July 28, 2016

Jonathon Stubbs: On Beatrix Potter and the importance of early reading

Jonathon Stubbs

Jonathon Stubbs

“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter...” For many, this opening line of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit is instantly recognisable, bringing back fond childhood memories. Today marks 150 years since Potter’s birth and her classic tales continue to charm children and adults alike. 

I think many people underestimate the power and influence children reading books like Potter’s for pleasure can have on their future careers. And, in turn, the impact this can have on business and economic growth.

A good education is of course about much more than just reading. But being able to read well is the foundation on which so much else depends. Children first learn to read; then they read to learn.

Studies show that children who read for enjoyment not only perform better in reading tests, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. The more a child reads, the better their writing is also likely to be, as well as their speaking and listening skills. 

Reading also helps children to think creatively and, in business speak, to innovate; to solve problems and to make a difference for the better. And as we all know, innovation is a word that’s been heard on the lips of more financial institutions in the last year than ever before.

Literacy skills gained in early childhood through reading can help in developing behavioural skills – creativity, innovation, enterprising – which equip them for their future professional lives and lay the foundations for modern leadership.  

Reading stories like those by Beatrix Potter can create ways for children to unlock their imagination, to discover their passion – and uncover a new generation of talent in the process.

Yet worryingly, as charity Save the Children points out, every year more than one third of Britain's poorest children leave primary school unable to read well, despite the best efforts of teachers. 

The resources of charities to support children in developing the skills businesses need are being stretched like never before. As a global employer, BNY Mellon plays a pivotal role in bringing our expertise to this issue and its importance to developing the next generation of talented leaders.

This is why we have reading programmes in place for children and young adults as part of our global workforce development philanthropic focus. Our employees around the world regularly read to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Here in the UK for example, we have a long-running primary schools (aged 4-11) reading scheme which we expanded this year to include a secondary school (aged 11-16) partner in Lambeth, a south London suburb. Our goal is to help them to develop their reading skills, boost their confidence and improve their future prospects. 

Literacy is much more than an educational priority – it is the ultimate investment in the future. And it could all begin with reading about Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.