Renu Malaviya

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-23 8:30-10:30 Room III

Speaker: Renu Malaviya (India)


Reading Habits and Interest of Children:

Across Age groups and Across three decades:


Dr. Renu Malaviya, Sr. Reader

Deptt. Of Education,

Lady Irwin College,

(University of Delhi)

Sikandra Road,

New Delhi, India



Reading material is a symbolic representation of the information, interpretation and analysis of information and knowledge. It is but pertinent that the child would appreciate that material which is in accordance with a child’s interest and level of comprehension as well the reading material which is at the cognitive level of development of the child.

At the same time in today’s world of explosion of information and knowledge and the culture of ‘quick fixes’ the contemporary child seems to be moving away from reading. In today’s contemporary world, the major competition to books and reading comes from computers, television and other multimedia systems.

Cognitive development of the child affects ones ability to understand and interpret the environment. Reading material is a symbolic representation of the information, interpretation and analysis of the environment. In accordance with the child’s level of understanding and interest, what he is capable of comprehending best, would be the reading material appreciated best by the child. Cognitive development is directly co-related to age levels. According to this argument reading habits would depend upon the developmental stage of the child, and many of the characteristics related to reading habits should cut across different strata of society.

India is also a land of oral culture, where traditionally knowledge and folklore was transmitted through stories told by grandmothers and other elders in the family. There was also a nomad community who traveled from village to village-narrating stories of Gods and Goddesses, Kings and Queens and also about situations and the common person. These stories were mostly sung or told in rhythmic narrations. Women talked about the families, villages and the clans. The menfolk told tales of adventures of their ancestors. The professional storytellers, the manbhatts, the bards and the minsitrels took the tales and made them into epics, fables and ballads. Hence reading of stories may not necessary be a widespread part of Indian culture.



Sample :

This study has tried to explore the reading habits of children of Std. VI to XII (age groups 11 to 17 years) with relation to variations across age levels. The study also explored the various factors such as availability of reading material; influence of family and mass media as also the utilization of time and funds by children for reading besides textbooks. The data has been collected over a span of three decades. This study has been done on a sample of 5228 (986 in the 80’s, 1893 in the 90’s and 2349 in 2000+)

The information was collected from the children in the school setting. Attempts were made to include equal number of children belonging to the different stratas of society. The socio economic status of the families of the children were assessed as per the indicators developed by National Council of Applied Economic Research ( NCAER). The medium of instructions in schools of India may be in the mother tongue or in English. ( India has 18 official languages and major dialects and uncounted other dialects) In North India ( New Delhi is in North India) the major language of instructions in Hindi or English. The concept of same schools for all the children is not completely functional. Within the reinforced concept of neighbourhood schools, the children coming from lower strata of society still tend to go to the government run schools, the children belonging to the middle strata of society tend to go to the schools which are partially aided by government (public) funds and the children who belong to the higher strata of society are generally part of the high fees paying schools, which generate their own funds largely from the fees paid by the students. The high fee schools also are expected to reserve certain percentage of seats for the children from the lower strata of society. India is a land of villages. New Delhi also has a large migrant population which has deep roots in the villages and the smaller towns. The, ‘oral traditions’, of transmission of culture is still very strong in the villages and small towns wherein story telling is the main media of transmission of culture. Besides the traditional story telling by professionals, grandparents and others, the television, cinema and other means of mass media are effectively finding a place in this arena. Hence in certain part of the population story telling and story reading are two different things.

All homes of the upper strata of society have personal computers, a very large percentage of the children belonging to the middle socio economic strata homes also have easy assess to computers at home or via the cyber cafes. Although the city of Delhi has cyber cafes at very assessable distances, and all schools have computers and related technology, the children from the lower strata of society are not as yet effectively using these technology. Children who are exposed to different types of technology tend to combine reading of books with it. For example they may watch a movie or a cartoon and then want to read about them or they read and then further want to search the Internet for more information. Thus one may state that the influence of the mass media and multimedia in increasing the reading habits is obvious and further attempts need to be made to use these media to increase the reading habits.



