Head’s blog: A novel way to start the new year

Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world

Depeche Mode, Enjoy the Silence, 1990

I don’t think it will come as a great surprise that people are not very good at keeping to New Year’s resolutions. A recent University of Bristol survey of 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set them fail, mainly due to people setting unrealistic goals, not keeping track of progress or simply forgetting them. So much for British resolve.

With stiff competition from a variety of more predictable resolutions (mainly relating to prior over-indulgence), ‘reading for pleasure more’ doesn’t normally feature highly in the popularity stakes but, like jogging, kale smoothies and learning to meditate cross-legged on hot coals, it’s one of those things that we probably all know we should do but usually never quite get around to.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is very helpful indeed for the development of young people and, as such, is something that schools should take very seriously. As well as the obvious benefits of improving literacy and increasing our knowledge and understanding of various topics, reading also develops emotional intelligence (see last post) and boosts our powers of imagination and creativity; increasingly important human attributes in an increasingly automated world.

The song quote above, as well as recalling lead singer Dave Gahan dressed in regal robes whilst randomly wandering around the world carrying a deck chair, always reminds me of the importance reading has in terms of challenging one’s norms and established beliefs. I can’t say that books like Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies and The Wasp Factory made for comfortable reading in my youth, but by heck they made me think afresh about the world we live in and challenged my personal values.

I am also sure that some of the wonderful characters I’ve come across in books have tinkered a little with the person I have become. I’d like to suggest noble stalwarts such as Richard Hannay (The 39 Steps) and Jack Aubrey (Master and Commander) as examples, though likewise I found it hard resist the more capricious virtues of the wonderful Mr Micawber (David Copperfield) and the darkly mysterious Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby).

Perhaps the most important benefit of reading for young people today is its simple pleasure and the escape it offers from the growing clutches of electronica. Many studies have shown that reading is good for mental health and wellbeing; something we all need to be aware of in our busy modern lives.

If you require a more pragmatic benefit, there is also research to indicate that reading for pleasure at a young age can help significantly with future careers. A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) demonstrated that reading skills at 15 years old provide the biggest indicator of future professional success. Admittedly only a correlative study, this was nevertheless more significant than any other factor including socio-economic background, schooling or university.

I do appreciate that it’s not easy to get some children to read. In my experience some seem to get the bug naturally and others simply don’t. It’s also true that some find it much harder than others at an early age. Nevertheless, I don’t have much patience for those who complain there’s nothing to read – we are currently enjoying a golden age of children’s literature with a fantastic variety of excellent writing available and it doesn’t have to be fiction in any case; any form of the written word will do.

School can help, but of equal importance is enthusiastic parental influence at home. Parents taking the time and energy to read to their children and encouraging them to read themselves is undoubtedly one of the most important things you can do to support their education and future prospects.

Consequently, if you’re feeling good about yourself at this point, it’s no surprise. This has been my longest blog to date, so you are already half-way to fulfilling that resolution…

For more information on the benefits of reading for pleasure, have a look at the National Literacy Trust website.

Also, please feel free to ask one of our fantastic Senior School library team or Mrs Bestow in the Junior School to suggest titles and authors suited your child’s interests and passions – there’s a page-turner out there for everyone.