Encouraging children to read

The issue

According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 47% of Australians aged between 15 and 74 struggle with reading, to the extent that they can't read a newspaper, understand a bus timetable or make sense of the instructions on the side of a medicine bottle. For most, their difficulty can be traced back to early childhood, and the Australian Early Development Census results suggest that the problem will continue with future generations. Based on the 2012 census, 17% of five year olds were developmentally vulnerable and at risk of not developing the reading skills they will need in life. Who were the children most at risk? Those who lived in remote regions; Indigenous children; children whose first language was not English, and those who lived in areas of high socio-economic disadvantage.

Our position

We believe every child deserves the best start in life - and that is a reading start. It's never too early to share stories, rhymes and books with babies and because of the way our brains develop, it is important that these things are a regular feature of their lives by the time children reach the age of three. Children don't have to be able to read words at an early age, but if they are to develop the literacy skills they need in later life, they need to be familiar with books and understand the rhythm of language before they start school.

International studies have shown that simply having books in the home has a significant impact on children's educational outcomes, but not all families can afford to buy them. That's where libraries are an incredibly valuable resource. Not only are there books to borrow, there are also free rhyme-time and storytime sessions. Libraries are staffed by professionals who can help parents choose the best books for their children and show them how to share stories and have fun reading as a family.

Our aim is to persuade the federal government to invest in a nationwide early literacy initiative, extending what currently happens in some states to all states and territories, and giving every Australian child a better opportunity to be school-ready.

What we are doing

The states and territories have different ways of tackling early literacy and libraries play a vital role. For example, in Queensland the State Library has created Dads Read; in Western Australia the State Library has developed Better Beginnings, while the Northern Territory Library has produced baby board books in first language for children from Indigenous communities and Newcastle Region Library has produced the 10 Minutes a Day program. The Australian Public Library Alliance (part of ALIA) published an early literacy framework in 2014, which described the special role public libraries play in encouraging pre-school children's first connection with books. We also work with agencies such as Let's Read, United Way (Dolly Parton's Imagination Library)the Little Big Book Club, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

Libraries were behind the National Year of Reading 2012, which saw more than 4,000 events, involving more than 200,000 participants of all ages, in every state and territory. We generated $5.6 million worth of in-kind support and $26 million worth of media coverage and provided the Federal Government with a return on investment of more than $18 for every $1 invested.

Following on from the National Year of Reading, every August libraries run The Reading Hour, promoting literacy and helping people discover and rediscover the joy of reading.

ALIA also runs National Simultaneous Storytime is an annual campaign that aims to encourage more young Australians to read and enjoy books. Now in its 15th successful year it is a colourful, vibrant, fun event that aims to promote the value of reading and literacy using an Australian children's book that explores age appropriate themes, and addresses key learning areas of the National Curriculum for Grades F to 6 and the pre-school Early Learning Years Framework. 

We regularly appear in the media, talking about the importance of reading and the role of libraries.

We will be actively lobbying the federal government to invest in early literacy as a long term strategy to support Australia's successful participation in the global knowledge economy.

How you can help

It takes just 10 minutes a day sharing books, stories and rhymes, to give your child the best reading start in life. Put it into practice at home and help us spread the message - tell your friends, family, work colleagues and remind them about the great support they can get from their local library. If you have the opportunity, talk to your local federal MP or Senator, and publicise the issue through your local media.

This year National Simultaneous Storytime (NSS) takes place on Wednesday 27 May at 11am (AEST) and we would love it if you could join us by sharing The Brothers Quibble written by Aaron Blabey. Register to participate - it's free and we have some great activities and resources available to support your National Simultaneous Storytime event. Everyone can join NSS - it doesn't matter whether you are a home school, a public library or even a University Library!

Be part of The Reading Hour on Tuesday 18 August, 2015. Attend an event or run your own, and tell us about it at fair@alia.org.au so we can promote it for you. 


Share your story 

Do you want to tell us about how the library inspired you to read as a child, a great children's program at your local library or why it's important for children to be encouraged to read from an early age, please drop us a line or post your story on our Facebook page.

Also if you have used one of our tools or suggestions, tell us the results of your actions. For example, if you have written a letter, made comment in the media, or received a response on a issue, please let us know and then we can keep the FAIR community informed via our newsletter.