Why don’t children enjoy writing?

by | Jun 24, 2021

2019 saw daily writing rates amongst children and young people drop to the lowest levels since 2010 when the National Literacy Trust first began surveying. That figure was on the rise slightly, just before lockdown, when the 2020 survey took place.

levels of writing enjoyment in children and young people - Nikki Young

Last year, the NLT decided to reach out to pupils during the lockdown to find out if and how it had affected their writing, with some interesting findings regarding time and freedom for creative thinking.

The most recent research – a survey of 42,502 children and young people in the UK – recorded the lowest level of writing enjoyment yet: writing enjoyment is down from 39.8% last year to just 1 in 3 (34.5%) children and young people saying they enjoy writing in the most recent survey.

Whilst 2 in 5 girls said they enjoyed writing, the same can be said for just 1 in 4 boys: particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Only 1 in 7 (15.2%) children and young people said they wrote something in their spare time every day. This is down 6.3% from 2020 when over 1 in 5 (21.5%) respondents said they wrote daily.

The reasons given for those who do write were that it makes them feel happy or more confident, it helps them relax, it helps them feel creative and like they can express their ideas, and because it makes them feel connected to the world.

What are children writing?

There was an increase found this year with children writing digitally. More children and young people are writing song lyrics, diary entries, reviews, stories and poems on screen compared to 2019. Many children said they write for social connection – text messaging or communicating within games, for instance.

Creative writing has the wonderful ability to boost children and young people’s well-being and help them feel connected to the world.

This is what Jonathan Douglas CBE, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust had to say,

“The last year has been extraordinarily turbulent and the record lows in writing and writing enjoyment, unfortunately, come as little surprise. I’m cheered to see many children, particularly girls, are still finding pleasure in writing and I hope next year’s data shows a marked uptick across children and young people from all backgrounds. We know that creative writing has the wonderful ability to boost children and young people’s well-being and help them feel connected to the world. It presents a huge opportunity for teachers, educators and parents to encourage writing in all its forms, from putting pen to paper to in-app messaging. It all has a proven benefit to the way a child feels. After such a difficult sixteen months, encouraging positive behaviours around writing is more important than ever.”

Every year I keep a close eye on this survey. It’s always saddening to see how the enjoyment of writing is declining, particularly how it drops off as children reach secondary school age.

Over the last four years, I’ve been working hard to address this.

I started Storymakers in 2017 after the publication of my first book, The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants. At the time it was a response to what I thought was a need – my daughter, then in Year 5, had had a particularly academic year at the expense, I thought, of creativity.

I organised some creative writing workshops for the children to explore where their imaginations could take them when given the opportunity to write freely and without constraint. The writing club grew from there.

The Storymakers groups provide small, non-judgemental environments that are relaxed and fun. My aim has always been to help children see that writing can be an enjoyable and worthwhile process. I’ve even helped some become published authors!

Is writing a dying art?

I hope not because reading isn’t and we need people to write those stories, don’t we? We also need creative people to come up with ideas and solutions for the future. Encouraging children to think creatively through their writing, is one way of doing that.

It will be a sorry world if the only form of communication in the future is through texts and gaming.

Yet technology is everywhere and we can’t ignore that it’s in our lives. Children learn by example, so it’s up to us as adults to show them that it’s possible to have that balance.

I hope there is better news for writing enjoyment next year. Perhaps the pandemic did have an impact on this year’s results and when things get back to ‘normal’ there’ll be a change in attitude towards writing too. In the meantime, I will keep on flying the flag for the importance of writing and will keep offering my groups and encouraging children to come along and give it a try.



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