Use of Libraries:

(Multiple Responses- Percentages)

S.No: 80’s 90’s 2000+

1. School Libraries 32 35 65

2. Public Libraries 34 12 03

3. Neighborhood Libraries 03 20 28

4. Friends 20 37 50

5. Buy 28 18 48


Delhi had a very efficient mobile library system, which is still run by the Delhi Public Library. The mobile library vans go to different parts of the city on scheduled days. They park themselves at prescheduled points such as near the market place, near the milk booths, near clusters of schools, near parks and so on. It used to be a very present sight seeing children run with books to get them exchanged. The use of these libraries is going down, probably because the buying power of the average Indian has increased immensely over the decade and also because the school libraries are definitely much better stock now. Another major reason which has contributed is the professionally run neighbourhood libraries concept developed and evolved by the library project of the Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children of Children’s Book Trust. Many of the school libraries have expanded the concept of a library to include audio-visual material. Children are encouraged to read not only from books but to read from the interactive audiovisual computer aided material. It may not mean the same thing as going under the blanket with an Enid Blyton way past the bedtime curfew. It may also not mean the same development of imagination and creativity if Red Riding Hood is actually made to walk across the computer screen than the scene being developed by the child in ones own imagination, yet it does get children to read.

The major national newspapers of India such as, ‘The Hindustan Times’, ‘The Times of India’, are actively wooing the children at school. Children receive an almost free copy of a newspaper at their school desk everyday. The children are encouraged by teachers to use the newspaper for different class assignments. The paper such as the above stated one as well as another national level paper, ‘The Hindu’, has regular paper sections especially for the children and often by the children. Newspapers are going out of their way and competeting with each other to take out articles related to children and school and also publishing the activities of the children and their school in their newspapers. The newspapers with the help of experts conduct workshops for teachers and children. This has further lead to the increase in the use of library and reading but with a variation by the children.

The television not wishing to be left behind has numerous talk show of the children and for the children. Herein children from various schools are encouraged to interact and debate on various issues with experts. Now when you are in front of a camera and to be projected all over the country, the children will but read up on the topic that they wish to discuss. Where would they go for their reading updates, but to the school library or the internet. Thus the various mass medias, are facilitating the development of reading habits of the children, even if they are doing it for their own survival, it is leading to an increase in the reading habits of children. These movements are inadvently providing the children freedom and space to make choices and yet motivating and encouraging the child towards reading as an integral part of life and development.

Even as I am writing this article, the popular entertainment cinema, is leading people to buy books on related topic, which have been dealt with in the popular movies. The interviews with the bookstore owners as shown on the television, highlighted their surprise at how the movie is making certain books vanish off the stalls, as so many people want to buy them. Hence this is another indication of how the mass media can act as a supporter of reading habits and it need not always be a competitor. Work with children with specific learning disabilities ie those children who find the written word difficult to decipher or perceive accurately or remember well also learn better when taught through multimedia. It encourages them to read even if it is difficult for them. Teachers are often using the television and the popular cinema as support for their teaching. They now with comfort use examples from the mass media to reach out to the children in their classes and facilitate the development of various concepts.


Influence on the Choice of Reading Material

(Multiple Responses- Percentages)

S.NO: Influenced by 80’s 90’s 2000+

1. Father 38.5 35 11

2. Mother 37.5 42 30

3. Siblings 65 28 07

4. Teachers 19 34 25

5. Friends 50 41 20

6. Mass Media - 23 31

7. Self 10 25 67


The influence of the parents at the grade VI level was very high across the decades and it decreased immensely by the time the children reached grade XII (18+years). During the 1990’s, nearly 75% of the parents of the children studying in grade VI (12+ years) stated that they asked their parents to help them in their selection of reading material while only 14% at the grade XII level stated that they are influenced by their parents.

