The 7th edition of the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report was released last month. Scholastic presents the results of a survey, managed by YouGov, of 2758 adults and children. This biannual report is, I think, one of the best windows into what families are doing and thinking when it comes to kids' reading. I'm in the process of going through the material and there are certainly causes for optimism overall. However, one of the major findings hit me hard: The Decline by Nine. Here's a summary on this from this section of the report (there's more detail if you follow the link):
"The Kids & Family Reading Report has shown a child’s attitude towards reading enjoyment and importance is a predictor of reading frequency, which is why it also is striking to note the drop between ages eight and nine in the percentage of kids who think reading books for fun is extremely or very important (from 65% to 57%). Similarly, the number of kids who say they love reading drops significantly from 40% among eight-year-olds to 28% among nine-year-olds (see Figure 3).
What is to be done about the "decline by nine"? Rarely do we see a rebound from these benchmarks as kids grow older. Yet across ages, the majority of kids agree they should read more books for fun, and tell us they believe reading matters. This suggests it is possible to prevent the decline and even to re-engage a child in reading, provided the experience meets their needs and expectations."
This finding is particularly painful to me given that my daughter just turned nine last month. But I would find it deeply disturbing in any case. Right at the age when kids are becoming proficient in reading, right when they are ready to start reading amazing middle grade fiction, they are reading less, considering it less important, and loving it less. What is going on? My guess is that there are three primary factors at play at this age level:
- Many (though happily not all) parents stop reading aloud to their kids once the kids can read on their own.
- Many (though again, happily not all) schools and teachers push reading as something that is required and tested, and unwittingly but inexorably start to quash the joy of reading. Reading logs, reading incentive programs like AR, and testing are well-intended but harmful to the love of reading.
- Many kids are spending time on screens playing games instead of reading.
Read Aloud: In my own household, we don't read aloud to my daughter as much as we did when she was younger. Reading aloud can fall by the wayside when we are traveling or having an extra busy weekend. But when we are home, I try to read to my daughter ever morning while she eats breakfast. We almost never miss that on school days, because it's part of our routine, though weekends can be trickier. My husband usually reads to her at bedtime. My own takeaway from the Scholastic report is that we need to work harder to keep up the reading aloud. Because I truly believe that it makes a difference in showing kids that reading is a joyous and important activity.
Schools: As for school, we have been lucky so far, but I am keeping a wary eye on our school's AR program. In third grade, my daughter is supposed to get five AR points a month. This has generally not been a problem, though she sometimes takes tests late in the month on graphic and notebook novels that she knows practically by heart. The challenge for her is that her five points are supposed to include nonfiction. And while she enjoys the Who Was/Is biographies somewhat, reading and testing on them feels like a chore to her. It's something that she puts off, and she sometimes get dinged for not having tested on enough nonfiction. I'm not crazy about reading ever feeling like a chore for her, but overall, this hasn't had a noticeable negative impact.
Next year, though, I understand that the required number of points will increase significantly and affect her grade (letter grades also start next year). While I don't care what her reading grade is, as long as she continues to love reading, she cares about it. She's in an environment where other kids care about grades and talk about them. So ... I'm a bit concerned, and prepared to do whatever I can at home to nurture my daughter's love of reading.
I was inspired by an article that I read last week by Karen Jensen at SLJ. Karen talks about her efforts to protect her daughter's love of reading in the face of misguided requirements from her daughter's school/teacher. And I'm inspired all the time by posts from teachers like Donalyn Miller and Pernille Ripp and others who focus on the love of reading. But not all kids have parents and teachers who are equipped for these battles.
Screens: I believe that one of the key reasons that my daughter still enjoys reading is that her screen time is extremely limited. This was hard when she was younger, and will likely be hard again when she is older. But right now, she actually gets that her time is better spent reading, writing, drawing, etc. If anything she's on a mission to get my husband and I to reduce OUR screen time.
So What Can Parents (and Society) Do to Stave off the Decline by Nine?
The above discussion suggests three steps that individual parents can (and I would argue should) take, in the interest of keeping kids interested in reading:
- Continue reading aloud to your children, even after they can read on their own. Reading together shows your kids that you value reading, and it makes reading a positive, nurturing experience.
- Put limits on the time that your children spend using screens, and put off getting them their own devices (especially cell phones) for as long as you can. There are two reasons for this. One is simply time - if they are on screens all day, they don't have time to read. The other reason is that if they get used to having entertainment passively fed to them, they will lose their taste for the more challenging, but infinitely more rewarding, activity of reading.
- When your children are reading at home, keep the focus on enjoyment. Push back against reading logs if you can. Get them the books that they are interested in (from the store or the library or from friends), not the books that you think they should read. Get them funny books and graphic novels and whatever else they love. There are a lot of things in schools that sap the joy of reading - your job at home is to nurture it instead.
Of course, the parents who have read this far are the parents who already care about this issue. What's really needed to halt the Decline by Nine is a public information campaign that reaches more parents and more schools, and gets everyone on the same page reading the love of reading. Kids who love to read will spend their time reading. They'll become good at it. Reading will become even more enjoyable. And they'll become readers for life, with all of the advantages that this carries (enjoyment, empathy, vocabulary, math skills, and lots more). I believe that it is important for us as a society to get there, but I don't know how to achieve that. So I work on this in my own home and step on my soapbox for any other parents who care to listen. Thanks for reading!
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