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We’re reading more just now, but we could do better

Reading is one of those activities associated with summer, as we’re supposed to have more leisure time to catch up on those books we’ve been meaning to tackle.

This year is an anomaly, however, as many of us have had considerable downtime since mid-March, the lockdown not only providing involuntary time off but also cutting off many of the activities we might opt for while not at work.

It makes sense, then, that we’re reading more and some sources are seeing increased sales of books. A Booknet Canada survey, for instance, found 58 per cent of respondents are reading more, while 39 per cent are reading the same amount as before the COVID-19 lockdown.

We have more books to read than ever before, and more ways to read them thanks to computers, tablets, e-readers and even cell phones. But fewer of us are actually picking one up, paper version or otherwise. That’s especially true of young people, who’ve also had more free time on their hands, as school’s been out for months.

Today’s numbers are up, but the trend in reading has been decidedly downward. Beyond the risk to writers and publishers, there are longer-term implications for literacy skills, job prospects and even our very democracy given we live in an information age.

Research indicates that there are positive effects when young children read and explore books for pleasure, as such activities help build the skills and knowledge that are critical to schooling. Reading for pleasure is facilitated when children have greater access to books. Early exposure, good access and adult support are positive motivators of children’s success with literacy skills.

Conversely, limited exposure and experience with books decreases literacy success for students. Studies show the more exposure to print materials, the higher the success rate.

We may know this, but with so many electronic distractions available to kids, it’s hardly surprising that books have fallen by the wayside in some cases. If that’s the case, encouraging kids to take up any kind of reading is a plus – best not to get too fussy about the content. Some parents object to the likes of comic books, graphic novels and pulp fiction on the grounds that there are better books out there. Perhaps, but a great work of literature gathering dust on a shelf does a child no good. Better he or she discovers the joys of reading from any source than not at all.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

Reading – exploring new ideas, concepts and even new worlds – is the pre-eminent way to foster literacy, not only in words but in understanding the world around us. Any kind of book or other written material that sends us down that road is a good thing.

Literacy is a strong determinant of future success. Given the changing job market and the increasing demands on employees in an information age, we need better skills. Still a shocking 42 per cent of Canadians between the  ages of 16 and 65 have low literacy skills. Fewer than 20 per cent of people with the lowest literacy skills are employed, but impoverished adults often do not have the literacy skills required to get into job training programs. They may need literacy skills upgrading before they can succeed in training programs, but only about five to 10 per cent of eligible adults enroll in programs.

Clearly, the best time to instil reading and comprehension skills is at a young age. That’s where programs that encourage reading come into play. Right now, we’ve got some extra time, and we should use it wisely.

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