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The power of a good book

2019-01-22T08:59:17+00:00January 16th, 2019|
BBC Mastermind … contestant, Hinchliffe … specialist subject: The Life and Times of Peppa Pig. We have two children aged four and eight. We love reading at bedtime.

I hesitate to mention family favourites but verses from the likes of ‘Jack and the Flum Flum Tree’ and ‘The Paper Dolls’ by Julia Donaldson, ‘Aliens Love Underpants’ by Claire Freedman or ‘Class Two at the Zoo’ by Julia Jarman, I’m merely scratching the surface here, are now imprinted in my grey cells for life. A personal favourite: ‘I want my Hat Back’ by Jon Klasson. We have themes of the week at Bradford Grammar, more often than not linked to school values and these are communicated in assemblies. I read ‘I want my Hat Back’ in assembly once and if you know the story you could be forgiven for thinking that BGS values might include, revenge, natural justice and retribution! I did however receive a round of applause, not a common occurrence.

We read to and with our children for no other reason than pure enjoyment, spending precious time together. The inner educator however cannot help but acknowledge that it is doing us all some good in various ways. My parents read to me. I remember Ladybird books, Star Wars Annuals and Richard Scarry illustrations. I also loved Jackanory on TV. Mr Matthews read ‘The Hobbit’ to my class in our last year at Junior School. Imaginations went into overdrive. It remains a formative moment, a strong memory. We all enjoy hearing a good yarn told well.

Studies abound championing the value of reading to children and encouraging them to read from an early age. Recently The Telegraph reported that reading to children of pre-school age provides a significant eight-month head start in terms of language skills. According to Professor James Law, Speech and Language Sciences at Newcastle “while we already knew reading with young children is beneficial to their development and later academic performance, the eight month advantage this review identified was striking … eight months is a big difference in language skills when you are looking at children aged under five.” Professor Law continues: “The fact we saw an effect with receptive language skills is very important. This ability to understand information is predictive of later social and educational difficulties. And research suggests it is these language skills which are hardest to change.”

The utility of early years education at nursery, in school and the home environment continues to come into increasingly sharp focus. Alongside the quantifiable educational benefits of early reading we must also continue to acknowledge the human dimension of families protecting quality time together, reading stories to each other and, in so doing, creating their own story, together. Reading for pleasure, not to accrue any particular advantage, is key, and I hope that most people reading this will think I’m stating the obvious.

Protecting libraries (and specialist librarians, see for example Elizabeth Hutch (@Elizabethhutch) ‘Why do teachers need school librarians? 5 questions to ask yourself’ and time for reading in schools is vitally important. Fostering a reading environment at school and home, ensuring interactions with books, magazines, newspapers and such like, that are a visible part of the environment, makes a difference. Reading, being read to and talking about books are powerful learning and socialising experiences.

The Times Educational Supplement (TES) regularly recommends general interest book lists throughout the year, for example, ‘Book reviews: Must-reads for the new school year’ and ‘12 books to get your students into non-fiction’.

Lists with more specialist perspectives in mind, as was the case with ‘15 books to support children’s mental health’ are also valuable. Teachers benefit too: ‘33  every teacher should read’.

The Clarkson Library (@bgs_library) at Bradford Grammar is one of my favorite spaces at school and the BGS Bookshelf twitter feed (@BgsBookshelf) guides the reading of students and staff alike. Tonight, in our house, both ‘Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space’ by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman and ‘The Ice Monster’ by David Walliams are on the menu. All four of us are looking forward to turning the next pages.

“We read to and with our children for no other reason than pure enjoyment, spending precious time together. The inner educator however cannot help but acknowledge that it is doing us all some good in various ways.”

Simon Hinchliffe, Headmaster

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