Opinion: Fewer and fewer children read for fun. They lose more than good stories

It was Harry Potter – or, in fact, his girlfriend Hermione Granger – that got my 6 year old granddaughter excited about learning to read.

She was reasonably interested in reading before that, although distance learning for most of her kindergarten year meant she and all the other first graders at her small charter school along the Central Coast. California are not at the pre-pandemic literacy level for their age. Then, as my daughter started reading JK Rowling’s books to her, my granddaughter discovered the Witch Girl and is now obsessed with books.

Hermione frequents the Hogwarts library and, just for fun, absorbs the information from her books. More often than not, this information saves the day for her and her friends. My granddaughter wants to be an ingenious hero, just like Hermione. She knows that means unlocking the codes from reading.

Of course, she was probably destined to become a book lover. Her parents both have doctorates in English literature. My daughter probably got a lot of her love for reading from me. I got it from my father, who dropped out of high school to support his parents and siblings during the Great Depression, but nonetheless made weekly trips to the library throughout his life to borrow a book. pile of books he would devour. Family background aside, almost any student may enjoy reading and starting their own family tradition.

As a mother who had three children in public schools, it always bothered me that the elementary school had a voluntary ‘book club’ in which students were given prizes based on the amount of reading they did. every week for fun. The message seems all wrong: we have to bribe you to read for fun.

All of this comes to mind now that a survey by the National Assessment for Educational Progress – the organization that produces the periodic national report card based on student testing – found that the number of children aged 9 and 13 who read regularly for pleasure had tumbled.

According to the survey, elementary school children are more likely to read than their older counterparts. However, the number of 9-year-olds who report reading for fun almost every day fell from just over half in 1984 to 42% in 1984 in the 2019-2020 school year. The trend among college students is worse. The proportion of those who read frequently for fun fell by more than half, to 17%, while the percentage of those who rarely or never read more than tripled.

(High school students were not interviewed because the pandemic happened before the NAEP started interviewing them, but their reading habits followed the same pattern as middle school students in previous years.)

This is worrying for a number of reasons. Children who read daily for fun mark the highest on reading assessments, according to the American Library Assn .; no surprise there. The connection is especially strong when children talk to others about the books they are reading.

A British study found that reading for fun had much broader benefits, resulting in better vocabulary, spelling and math skills. And reading for fun was more important to these achievements than the socio-economic background of the students. Readers learn better, too, says non-profit reading advocacy group Kids Read Now empathy, decision making and social skills.

One contributor to this appalling trend seems obvious: Social networks and other digital activities are heavy prints and can consume hours, according to the American Psychological Assn.

But some librarians and students point out other reasons thus: As students progress through school, the required reading of textbooks and literature assigned to the classroom increases. They may read more, but often enjoy it less. Add to that the time required by an ever-increasing menu of structured activities (at least before the pandemic) such as jobs, sports or other extracurriculars. the homework load is also heavier in high school than in lower grades, often exceeding the recommended maximum of two hours per day. It’s easy to see why picking up a magazine or other book doesn’t seem like a great way to decompress.

So if kids read social media posts, isn’t that just a modern form of reading for fun? And if they consult textbooks, doesn’t that give them more than enough exposure to the written word?

Clearly, research on the benefits of a hobby of reading shows the opposite. As a book lover and writer, my emotional response is that non-readers miss out on greater experiences that social media can offer them. The world of writing, whether in a leather-bound novel or the digital version of a journal, is a rich and wonderful place that makes almost anything possible. We expand our horizons every time we step into deeply personal or imaginary worlds that can change our outlook on life, teach us how to grow our own vegetables, or, like Hermione, offer the secrets to saving the world. Learning how those mysterious black squiggles on the page translate into words and sentences is only the first part of reading. The second and most important part is learning to like what is between the covers.

The use of social media as a means of reading rather than more authoritative resources also helps to fuel the beliefs of some people in anti-scientist words like vaccines causing autism or no evidence the masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Reading for fun is not the same as assigned reading, as children need to be able to relax with whatever reading material they choose, according to Kids Read Now. As a child, my son would finish reading for school and sigh with pleasure, saying, “Now I can read. “

Parents play a key role in this, but many may not realize how important it is to expose their children to books, magazines, etc. Solid funding for libraries, dedicated specifically to public awareness, children’s and fun books sections, free Activities for families would help. Instead of explaining everything to parents about the scoring grids used, back-to-school evenings should make reading for fun one of the major themes put forward for parents at all grade levels.

Giving older students more choice in what they read in class would also help to encourage the enjoyment of reading, while requiring these books to have a certain rigor. The class could make group choices or the students could choose from a menu of options instead of being assigned a single book. When we spoon books on children, we rob them of the experience of realizing that there is a bigger world of books to explore. Teachers should keep in mind that black students are less likely to read for pleasure; it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the school-assigned books emphasizing the roles of whites aren’t exactly literary appeal to them.

It is not the stupidity of the school. It is a realization that the lifelong love of reading brings both soul-satisfying pleasure and extrinsic benefit. One of the best forms of learning that parents and teachers can impart to children is the joy of immersing themselves in reading material, whether it is a nature poem, mystery murder, or of an article on fast cars.

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