Reading for fun declines between ages 8 and 9

From The Washington Post (March 20, 2019):

Studies have shown that proficient readers are more likely to be successful in school and life, partly because better reading skills make it easier for students to access curriculum in all subjects. So the Kids and Family Reading Report issued this week by Scholastic, which showed a significant decrease between ages 8 and 9 in the number of children who think of themselves as frequent readers, is somewhat discouraging.

According to Scholastic’s 2018 survey of more than 1,000 pairs of children ages 6 to 17 and their parents, 57 percent of 8-year-olds say they read books for fun five to seven days each week. But only 35 percent of 9-year-olds report similar reading habits. Another aspect of this “decline by nine” is the number of kids who say they love reading, which goes from 40 percent of 8-year-olds to 28 percent of 9-year-olds.

“When I read that finding, I felt this pit in my stomach, because that age can be a truly magical time for readers, when they are making the leap from struggling with phonics to using reading as a gateway to explore learning,” says Lauren Tarshis, . . . . “For kids who are struggling at that point, the expectations of learners ratchet up…. The focus shifts from reading for fun to suddenly there’s a pressure to make sure that kids can read in a manner where they can demonstrate proficiency.”

There are also increasing demands on kids’ time as they get older, whether it’s sports and other extracurricular activities or the lure of technology, including addictive video games. The high-stakes tests and academic pressure aren’t likely to disappear any time soon, so it’s up to parents and teachers to convey to kids that reading isn’t a chore. We need to teach them that it can be a fun way to explore different places and life experiences, or that it’s a simple escape from everyday life.

. . . .

Focus less on the reading levels of books. Parents tend to fixate on a child’s reading level and insist on choosing books based on that. But what they are reading isn’t as important as the fact that they are reading, [book buyer Mary Alice] Garber says. Parents should encourage free-range reading, and let children choose whatever interests them. She also suggests enlisting a librarian or bookstore employee to help your child choose books that will engage them or take them in a new direction.

“That person can help guide or redirect or encourage your child, and say, ‘Could you read this book and come back and tell me what you think?’” Garber says. “That gives the child a sense of power, a feeling that their opinion counts. Those relationships are really important.”

Don’t censure their choices. Garber says parents may be tempted to disparage their children’s choices in books, particularly when kids gravitate to graphic novels or series. But that is a mistake, she says. Graphic novels can be appealing to kids at this age, in particular, because they are a sort of hybrid between picture books and more advanced reading, and can help kids make the transition. They also require readers to synthesize images with text. And devouring a series is no different from an adult seeking more books by an author they’ve enjoyed, Garber says.

. . . .

Read broadly. Scholastic’s report shows that about half of kids ages 9 to 17, and parents with kids ages 6 to 17, say they wish there were more books available to reflect the diversity of the world we live in.

. . . .

Resist the parental imposed/required reading over the summer. Each school and school district handles this differently. Some schools provide lists of suggested reading for the summer break, broken down by grade level. Others have specific books kids and teens are expected to read and write a report on before returning to school in the fall.

“You can’t avoid it, there’s no way to,” Garber says of prescribed summer reading. “But I wonder if it’s a shared experience, if that might help.” Garber suggests getting an audio version of the text to listen to as a family on a long car trip, and using it as a way to spark a conversation about the book. Let kids choose some leisure reading (remember those graphic novels and series?) as a break from required material. She also likes the idea of selecting books that are enjoyable at different levels: one that is a fairly easy read, something in the middle and one that is challenging, to take some of the struggle out of the mandatory reading. After all, summer is supposed to be more laid back.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

8 thoughts on “Reading for fun declines between ages 8 and 9”

  1. “She also suggests enlisting a librarian or bookstore employee to help your child choose books that will engage them or take them in a new direction.”

    I’d be careful. The librarian may lead them to drag queen stories and given the status of most of the book store employees I’ve run into lately, they barely know where the westerns are, let alone know anything about children’s literature.

