There are countless benefits that come from a healthy reading habit. Studies have shown reading improves cognitive function, concentration, expands vocabulary and develops empathy. So, it makes sense that getting children to read is a priority for many teachers and parents.
Ella Peile has worked with young people for more than a decade. She was a teacher for six years with Education Queensland and worked as an Education Resource Writer for the Queensland Theatre. In 2019, she is the manager of Brisbane Writers Festival's youth programs. Join us to hear her thoughts on why it’s so important to get kids into reading.
How important do you think it is to encourage reading in children?
I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the value of reading. Aside from the academic benefits – which are huge – reading can encourage curiosity, empathy, and imagination. If traditional books don’t work for your child for any reason, graphic novels and audio books might be another option. Most importantly, reading should be encouraged and modelled as an enjoyable activity.
Some say that reading can influence and shape a child’s perspective of the world. To what extent do you agree with this?
Reading can offer children access to worldviews and experiences other than their own, which can absolutely influence their perspective. I think it’s a rare book that will singly change someone’s mind, but the more opportunities a child (or adult) has to challenge their assumptions, the more likely they will develop a more nuanced perspective. A bookshelf should reflect the diversity of society.
Are there any Australian children’s authors you would recommend to parents trying to get their child into reading?
The best book to encourage a child to read is the book the child wants to read. Take them to the library and let them wander the children’s section. Which books grab their eye? Read aloud with your child(ren) regularly, and notice which kind of stories engage them.
My personal favourites for early readers include Maxine Beneba Clarke, Leigh Hobbs, Jackie French, Alison Lester, Gregg Dreise, Davina Bell, and Sophie Beer.
How do you think programs like Word Play and Love YA contribute to healthy reading habits in children?
Festivals like these bring stories to life – they connect you with the authors and with other readers. For a child who already loves a particular book, meeting the author and having their book signed makes it a far more personal and affecting experience. Because there are so many fantastic authors under one roof, there are also many opportunities to discover a new favourite. Most importantly they are fun! At Word Play this year we have a wonderful mix of authors presenting diverse and vibrant sessions.
Over the past decade, changing technology has had a big impact on the publishing industry, with eReaders, iPads and audio books becoming increasingly prevalent. How do you think these changes have affected the reading experience for children?
Honestly, I don’t think we’ll know the answer to this for a few years, once these children have grown up and the long-term effects are understood. That said, I have nothing against e-books or audio books. Both offer engagement with stories and ideas, in a format that works better for some people. I do think it’s important to engage with actual physical objects too – we cannot exist solely in a digital world.
Lastly, do you have any tips for parents and teachers who want to encourage their children to read?
1. Let them see you reading.
2. Talk about what you’re reading and why you’re enjoying it.
3. Have a lot of books in the house and the classroom – visible, accessible, engaging.
4. Ask them what they like to read and let them explore that.
5. Don’t confuse literacy with a love of literature - literacy is important of course, but it doesn’t on its own make for a lifelong reader.
6. Come to Word Play!