With the fast socio-cultural changes coming in the life styles of the Indian, the influence of the family is gradually decreasing. Indians at large live in joint families or extended families. Studies have indicated that even our nuclear families are different from the nuclear families in many other countries. Many even day-to-day decisions are influenced by the collective extended family whose members do not reside in the same house.( Choudhary,N.2003; Malaviya,R.1999) In the Indian context the family is more important than the individual.( Srinivasa, 1983) It is but natural that the choice of reading habits were till recently greatly also influenced by the family. The move from collectivism to individualism in the Indian families may be the reason that the contemporary child states that they largely depend on their own choice for reading material.

Other studies have highlighted the increasing involvement of fathers in child rearing, yet the phenomenon of a ‘supermom’ still continues to take roots. In most homes the various work related factors such as distances, traveling, long working hours of the fathers leads to the mother being the one to spend more time with the children. Probably the influence of this educated, enlightened mother is visible in the influence on the child’s reading habits as well.

A change that is fast emerging due to globalization is the importance of the, “I” over the collective family. This is clearly indicated in the individual child’s decisions on the type of reading material they wish to buy and read as is now emerging. The philosophy of the Indian pedagogue is also fast changing. The teaching learning styles within the classroom especially in the metropolitan cities has moved away from an authoritative approach to a classroom methodology with a democratic approach. The teacher views oneself as a facilitator and is fast moving towards identifying oneself as a co-learner with the children in the classroom. The child’s viewpoint is thus given much more importance than earlier. The teacher and the school discretely do influence the reading interest of children, yet the major development now is that the children are made a co-participant to the decision. Hence the child is encouraged to be the decision maker.


Reasons for reading

(Multiple Responses- Percentages)

S.No: Reasons 80’s 90’s 2000+

1. Out of Curiosity 12 14 15

Pass Time 40 23 51

Hobby 20 24 13

Gain Knowledge 39 38 36

Television came to India in the mid 70’s and computers became common in the 90’s. In the 70’s the television had a pride of place in the drawing room ie. where the guest of the family are entertained. It had as yet not moved into the larger living space of the family. By the mid 80’s the television had invaded the living rooms and the bedrooms of the family. In other words the television had encroached immensely on the family time and the reading time of those families, which spend time reading. In fact it was termed the, ‘ third parent’, and studies indicated that its influence superseded many a times beyond that of the parents. It may be interpreted that reading for reading sake in the city went down with television taking over more time of the individual and the family. As the novelty of the mass media-television begin to go down by the 90’s and ofcourse efforts made for promoting reading habits probably increased the percentage of children who are at present are reading for reading sake. Another change that seems to emerge is that the school, teachers and the other adults in the child’s life are now looking at the mass media as a media which can facilitate reading rather than an, ‘enemy’ to reading of books.

Staying with the question on the reasons for reading a high percentage of children across the decades have stated that they read to gain knowledge. It is a common advise which is given to children in India that any thing can get lost except what you have learnt and is in your ‘brain’, and that is what will help in later life. At a different level children also hear that all that one takes away from this world is what one has learnt and one began to learn beyond that in the next birth. Hence the more learning one does now, will facilitate one at a later stage. Hence the higher percentage given to reading to gain knowledge may be attributed to the socialization processes at home and at school.


Kind of Stories liked best

(Multiple Responses- Percentages)

S.No: Kind of stories 80’s 90’s 2000+

1. Children’s 10.5 14.5 19

2. Animal 5.7 6.5 7.5

3. King/Gods/Goddesses 28.3 10 19

4. Mystery 32.5 20 31

5. Adventure 32.5 19 19

6. Humorous 7.2 16 13.4

The children in grade VI showed a much higher inclination to read stories about children and animals as well as about mythological stories about Gods and kings. The adolescent child of grade VIII onwards showed a definite inclination to read books about mystery stories, adventure and romance. It was also interesting to note that the need to have and understanding of humour increased with the age of the children. Children of grade VI did not emphasis upon humour in their stories as much as did the children of grade XII .

