400,000 Kiwis don't read - here's what they're missing out on

Reading has many benefits for kids and adults, and reading to your children is a surefire way to get them interested in ...

Reading has many benefits for kids and adults, and reading to your children is a surefire way to get them interested in books.

Nearly 400,000 New Zealanders did not read a book in 2016, according to a Book Council survey released last week. This week, we're taking a deep dive into New Zealand's relationship with books. First up, we look at why reading is important.

There's a reason schools encourage pupils to read.

​Reading for pleasure has a range of proven benefits, which essentially boil down to making you smarter.

In 2002, OECD research reported that enjoying reading has more impact on children's educational success than their family's socio-economic status.

Reading expands our vocabulary, as well as our general knowledge.

Reading expands our vocabulary, as well as our general knowledge.

A study by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research found children who enjoyed reading not only did better on academic tests, but also were more likely to form positive relationships with their peers and family members.

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The Book Council's survey found those who didn't read a book in 2016 were likely to be earning less money and to not have completed NCEA level three, or an equivalent.

Kiwis who don't read pay the price academically.

Kiwis who don't read pay the price academically.

Dr Tom Nicholson, professor of Literacy Education at Massey University, says people who read for pleasure get better academic results.

Nicholson says reading is good for our brains because it exposes us to a wider vocabulary, and increases our general knowledge.

"Cognition is . . . about the information that we store in our mind, and that information is stored in terms of general knowledge and vocabulary, and reading builds up both those things, so it is good for cognitive development. All the correlations show that."

An extensive vocabulary and good general knowledge make learning easier, Nicholson says. It's no wonder readers make better academics.

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But are our kids' reading standards slipping?

When an OECD-wide reading survey was launched in the mid-1970s, Nicholson says, New Zealand children were the best readers in the world. Experts from other countries flocked here to see how we'd done it.

According to PISA data from 2015, however, we're now middle of the pack when it comes to reading – although still above the OECD average. Compared to other OECD countries, New Zealand's reading results have been trending downwards since 2006.

By year 8, one in five New Zealand students don't meet the national standards for reading, and nearly a third don't meet the writing standards.

"If you're not meeting those standards you haven't got the skill base, and if you haven't got the skill base then it's highly unlikely that you're going to be attracted to reading," Nicholson says.

Nicholson thinks New Zealanders have lost their reading habit – and now we're paying the price.

"We've paid a price in cognitive development and academic performance by losing that strong habit. And also I think we're not teach our kids to read and write as well as we used to, and we're paying the price for that too," he says.

NZ Book Council CEO Jo Cribb says one of the best ways to get kids reading is for them to see the adults around them enjoying a good book.

The Ministry of Education's Survey of Adult skills found having more than 200 books at home when people were 16 years old was most closely linked to higher literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills.

For children, seeing their parents read made them more likely to pick up books themselves, and reap the corresponding academic benefits.

"When we're reading in front of our kids we're setting the next generation up for success, and sometimes I think we forget about that," Cribb says.

If reading is so important, why don't we do more of it? Tomorrow, we'll look at the reasons Kiwis aren't reading.

 - Stuff


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