Sarah Poinelli | Contributing Writer
As a child, Nicole Barnes always had an answer to the question, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ - and none of her answers included ‘writer’. As she changed with age, so did her responses: princess, veterinarian, marine biologist, therapist, forensic psychologist. As Nicole grew, she knew her answers would have to become more realistic, and while the dreams of different job practices faded into others as she became an adult, there remained one constant: writing. “My mom taught me how to read and write before I got to kindergarten,” Barnes says. “I wasn’t very good, but I knew how, and I loved it.”
Born in 2000 to parents who had never attended college, Barnes demonstrated a love for reading and writing around the age of five. In the 16 years since she learned the practice, rarely a day has gone by where she hasn’t picked up a pencil or book and got to work on whatever came to her mind. Ensuring she has time to read and write has become harder as she has gotten older and has less time for leisure, but Barnes still tries to make time to do what she loves. She is currently majoring in English to keep up with her hobby. She often reflects on the moment she knew she wanted to be an author.
“I still have the first ‘book’ I wrote,” Barnes says, smiling. “I was about five or six, and someone had gifted me a set of empty hardcover books that had about 15 or so pages in it.” Barnes claims to have had the idea for the book as soon as she started writing, though she admits that when she first started, her ideas were cliché. “It was about a princess and a knight. I kinda cringe thinking about it now, but I was very young.” Barnes remembers finishing writing the story and creating her own illustrations to go along with it before she showed the book to her family. “They were happy for me in the way you pretend to be to a five-year-old, but they weren’t writers, so they weren’t really impressed.”
If you’ve been to a public elementary school within the last couple of decades, you’re probably familiar with the Scholastic Book Fair, a several-day event sponsored by the Scholastic company where children are encouraged to read. The fair is meant to attract students to books and to the concept of reading and writing itself, though many children ultimately end up buying toys and other collectibles instead of books. From a young age, the importance of reading is highlighted by teachers, parents, and even the government - by why does this initiative seem to be forgotten as children begin middle and high school?
As technology progresses and children grow to rely on phones and computers, reading for pleasure and as a daily habit has started to become a rare occurrence for more children. According to an article from The Guardian written by Alison Flood, a “study of young American readers shows a fall of nearly 10% since 2010 of young readers doing so ‘for fun’”. Within the study, children attributed their lack of reading to the “pressure of schoolwork and other distractions”. The article mentions that a sharp decline in reading enjoyment above the age of eight has been discovered within studies: “Sixty-two percent of children between six and eight say they either love or like reading books for fun,” Flood writes. “But this percentage drops to just 46% for children between the ages of nine to 11, with the figure at 49% for 12-14-year olds, and 46% again for 15-17-year-olds.”
If you stopped reading daily or no longer enjoyed reading for fun with the same fervor after the age of eight, you’re not alone. Multiple studies on reading enjoyment have been conducted and many demonstrate a ‘reading slump’ that occurs around fourth grade, when “students switch from learning to read to reading to learn and the subsequent loss of motivation to read,” (Chall and Jacobs 2003). In acknowledging that this slump exists, the question becomes: what can we do to get adults and children to enjoy reading again, and why is forming a daily reading habit important?
Lousie Baigelman, a writer at Understood.org, offers fourteen different examples to help encourage reading in grade school students, including bringing a book with them any time they leave home and letting the child choose the books they want to read. By encouraging reading as a reward or as a fun pastime rather than a punishment, children will look forward to reading and will less often lose interest. In the meantime, if we want to encourage children of all ages to have a love for reading that transfers into a daily reading habit, it is crucial for teachers and families to advocate for reading and its importance throughout grade school years.
With all the genres that exist, children (and adults alike) are bound to find one that excites them. When you think of a book you’d like to read, is it a science fiction story where the main character must take down an oppressive society, or is it a biography of an American President? Regardless of the genre that comes to your mind, the categories that books come in are extensive, and many people seem to forget that. Many children and adults conclude that they don’t like reading simply because they haven’t found a genre that thrills them - so how do we change that?
Reading can help you learn what genre is best suited for you, and it can also open your mind to other potential options. If you dislike reading and haven’t maintained a reading habit over the years, ask yourself: is it because you really don’t enjoy reading, or is it because you don’t enjoy what you’re reading? A lot of people find that they don’t like to read because they disliked the material they were presented with in school and from their parents, but if those same people were to find a genre that inspired them, their opinions on reading are likely to change.
Ranging from historical fiction to theses, and how-to guides to romance novels, books are diverse and open a world of new ideas and vocabulary. Forming a daily reading habit can help you experience new concepts and learn about topics you might never have considered. Reading daily can encourage you to create stories that haven’t yet been written, and this in turn can help to inspire others' love for reading.
The fact is the world needs writers. Writing has a place in nearly every job field and is a practice that is conducted daily. But in order to write, we must first read, and both acts of reading and writing as a daily habit can help to inspire you and those around you. So, whether you find your love for reading and writing as soon as you’re taught or seek to develop it now through sifting amongst genres, the most important thing is to just pick up a book and start reading.