Allow time to read for fun? That’s crazy talk!

I’ve just read “Children need books, not quangos”
(Quango – Translation for Non-Brits: “government committee”)

In the article, Gillian Bowditch writes:

At my daughter’s school, literacy levels rose — especially among boys — when the headmaster ended formal reading homework for children from primary four upwards and replaced it with 20 minutes of reading of the child’s choice per night. Magazines, comics and football annuals were all acceptable. Parents were told that the aim was to present reading as an enjoyable activity and to encourage a basic level of competency.

What is so discouraging, however, is the way that fostering basic literacy has become an end goal for politicians, when it is really just the equivalent of reaching base camp.

Sounds like the government in the UK is also suffering from a similar strain of the “No Child Left Behind” disease.

Of course reading for fun improves reading skills! What a treat for young children and their parents to have a break from homework, a chance to have a good time together and improve reading skills at the same time.

I know the roadblocks to providing children with fun reading time. NCLB testing is the biggest culprit at the elementary and middle school levels. But high schools here in New York State have always had “high-stakes” testing and still manage to provide a range of learning activities. Yet any kind of school-wide, “drop everything and read” kind of activity is often resisted by some (many?) high school teachers. They cite the pressure to cover the curriculum – and that pressure is very real. Still, encouraging students to read for fun will improve student comprehension skills, and developing lifelong readers is at least as important as covering the curriculum.

Librarians – myself included – do not get away from criticism here. Perhaps the author is correct when he says:

School libraries have given way to “resource centres” and librarians have lost out to “information technology specialists.

At any rate, this article interested me because it promotes a free reading activity outside of class time. Perhaps such an activity would gain more support amongst busy teachers. Once in awhile, instead of assigning that essay question or that list of math problems to solve, they could change the assignment to:

For homework tonight, read something you enjoy for at least a half hour. Talk to someone in your family about what you have read, and be prepared to tell the class a little about your reading tomorrow.

If the teachers in each subject area would give that assignment to all their students just once a month – it would mean that students would be doing some free reading at least once a week. Surely a teacher could forgo the usual homework assignment once a month? Who knows – reading skills might improve. If not – at least everyone (teachers, students and parents) would get to relax a little.

6 thoughts on “Allow time to read for fun? That’s crazy talk!

  1. Yes, teaching reading is as much about teaching students to love reading as it is about decoding.

    Sadly many teachers do not enjoy reading themselves and so I think it’s hard for them to inspire others or teachers do like reading and they think students should like it just because their teacher does. It’s not a do as I say proposition. You’re right that we need to connect students to literature they like and give them permission to read it.

  2. Hmmmm….Reading as a subversive activity. Even Michael Moore says librarians are “a dangerous group. …They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.”

  3. Michael,

    Thanks for your comment. I really value a comment from the author of Creating Lifelong Learners at

    I also appreciate your post today where you say “I think it would be much more valuable to teach students (and teachers) how to conduct their own searches and evaluate information that they find.” We are so busy “protecting” our kids with filters and web portals that we forget to teach them how to protect themselves – not to mention how to think for themselves.

    Kids reading for fun. Subversive.

  4. This is an old post…but I still had to comment, even if you never know. This topic is HUGE with me. Tonight I picked up my son from swimming practice (He spent about 3 hours at the pool today with his varsity team)…I took him home. He ate dinner and spent all night doing HW. He went to bed totally exhausted. Before bed he said to me…,”I never have time to just read what I want anymore. I just want to read.”
    Reading is so cool…if the kids are given time and permission to do it. I think that would be a great assignment to give kids!

  5. How sad. No time for reading. I think kid’s learning would grow in every area if they were allowed to read what they want to in school every once in awhile. It would open the conversations and open the minds of students and teachers, and make the classroom an exciting place to be.

    We are very focused at Gananda right now on our graduation rate. I know free reading initiatives would probably die ‘aborning. I hope to float the idea at a more hospitable time in the future.

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