The Endangered Bookworm: Are Children Reading Less?

When I think of a bookworm, I  picture a child who packs a book in their bag “for just in case”, or a child who reads by torchlight long after lights out, or a child who doesn’t hear their parents’ request to set the table because their nose is buried in a book. When last did you see a child reading like this (outside of the narrow confines of school reading)? 

Is the book worm just another name on our soon-to-be-extinct list? Will the sight of children immersed in a book on a park bench, or in a restaurant, a busy shop or in a waiting room become a rarer and rarer sight?. 

Research has definitely shown that children are reading less today than in the past. Research by the National Literacy Trust indicates that in 2019 only 53% of children read for pleasure, which is down from previous years.Recent studies such as the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report (2023) shows that children’s reading enjoyment, frequency and sense of  importance declines with age.

So what is threatening the bookworm? 

  1. Digital distractions: The rise of smartphones, tablets and digital media competes with traditional reading and ways of consuming stories.
  2. Time constraints: We’re all busy, kids too. Busy schedules and extracurricular activities leave little free time for leisure reading.
  3. Changing interests: there is an ever-expanding menu of entertainment options

It’s much more likely that we see children’s faces immersed in the world offered by smartphone or tablet screens: games, scrolling, texting, watching. So if bookworms are slowly becoming extinct, is that not just the inevitability of evolution, of one form of media taking over from another? 

This is true and there are many ways in which screen-reading has added to our reading habits rather than taken away, but screen-reading does not foster deeper reading skills. Our screens are packed full of meaningless distractions that we do not need to resist when reading a book. Screens offer that buzz of instant, effortless novelty – one YouTube short or Instagram reel quickly becomes a powerful current of ceaseless new content that washes away our attention.

Children are reading less and in this environment, we do need to rethink our approach to reading and building reading habits. You can follow me over on Instagram for some tips to build better reading habits and get children reading.

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