By Derek Newton
Reposted from Forbes, with permission.
Over the past two years, educators, parents, students and other education stakeholders have had to learn new tactics, new technologies and develop new habits for leaning and teaching.
Some of those new things have been disastrous. Others, meanwhile, have been unquestionably positive.
As education returns to what we recall as normal, a big question remains – what, if any, of the good things will stick around? How many of the good things we learned or did during the pandemic can we make part of our new normal?
Last year, for example, Epic, the world’s leading digital reading platform for kids, reported that reading skyrocketed. Between 2019 and 2020, when lockdowns and distance learning were taking hold, Epic said reading increased 89%. Maybe that’s not surprising. But it was good.
It seemed unlikely, even improbable, that the pandemic reading boom would linger past a great re-opening. Yet, this week Epic issued its second report on kids’ reading – Read All About It: A Report on the State of Kids’ Reading Habits and Interests During 2021. The report surprisingly showed that reading rates remained incredibly high last year – on par with their pandemic lockdown levels.
“Epic’s first report included the finding that fifty million kids read one billion books on Epic in 2020—and in general spent 89% more time reading on Epic than 2019. These numbers remain steady for 2021, with kids reading 1.2 billion books,” the report said.
The report also showed that 90% of parents said their kids spent as much time (46%) or more time (44%) reading in 2021 as they did in 2020. Parents even said their kids spent more time in 2021 reading than they did playing video games and 58% of caregivers said their kids read every day.
That’s unquestionably great. It’s a new that everyone would love to be part of the normal. Educators and parents alike would do well to dig into why the reading trend is sustaining and invest in keeping it.
Impressive as it is, there’s probably room to grow even more reading. Last year, the report found, children ages 6-12 spent an average of 99 minutes a month reading. Children ages 3-5 averaged 81 minutes a month.
As to what’s keeping the reading habits level, or what may help them grow further, there may be some tidbits of insight in the new report.
It says, for example, that adventure stories became the second most popular genre while fantasy topics also moved up two notches from 2020. Similar genres among the top 10 included science fiction and fairy tale. “Magic” and “mythical creatures” were new to the most searched book topics, displacing “dogs” and “monsters” from top search items.
“Though the topics kids choose to read changed little from 2020 to 2021, this yearning for adventure stands out as a notable trend. It’s possible that the return to in-person instruction, where schedules were more rigid, left children longing for stories about unpredictable and otherworldly experiences. Or maybe after nearly a year stuck at home, they wanted to explore the world,” Epic said.
All the magic and adventure means that, according to Epic, non-fiction topics we not nearly as popular as the escapism. That may be a big learning lesson about learning – while school is indeed about delivering knowledge and reality, some of the best habits may be cemented by getting away from those things. Schools and teachers would also do well, Epic stresses, to let kids pick their own places to go, their own stories and subjects. Directed, proscribed reading is important. But for the longevity of the love of learning, freedom to choose may be both essential and underrated. Let kids be kids, the experts say.
“We hope that the information we discovered through this report helps parents find ways to inspire their kids to make reading a habit that’s so deeply ingrained, they never want to stop,” said Epic co-Founder Kevin Donahue. “These valuable insights show that reading not only unlocks a love of learning, but has a positive impact on their emotional well-being.”
It’s way too early to know what the long term echoes of the pandemic will sound like, in education or elsewhere. But as we all move to quickly discard the things we hated or upgrade the things that did not work well, let’s not toss aside the great things we found. They may be few. But they may also be quite important.
If this mini-generation of early readers turns out to be more engaged in their own learning, if they keep their accelerated reading habits, that will be a big win. If we can figure out ways to repeat that with tomorrow’s learners, even better.