Where did all the ‘stuff’ go?

Thinking child deep in thought concept for confusion, brainstorming, indecision, uncertainty and choice

Many homes that, just a few years ago, were filled with records, magazines, DVDs, newspapers and – yes, books – now instead feature a few shiny digital devices. And for a curious child, that’s bad news.

The records were probably the first to go.

Large, heavy, taking up valuable space and rarely used, you packed them up and stored them in the attic. The CDs went the same way once iTunes became a permanent fixture, closely followed by the DVDs, which couldn’t compete with streaming.

CDs

At some point, it occurred that finding space for all those periodicals and your regular newspaper was a hassle, not to mention environmentally unfriendly, when everything could live on your iPad.

Which left the books. You didn’t buy them anymore – Hello? Kindle? – but you had some old favorites on that shelf, lots of good memories. Except now you were remodeling the house, going for a crisper and clean look since most of that clutter was gone. And the tattered old books didn’t really fit anymore. Off to the attic.

‘Clean’ homes

Sound familiar? Maybe not all the details fit your own life, but many of them probably do. (Although, weirdly, records have come fashion full-circle and many households now feature them like nostalgic trophies.)

Still, it’s a fair bet not many living rooms these days feature CD towers, glass-fronted DVD cabinets or thigh-high piles of National Geographic magazine. Nor half as many books. Our new digital world is, if nothing else, a lot tidier than the old one.

But this lack of physical objects comes at a cost. In a ‘clean’ home, there is so much less potential for children to make accidental discoveries that might trigger their imaginations.

Childhood rummaging

Many older readers will be able to recall times during their childhood when they ‘just came across’ something that wasn’t meant for them, and had their interest piqued by it.

Just ask your friends; most of them will have a story. Here are a few that just a little casual questioning produced.

The young boy who used to secretly rifle through his dad’s off-limits encyclopedia collection, poring over all the details and fascinating pictures.

The eight-year-old girl who, on Sunday visits to her uncle’s house, started thumbing through the magazine section of his quality newspaper – then slowly graduated on to the main sections.

Early influences

Even the pre-teen who hunted for racy passages in his mom’s romance novels was learning new things. On a number of levels…

The point is, such incidental and random encounters are often influential in forming our early tastes, and probably make some impression on the adults we eventually become.

Okay, maybe these things weren’t meant for us, but they were there. And sometimes, that’s all the invitation a nosey kid needs.

Books equals brains

Having adult-oriented materials lying around will always attract the attention of inquisitive young minds, and possibly help open whole new worlds for them. And nowhere is this more self-evident than in the case of books.

In 2014, a study measured the impact of having books in the home on the reading level of 15-year-olds from across 42 nations. The results were eye-opening.

Researchers found that, after G.N.P., the quantity of books in a home was the most important predictor of reading performance. (For example: teenagers in homes with around 100 books were reading at 1.5 years beyond their grade-level.)

Interestingly, wealth didn’t make much difference at all.

In the United States the poorest children, provided they had equal-sized libraries as the wealthiest kids, performed at just one extra grade level below them. The books were what really mattered.

Home library

So, some simple advice: To give your children the best hope of academic success, fill your home with books.

(Though of course, just buying the things won’t accomplish everything – parents also need to regularly read to their children and encourage their bookish habits.)

But ultimately, the more books you have laying around, the better. Those tactile things, with numerous designs, that come in all kinds of shapes and sizes? They act as a constant invitation to curious minds.

New discoveries

Picture for a moment the image of a child picking a dog-eared old book from a shelf at home.

The faded cover, the yellowing pages, that irresistible musty smell; it’s all a new experience that seems almost custom-designed to draw them in.

And really: which child is going to sniff at a Kindle?

Find out more about Book Trust and receive updates about our work.

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