A book of their own: how owning books affects children’s literacy

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A book of their own: how owning books affects children’s literacy
Posted by Lizzie Poulton
National Literacy Trust
Some recent research from the National Literacy Trust found that while 86% of young people in the UK own a mobile phone, only 73% have books of their own. What does that mean? And does it matter?
What that finding certainly isn’t, is a call for technology to be banned and a demand that all children must be reading the “classics”. Personally I love my phone and my life would be very different without it. I have my contacts, my email, my music and my social networking sites all in one place. As much as some people like to decry it, for me my Twitter stream is the best way to find out news, current events, interesting websites, new blogs and a great way to chat, meet and interact with people. And it also helps literacy – recently I was surprised when a colleague asked how to spell vuvuzela – until I realised the only reason I knew was because I’d seen it come up on my Twitter feed hundreds of times in the past few days!
But as great as technology is, the bottom line is books matter and actually owning books is incredibly important.
Our study questioned over 17,000 young people and revealed a strong link between young people’s reading ability and their access to books at home: 80% of children who read above the expected level for their age had books of their own; this figure drops to 58% for children reading below their expected level. The report also found that young people who did not own their own books were nearly twice as likely to agree with negative statements about reading, for example “reading is more for girls than boys”, “reading is hard” and ”I only read when I have to”. They were also three times more likely to agree with the statements “reading is boring” and “I only read in class”.
It’s not just our research that suggests a link between owning books and educational attainment. A groundbreaking study from the University of Nevada found that the number of books in the home has as great an impact on children’s attainment as parental education levels. The 20 year study by Mariah Evans and her colleagues at Nevada, UCLA and Australian National University found that having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit. Researchers also found that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home, with Evans stating: “The results of this study indicate that getting some books into [the] home is an inexpensive way that we can help… children succeed.”
The National Young Readers’ Programme is the programme that the National Literacy Trust uses to motivate children and young people in areas and situations of disadvantage to read for pleasure. Children taking part in the programme get to choose and keep free books at a series of fun events. The programme also helps children and young people to acquire the skills they need to develop as a reader, from knowing how to choose a book that engages them, to where they can find books once the project is over. Over the last 15 years, our projects have provided over 825,000 books to more than 331,000 children all across the UK. We’ve long known the positive effects of book ownership on the children our projects reach and it’s great to see research supporting this. In the words of one of our project coordinators, “It is no good encouraging children to foster a love and passion for reading if they don’t possess or have little choice in what they read! Being able to choose a book of their very own was a very special event and a turning point in their lives.”