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Lack of 'quiet time' hits children's reading

Children as young as eight years old are being turned off reading because of a lack of “quiet time” in childhood, combined with greater access to digital resources from a young age, according to the latest Reading Street report from Egmont, entitled Reading and the Digital World.

Egmont’s research found that children's growing access to digital resources is coinciding with a decline in being read to at home and at school, resulting in many children not enjoying reading.

Alison David, consumer insight director for Egmont UK, said: “There seem to be fewer times when children are at a ‘loose end’—the times that they would traditionally pick up a book to read—while digital devices are at their fingertips from a very young age.”

Research by Bowker (Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age) indicates that the key “shift” from books to digital platforms occurs between the age of seven and eight, with the new patterns established by the age of 11.

The Reading Street research among families confirms this, finding that parents take a step back once their children can read relatively competently—usually age seven or eight—hoping and believing they will go on to become independent readers.  But, it adds, “Parents stepping back tends to happen at an age and a stage in a child’s development when the digital world is calling very loudly: friends are becoming increasingly important; and having and doing the same things—such as social networking, gaming and texting—all become playground currency. And it is at this vulnerable age in reading progression that parents let go of their child’s hand.”

Moreover, while many publishers view e-books as a natural environment for digitally immersed children, the research found that parents, unhappy with the amount of “screen time” being experienced by their children, are surprisingly reluctant for them to read e-books. Some 34% of parents say children already spend too long looking at screens, and 74% say they would prefer their children to read a physical book.

The report concludes: “Knowing this, it’s perhaps not surprising that sales of e-books have been slower to take off: three million e-books were sold in 2012 versus 73 million in print. With 50% of households now owning at least one tablet device, the opportunity for children to read electronically is there, but the habit of e-reading is still in its infancy.”

There is some room for optimism moving ahead, including a greater emphasis on reading for pleasure in the new national curriculum from next September. There are also opportunities for publishers, says the report: “Children, and many parents, are thrilled by the possibilities that technology brings for reading: personalising books, sharing recommendations online, interacting with stories in new ways and simply watching a book materialise on an e-reader at the touch of a button. And the digital worlds and games that children so love can be new ways into reading: books about Minecraft, Angry Birds, Moshi Monsters and Skylanders hold great appeal.”  

The study forms part of ongoing research by Reading Street into the reading habits of 12 families across four regions of the UK: Bristol, Edinburgh, London and Manchester.