazine, any printed material—but not on a device.
  • Talk to your child about what they read, ensuring it is a light-hearted discussion.
  • Always show an interest in your child’s reading and give genuine and positive feedback for the smallest milestones.
  • Read to your child daily—even older children. Reading aloud is essential at every age.
  • Encourage a younger child to read to a pet, stuffed toy, or older sibling.
  • Make it fun.
  • Visit the library on a regular basis and encourage your child to select books that are of interest to them.
  • Ask your child to read a page to you. If they stumble over more than one in twenty words, the book is too hard for independent reading—but it might be a great book for you to read aloud.
  • Get your child to record themselves reading and listen to it back.
  • To encourage pace and fluency, ask more able readers to time how long it takes them to read one page. Repeat this every day for a week, with the aim of becoming faster each day.

There is no place for struggle, pain, or boredom in reading!

Lockdowns and holidays bring both benefits and drawbacks, I believe that the absence of a school routine and the lure of devices and video gaming make it a very challenging time for both educators and parents.

The battle for books is a collective effort requiring both teachers and parents to be vigilant. It requires an arsenal of magical stories that will defeat, if but for a short time each day, the lure of the device.