During this week, the National Read a Book, Youth Mental Health and International Literacy Days take place. The three make an interesting combination. Never has the mental health and wellbeing of children been tested to such a degree as it has over the last 18 months.
According to a recent Children’s Society report, the number of UK children unhappy with their lives is on the rise. The number of 10 to 15-year-olds who say they are not happy rose from 173,000 (3.8%) in 2009-10 to an estimated 306,000 (6.7%) in 2019. All this data was before the additional stress of the pandemic. Schools recognise the role they have to play in promoting the mental wellbeing of their pupils. However, 12.2% of respondents cited schools as being a source of unhappiness.
There is no single, quick-fix solution for what is a society-wide problem. However, there are small things we can do to improve our wellbeing and that of the children we work with. The benefits of physical activity, spending time in nature, and practising mindfulness have all been extolled during the lockdowns.
Another simple activity which confers benefits on our wellbeing is reading. According to the University of Sussex research, reading for as little as six minutes a day can cut a person’s stress levels by two thirds. And a report by the Literacy Trust found that children who enjoy reading and writing have significantly better mental wellbeing than their peers. The report found that as children transition from primary to secondary school, their literacy engagement and mental wellbeing levels begin and continue to decline. This correlates with the Children’s Society survey of 10- to 15-year-olds.
So how do secondary school teachers encourage reading for pleasure? Here are four quick ideas you might be able to try:
Let Them Choose
Pupils must get to choose what they read and have access to a diverse range of books so they can find something that interests them and aligns with their reading ability. Supporting that choice is also essential; talk to students about their interests and help them make an informed choice.
Make time for reading.
Having a regular time for your pupils to read for pleasure each day is essential. Encouraging regular reading can be an excellent way to develop positive reading habits. This could form part of your school’s wellbeing strategy, where pupils are encouraged to focus on themselves and find a book that resonates with them.
Digital Books are Still Books
We can sometimes have a set idea of what reading looks like (mine? Big armchair, a huge mug of coffee and a dogeared, orange, Penguin paperback novel), but that might not chime with your pupils. E-books offer the same benefits as a physical book but might be easier to access or feel more relevant for young readers. Audiobooks can be a great resource, too, especially for reluctant readers.
Regular meetings at a weekly or lunchtime book club let pupils enjoy reading as a social activity and connect with their friends while getting to share their thoughts and experiences of different books.