Is there such a thing as too much choice?

Is there such a thing as too much choice?

We’ve all been there. By ‘there’, I mean fixated, rooted to the spot and unable to make a decision. Whether it’s which chocolate to choose in the Quality Street tin, which financial package is best for the family or which book to choose to read next. But it’s not through lack of choice. Even worse, it’s when we have too much choice!

Children can struggle in much the same way. When it comes to reading, too much choice can hamper even the keenest reader. I’ve seen it with my children. My son, who at 5 is only just learning to read, needs a fair bit of coaxing to choose a book. Yet when he has a book in his hands he’s keen to open it and explore the pages. Sometimes, the overwhelming array of books presented to him in the library or the bookshop means he doesn’t know where to start so perhaps he won’t start at all.

Children who feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice on offer and therefore reluctant to start exploring the selection of books, can go undetected in school particularly if the school has a library which needs a good old weed. If books are displayed spine on and crammed together onto a shelf, I can see for a young child it can be too much. I know with my children if I can do the first sift and present a smaller selection of books for them to choose from they’re delighted. They still feel empowered in making a choice from the smaller selection but they don’t feel fazed.

As a mum of young children I do spend a lot of time in my local library and bookshop, sometimes browsing, sometimes buying and borrowing. I don’t spend all my time dwelling on their displays but I have to say when I see a small group of books displayed away from the main collection and presented face-out at the right height for my little ones, I notice how their hands are in there, reaching out to pick up the books. I tend to see these displays at key times of the year, World Book Day, Halloween, Easter for instance and I’m sure this is something schools could emulate.

By picking out unusual places in school to display a smaller, carefully chosen, selection of books I think we could help children become confident in choosing for themselves. I’m talking 10 or 20 books turned face-out so that children can see the covers. Our inexpensive range of Table-top display units make it easy pull together a quick and ad-hoc display. And how about displaying them outside in the playground every so often or in the dinner hall whilst they’re queuing up, in the ICT suite or on a teacher’s desk? Using an event like Roald Dahl day or National Poetry Day can help to focus a small selection of books and also be more meaningful to children, particularly if the event is being celebrated in the school.

But I also think we can help young readers simply by talking to them, particularly at the point when we’re asking them to choose. Discussing what an individual child likes to read, what excites them, what makes them happy, sad, or scared enables them to understand who they are as readers and what makes them tick. If you haven’t already, have a quick peak at BookFlavour (designed by whichbook). It’s a fun and interactive way of helping children to choose books. Discussing books with children gives them confidence to define themselves and recognise what they want from a book and this is fundamental. Our online CPD course, ‘Getting children talking about books’ is definitely worth a look. It’s difficult with limited time and resources in schools but I really believe chatting to a child, particularly one isn’t so confident about choosing for themselves can turn a child who feels overwhelmed into a very confident reader for life.