What if there was a superpower available to all kids that guarantees them a better start in life?
Every kid dreams of being a superhero (and many adults too!). Defeating baddies, saving the world, and all of it done in a darn snazzy outfit. And no superhero is complete without a superpower: some can fly; some are part animal; some have super-human strength.
Of course, in the real world, none of this is possible. But there is one thing that can give kids the power for a better start in life… it’s the simple art of reading.
Reading can be a source of frustration in many households. School readers are boring, jumbled letters don’t seem to make sense, and this can lead to kids rejecting reading from an early age. Once the stubbornness kicks in, sparking a love for reading seems almost impossible.
But what if we can turn that around so kids see reading as their own special superpower?
Reading is about so much more than picking up a book. Early literacy is critical across all areas of development and is carried through to adult life. Strong early literacy skills lead to higher grades in every subject throughout the school years. Early reading imparts a better attention span and concentration, and proficient literacy enables children to comprehend more of what they are reading. Kids become better researchers, able to extract the necessary information from books, websites and magazines. And being able to recognise a larger number of words by sight provides kids with a greater general knowledge base, enabling them to understand more and learn more about their environment.
As well as the education gains, a love for reading brings many psychological and social benefits too. Reading for fun can improve a sense of connectedness and empathy with the community. It also provides a deeper understanding of personal identity, allowing a child to grow in self-confidence, maturity and independence. Non-fiction ignites a child’s curiosity about places and people, and satisfies curiosity when looking for answers on how the world works, whilst fiction sparks creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills.
In a digital age, the skills that come from reading are becomingly increasingly essential for success in later life.
“We are now in a knowledge-based economy where data and analysis make up a large part of future employment,” Karen Gawen Young People’s Services Supervisor from Sunshine Coast Council explains. “Yet, today, 46 per cent of adult Australians cannot function effectively in this information-driven world due to poor literacy.”
In a recent study Australia ranked 21st against 45 developed countries in international Grade 4 reading, so it’s a worrying trend that needs to turn.
Though most children start to formally read at school, research has found that the groundwork to make that possible happens in the first five years.
“Up to 90 per cent of a child’s brain development happens in the first five years, and a child’s success at age 10 can be linked to the amount of talk they hear from birth to age 3,” says Karen.
Therefore, the early years are critical in embedding early literacy skills.
To assist families in this, the Queensland State Government has launched a universal family literacy program called First 5 Forever. Designed to support families in providing stronger language and literacy environments for young children ages 0–5 years, the program provides a huge range of free resources including Rhymetime and Storytime sessions, and advice on how to bring early literacy into everyday life.
“Children learn best from their primary caregiver,” Karen explains, “and it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Singing, playing and chatting exposes a child to a wealth of early literacy and vocabulary.”
Traditionally, reading has had rather a serious reputation. But if it’s going to be promoted to a superpower status, it’s got to get a little ‘pow’ and ‘bam’ happening.
“Treat reading as an adventure, where together you explore new worlds,” Karen says. “It should always be fun and never a chore… something kids are excited to do.”
“Babies and pre-schoolers love nothing more than sitting down with Mum or Dad and enjoying a story, it’s about keeping that engagement and enthusiasm going as they grow older.”
And Karen believes that happens best by giving the power of choice.
“Kids are most enthusiastic when they have the power to choose what they read,” she says. “Whether silly stories about farts, or non-fiction about spiders, so long as young kids are reading and enjoying it, that’s what matters.”
Giving kids the space to choose also allows them to explore different genres without feeling they are being taught or directed. “The library today is a treasure trove of fun reading material – with magazines, comics, branded fiction and more,” Karen says. “And because it is all free, you can borrow whatever you like; test out new things, push the boundaries and explore.”
“It’s also important that every child gets their own library card, rather than borrow on a parent’s card,” Karen continues. “This not only keeps a record of everything each child has read, it also adds to the autonomy; giving them the power to choose, borrow and return independently.”
And having that choice ultimately gives them control over what shape their own superpower will take.