'Why books should be under your Christmas tree this year' by Teresa Isons, Head of Library Services

If you are wondering what to buy your child for Christmas my suggestion is a book. Not just because I’m a Librarian, but because it’s one of the best ways that you can help your child succeed in school and life. While you’re buying that book for your child, buy one for everyone in your household, and then organise some tech-free time to sit as a family and read. Based on research I have been doing lately, this could be one of the best things you do for yourself and your children these holidays.

Four Corners, a few weeks ago, focused on Literacy in Australia in their Digi Kids program and much of what was mentioned rang true for me and also corroborated  with a number of articles which have come to my attention in recent weeks.  While Four Corners spent quite a bit of their report talking about the teaching of literacy, as a Secondary School History Teacher and Teacher Librarian I am more interested in the impact of technology on literacy. By the age of 12 or 13, up to 30% of Australian children’s waking hours are spent in front of a screen (Milligan, 2019). This has a significant impact on the way students engage in class, and their literacy ability.

David Gillespie, in his book Teen Brain (2019), documents the issues with our teenagers being on screens. The dopamine-hungry brain of a teenager is turning to electronic devices for the pleasure jolt that typically comes from online playing games and engaging with social media. With their rapidly developing brains, adolescents are particularly susceptible to addiction, and addiction leads to anxiety and depression. While at Flinders our NAPLAN and QCS results are well above state averages many of our students still have the same addiction to screens as other teenagers throughout the nation (ACARA, 2019). If this is the case with your child, I would certainly recommend reading David Gillespie’s book Teen Brain, as he provides some suggestions for working with your child to break their technology dependency.

My feeling is that there are many students who are Aliterate - able to read but disinterested in doing so. Their screen time is changing the way they read, online reading encourages skim reading and multi-tasking so they develop a ‘digital brain’ which is not wired for deep reading. Children, and adults for that matter, have lots of reasons to not read; study, sport, online gaming, social media and many other distractions, so it’s important that parents provide encouragement for them to read for pleasure. Studies link reading fiction with better brain connectivity, better quality sleep, lower stress and better results in school, all powerful reasons to encourage your child to put down their device and pick up a book (Brainiff, 2019).

So now you know why you should put a book under the Christmas tree, you just need to decide what book. Here are some suggestions:
• Talk to the people who work at your local bookshop, I can recommend these bookshops on the Coast; Sandy Pages at Coolum and Noosa, The Book Nook at Palmwoods, Rosetta at Maleny, Annie’s Books at Peregian.
Readings Australia provide recommended reads for young adults.
• Some of the most popular books in the Secondary Library are:
Shahana - Rosanne Hawke
Akarnae - Lynette Noni
Raelia - Lynette Noni
Wonder - R.J. Palacio
Gone - Michael Grant
Whisper - Lynette Noni
To all the boys I’ve loved before - Jenny Han

Finally some tips for parents from the Gonski Institute (Milligan, 2019):
• Ensure young people read at least one book a month for pleasure
• For smaller children, encourage them to hand-write a letter to a loved one every week
• Get children to play outside, away from the screens, every day after school.
• Be a role model: If you play with your own smart phone all the time, you cannot be the first one to tell your own children to stop doing what you do.

Merry Christmas and happy reading.

Teresa Ison | Head of Library Services - Secondary

ACARA 2019, NAPLAN, Australian Curriculum, viewed 19 November 2019.
Brainiff, P 2019, 'Get off your phone! Deakin researcher studies teen reading habits', Deakin University, viewed 19 November 2019.
Gillespie, D 2019, Teen Brain, Pan Macmillan, Sydney.
Milligan, L 2019, 'The first generations of 'digi kids' are struggling with literacy as experts warn against screen time', ABC - 4 Corners, viewed 19 November 2019.

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