As is obvious, in tune with the developmental norms, the children are moving from animal stories to stories of school, peers and neighbourhood, to stories from other lands, to stories of romance and adventure, to stories which make a person introspect etc. The children's interest shows a shift towards more realistic stories, away from fairy tale fantasy. The children are moving on to a stage of development according to Kohlberg's theory of moral development and Piaget's theory of cognitive development where they realize that there are no completely right or and completely wrong viewpoints. They are coming to realize that there are different viewpoints to the same thing. They are also moving away from being ego-centric in their thinking and better able to understand the cause-effect relationship.

In grade XI the pressure from the parents and the schools to focus on studies decreases a little and one can observe a shift in the reading interests of the children. There is increase in the variety of reading material being read in grade Xi as compared to grade X and grade XII. Authors/poets enjoyed by children at this stage are Sherlock Holmes, Maithli Sharan Gupt, Nancy Drew, Linda Goodman, Prem Chand, Rabindranath Tagore. They now love to read stories about war, adventure and romance. The reasons for reading have changed by grade XII. Now they read for inspiration, to know about exploitation of farmers, women and others, to get to know about corruption in the country. In other words they are interested in social issues and their sensitivity towards social issues is in the increase.

If one analysis the data across the decades and not by age of the children, there is an increase in demand for reading material with stories about children. There is a slight increase in the stories about animals that are being read. Interesting there is a major decline in the stories about kings and gods and goddesses that children are reading as (19%) compared to what they were reading in the 1980’s (28.3%). There was a slight decline in the reading habits in the early 1990’s and it also gets reflected in the kind of stories that children said they read. Stories about mysteries are as much in demand as they were in the 80’s although the 90’s saw a decline. Another important factor that seems to highlight itself is the demand for humour in reading. Nearly double the percentage of children look for humour in their selection of reading material now as compared to the 1980’s. If the increasing number of humour related television programmes are an indication then the demand for humour is on the increase in society. From the psycho-sociological perspective one would attempt to link this with the limited family time that children get in the present era. The fast pace of life has also brought down the satires and riddles and tongue twisters that children at various stages of their growing up period were exposed to and enjoyed.


Preference for Reading Material

(Multiple Responses- Percentages)

S.No: Reading Material 80’s 90’s 2000+

1. Novels 52 19 24

2. Magazines 30 20.4 25

3. Comics 41.5 13.7 39

4. Short stories 24 25


If one is to analysis the data according to age groups, across the decades the number of children who preferred to read novels increases with the age of the children. Hence less of the children of grade VI read novels where as nearly one forth of the children of grade XI prefer to read novels. The grade X and grade XII were the exceptions. They stated that they like to read yet with the board examinations around the corner, they rather study and any way the parents and the teachers would discourage it, they said. Similarly in the case of magazines as well the number of children who prefer to read magazines increases from grade VI to grade IX. Then there is a decline in grade X and again a little increase in grade XI and again a decline in grade XII. The reasoning for this is connected to the grade X and grade XII being board examination years when evaluation of the students performance is by a central board which is external from the school. The evaluation of the students in these two grades also decides the subjects that they will be able to pursue their studies in at a latter stage. Hence the focus moves away from reading for reading sake under the pressure from the parents, the school and the society at large. Remembering that India is still a place where the family or the community has an important place in comparison to the individual. Hence it is not uncommon and a phenomen which is well taken by individuals, when people you hardly know suggest what you should be doing with your life. For example a child who is in grade X or grade XII will often hear statements from almost complete strangers the child may come across in the public transport or in the neighbourhood.

“Oh! Must focus upon your studies, everything is secondary.”

“If you do not play too much for a year, it will not make a difference

but you will not be able to get this year back for studies.”

“If you study hard for the first 25 years of your life you will be able

to enjoy the next 50 years of your life.”

‘If you read and write you will become a lord

If you play and jump about you will be spoilt”

Parents may also be informed by well-meaning relatives, neighbours and others, to facilitate the involvement of the child in studies rather than other activities during these years.

