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Children and young people’s reading in 2020 before and during the COVID-19 lockdown

Added 13 Jul 2020

This report outlines findings from our tenth Annual Literacy Survey relating to children and young people’s reading in 2020, in addition to findings from our survey of children and young people’s reading during the COVID-19 lockdown.

58,346 children and young people aged 9 to 18 in the UK took part in our Annual Literacy Survey between January and March 2020, while 4,141 children and young people aged 8 to 18 in the UK took part in our survey during lockdown between May and early June 2020.

With special thanks to kind financial support from Puffin.

Key findings

Children are reading and enjoying reading more during lockdown

  • Children’s enjoyment of reading has increased during lockdown (from 47.8% pre-lockdown to 55.9% post-lockdown), having reached a 15-year low before lockdown
  • More than a quarter (27.6%) of children and young people say they are enjoying reading more during lockdown
  • A third (34.5%) of children and young people say they are reading more during lockdown

Children have turned to adventure, comedy, fantasy and real life stories during lockdown and have found joy in discovering books they’d never read before

  • Children are reading more fiction (genres: adventure, funny books, realistic stories and magical/fantasy), song lyrics, news, non-fiction, etc. with a real uplift in reading on screen, compared with before lockdown
  • Almost 1 in 2 (46.3%) children said that they had read new books during lockdown and 1 in 7 (14.1%) had re-read books they have at home

Reading has also provided refuge in this difficult time, supporting children’s mental wellbeing and enabling them to dream about the future

  • 3 in 5 (59.3%) children and young people told us during lockdown that reading makes them feel better
  • 3 in 10 (31.6%) said that reading helps them when they feel sad because they cannot see their family and friends
  • Reading is encouraging half of children (50.2%) to dream about the future

While the gender gap in children’s reading has widened during lockdown, audiobooks may provide a route into reading for boys

  • Lockdown has increased the literacy engagement gap between boys and girls, with the gap in reading enjoyment widening from 2.3 percentage points at the beginning of 2020 to 11.5 percentage points during lockdown. The gender gap in daily reading also widened during lockdown, increasing from a 4.3 percentage point difference at the beginning of 2020 to a 7.4 percentage point difference during lockdown
  • Audiobooks might be a way to re-engage boys with stories, as this is the only format where more boys than girls said that they enjoy it more and are doing it more often.
  • Overall, slightly more boys than girls (25.0% vs. 22.4%) said they had listened to audiobooks more during lockdown than before
  • Audiobooks also appear to offer a way into literacy for boys, with 1 in 2 (51.1%) boys saying that listening to audiobooks has increased their interest in reading, and 2 in 5 (43.2%) saying that it has made them more interested in writing

However, the conditions of lockdown have meant that some children have faced greater barriers to reading

  • Some children and young people reported that a lack of access to books (with schools and libraries closed), a lack of quiet space at home and a lack of school/peer support had negatively affected their ability to read and their motivation to read for enjoyment
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