    • I know a lot of librarians. I take offense at your drag queen aspersion. The child and youth librarians I know seriously work on inspiring kids to enjoy reading and they try hard encourage them to see reading as a pleasurable and vital part of life. They are aghast when folks suggest that they have an agenda other than encouraging kids to love reading. If you value reading, hope that people continue to value reading, you will not find anyone who has your back more than a librarian.

      • I have a masters in library science.

        Almost all of the librarians I know and meet are liberal/progressive. They have no problem pushing message lit at a young age. The library school is even worst, if possibly.

        YMMV, but that’s my personal experience.

    • I would second this caution. It’s not even about the message stuff. I’m willing to assume that the librarians are acting in good faith, but my own experience, both as a kid and a parent, has been that there’s a large gap between what librarians think kids want to read and what kids actually want to read. The librarian usually recommend to me the books where characters die. It might be a person, it might be a dog, but inevitably someone was going to kick the bucket in a tragic fashion coupled with the main character learning a hard but inevitable lesson about growing up.

      Why, yes, the elementary school librarian did recommend Bridge to Terebethia when she heard I liked fantasy. How did you know?

      • I have mixed experiences with this. As a former library clerk with a son of a similar age (at that time) to most of our younger readers, my son and I read many books that were targeted at younger readers. It was a self-feeding loop: the more we read, the better sense I had of published literature, the more authors my son was exposed to, etc. I never, ever directed a child to books that weren’t similar to what they were looking for. For example, if they liked Harry Potter, I would point them to Artemis Fowl or Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Series (which I loved as a younger reader). And so on.

        The library manager, however, had a different take on recommendations. She tended to lean more toward literary works, though she was very open to suggestions for genre fiction when it came time to choose new publications for the children’s, juvenile, and young adult sections.

        None of us ever recommended message ficiton just because it was message fiction.

        On the other hand, even as an adult I’ve had librarians try to shove message fiction down my throat. It’s not to my tastes, never has been, so I tend to politely shut the librarians down and walk away.

        The best remedy for this is to read what your children are reading. Read it with or to them, have them read books to you, and so forth. You are the parent, after all; it’s your job to make sure that your children are gaining the education you want them to have.

  2. about half of kids ages 9 to 17…say they wish there were more books available to reflect the diversity of the world we live in.

    Because that definitely sounds like something a nine-year-old would say. Why just this morning, my kid was saying, “I think that the advantages of a multi-ethnic society seriously outweigh the problems of isolation that tend to occur when people see their neighbors as the other.” Oh, wait. Actually she said, “I want a piece of candy,” but it’s easy to get those two confused.

    I could be wrong, but I tend to think it’s more likely that the kids were given a checklist, saw the magic word “diversity,” and recognized that as the answer that the adults wanted.

    • “I could be wrong, but I tend to think it’s more likely that the kids were given a checklist, saw the magic word “diversity,” and recognized that as the answer that the adults wanted.”


      Like all those polls written to get you to say what they want to hear, the questions are rigged so that the truth is the last thing you’ll get.

      There’s also the poll definition of what ‘reading’ is, as most only care about those store bought books that are making publishers money. Kids reading stories their friends are writing on the web don’t count as ‘real’ reading.

  3. When my son was in the 2nd grade, I started looking into homeschooling him. Public schools were never a good fit for him and our local private schools were too expensive.

    During my research, I looked into the phonics program being used by his then-current school. The marketing material plainly stated that children would leave the program knowing how to read, but that the program significantly decreased their love of reading.

    Which explained why we lost so many readers at the library where I worked at the time; as the kids aged out of the program and into “real” books, they simply stopped reading for fun. Of course, our local schools also put a great deal of pressure on kids to read through “contests” where the kids could accumulate points (and prizes) for reading. The competitiveness also discouraged a love of reading.

    But isn’t that (a love of reading) the point of teaching kids to read? Yes, they NEED to read in order to succeed at pretty much anything they do, career-wise, but if while teaching them to read we also teach them to hate reading, haven’t we failed them?

    The best way to foster a lifelong love of reading (and of learning) is to encourage kids to read what they love. In my experience, the main benefit is an increased interest in reading, which always correlates to an increased reading ability.

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