Ownership of Reading Material

( Percentages)

S.No: Number of reading material 80’s 90’s 2000+

1. Nil 31 11 03

2. 0-5 27 23 32

3. 5-25 13 31 31

4. 25-50 15 18 16

5. Above 50 14 17 18

It is said that in any house, which has five books, its members are on the road to literacy. The amount of reading material, which a child possesses, depends not only on the child’s own interest in reading but also on the financial situation of the family, easy accessibility of the reading material from various sources and the parental attitudes towards extra-curricular reading. If one is to compare with the scene of the 1980’s, the contemporary decade parents in all the strata’s of society do encourage children to read in the city of New Delhi and surrounding areas. The newspapers, the television and an realization that computer and internet is not all negative and it does increase the knowledge of the child has lead to the parents being active partners in encouraging ownership of reading material. The schools further facilitate the procurement of reading material by having exhibitions in schools and the number of assignments, which a child had to by ones own reference has definitely gone up. It also needs to be added that the increase in the literacy rates, the increase in the buying power, the subsidization of the cost of books and ofcourse large scale advertisements on radio and television as also the increase in the books exhibitions

and book reading and reading corners in bookshops have all assessed in increasing the number of reading material that every house has. This study has focused upon one city of India. India is an amalgam of various subcultures. Traditionally homes in certain parts of the country have always had more books than in other parts. Hence it is wrong to take this study as a representation of the entire of India.

Nearly all children stated that they owned at least a few reading material of their own as compared to the 80’s. The percentage of children who have substantial number of ownership of reading materials (25 and above) remains more or less the same over the decades. What has changed is that those who were not reading are now reading, besides their school textbooks and also preferring to spend money to buy and own reading material beyond their school textbooks. The book exhibitions with in the city, more of reading material for children, especially designed and developed for the Indian context, has increased the readability and hence the ownership of reading material by children, besides ofcourse the lower cost and more effective illustrations of print material for children.

Distribution of Leisure Time By Children

(Multiple Responses- Percentages)

S.No: Activities 80’s 90’s 2000+

1. Playing 12 18 20

2. Studying 35 33 21

3. Computers - 12 25

3. Listening to music 26 32 35

4. Reading and writing 33 29 30

5. Watching television 08 29 06

A first glance at the above table indicates that the numbers of activities that children prefer to engage in are much more now as of earlier. Another glance will indicate that the percentage of children who prefer reading as a leisure time activity has not really gone up. Yet information from other sources indicates that reading has gone up. The children tend to use computers as sources of reading and not only use computers for playing games as was common in the 1990’s. Thus if we club the computers as source of reading and books as source of reading, the actual percentage of reading has gone up. The common statement that television viewing takes up a lot of the children’s time does not seem to hold good contemporarily. In the 1980’s television was still not at its peak and not all homes had television especially not the ones of the middle and lower strata homes. By the 1990’s television viewing had increased greatly because it had reached all homes and it had also matured as a media. The type pf programs and advertisements on television had been completely revolutionized. It did affect the reading habits to an extend, but presently the print reading habits along with computer aided reading have increased immensely. If children like to read a story via the computer rather than through a book, there appears to be no cause for worry.

By it’s easy assess to visualization, the multimedia does restrains development of imagination, visualization and creatively of thought in the child but on the other side it is highly motivating for the child. With computers and television and other multimedia fast becoming as small or even smaller than a book, we need to expand our own horizons as writers, illustrators, storytellers, teachers and others to modify our strategies and keeping the child’s perspective in focus make the multimedia a supportive medium to promote reading habits. Thus, instead of condoning the multimedia, which is anyway here to stay and which with its multisensory abilities is a more motivating media for the child, we as writers, illustrators, teachers, parents and researchers need to find ways and means to enhance the concept of reading and story telling using the multimedia as a co-worker. Attempts need to be made at all fronts to include the mass medias as supporters of the reading habits rather than condoning them completely.