Books can be a hard sell as kids get older and spend more time texting, on YouTube, or playing games on their phones. A new report by children’s publishing company Scholastic shows how reading habits change through childhood, and offers hints for parents looking to get their kids to read more.
The biannual Kids & Family Reading Report, based on a 2014 survey of more than 2,500 parents and kids, found that the number of kids ages 6-17 who frequently read books for fun (i.e., 5-7 days a week) is lower than it was four years ago — 31 percent versus 37 percent. While more than half (53 percent) of kids ages 6-8 are frequent readers, that figure falls to just 14 percent for kids ages 15-17. (Interestingly, the percentage of parents with kids ages 6-17 who read frequently is also down, from 28 percent in 2010 to 21 percent in 2014.)
It isn’t because people see reading as less important than in the past. Both parents and kids surveyed say reading is among the most important skills for kids to have, outranking math, computer, and social skills. Yet as kids get older, they spend more time with screens. Nearly 6 in 10 kids ages 12-14 play games or apps on electronic devices 5-7 days a week, while 51 percent of kids in the same age group go online using a smartphone or other hand-held device 5-7 days a week.
Depending how it’s used, screen time can complement books to build kids’ reading skills, says Lianna Pizzo, assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a former school psychologist.
“Searching the Web and being online still give kids practice reading — they’re part of a broader scope of reading,” she says. Reading a variety of material — literature, textbooks, even social media posts — is important for kids to learn how to compare and use information from different sources, she adds.
The report also offered insights into what kids look for in books and what makes them frequent readers. Kids across age groups agreed that their favorite books — and the ones they’re most likely to finish — are ones they picked out themselves. The quality kids look for most in books is that they make them laugh.
Not surprisingly, kids who read frequently are more likely to have parents who are avid readers. Among kids ages 6-11, heavy readers are also more likely to have been read aloud to 5-7 days a week before kindergarten, and to still be read aloud to. They also go online less often in their spare time.
Among kids ages 12-17, having opportunities to read independently during the school day was associated with more frequent reading, as was having parents who build reading into kids’ daily routine and put limits on screen time.