Reading & Literacy

Study Reveals Children’s Reading Habits

By Kate Stoltzfus — February 14, 2017 4 min read
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In an era of digital distractions, many K-12 students still make time for what some may consider an outdated definition of “reading.” As Education Week found in a recent special report on what reading looks like for students in today’s digital world, literacy for students is not just about picking up a book. It’s also about being digitally literate with the ability to assess a website’s credibility, use an e-reader, or create digital content themselves.

However, despite the need for students to have a comfort level with print and digital reading, their preference for print has not disappeared. In fact, 65 percent of children told Scholastic in 2015 they will always want to read in print. The same number of kids echoed their print preference in 2016, according to the most recent installment of Scholastic’s biannual “Kids and Family Reading” report, released in January. In the survey, parents and their children discuss their latest reading habits and attitudes, shedding light on the uptick in reading aloud; access to books at home; and children’s feelings about pleasure reading.

While the sample size is fairly small (more than 1,600 parents of children ages 0 to 17 responded—59 percent were white parents, 13 to 14 percent African-American parents, and 19 percent Hispanic parents—as well as around 1,000 children ages 6 to 17), here are a few interesting takeaways.

1. Pleasure reading is still a popular activity, but it’s easier for some children than others. Readers ages 6 to 17 devoured an average of 23 books in 2016. And nearly six in 10 children like reading books for fun—that hasn’t changed since 2010, according to Scholastic’s findings. What has changed is the amount of time children spend reading: 37 percent read for fun five to seven days a week in 2010, while only 32 percent did so in 2016. In fact, nearly a quarter of children surveyed read less than one book a week for fun. Turning pages is lowest over the summer, when one in five children ages 12 to 17 said they read no books for fun.

2. Access to books is necessary for shaping students into readers. The survey found that on average, there are roughly 104 children’s books in a child’s home. But low-income households (making $35,000 or less) have about 69 children’s books—fewer than half of the estimated 127 books in wealthier homes (where income is $100,000 or more). A lack of access to books at home may affect how often children read: Children who say they are frequent readers (of five to seven books per week) have 141 children’s books in their homes, while infrequent readers (of one book or less per week) have an average of 65 books at home.

This is one sign that access is key to building a love of reading. Take it from César Morales, a superintendent in Oxnard, Calif., and one of Education Week‘s 2017 Leaders to Learn From. He built a one-to-one tablet program to increase reading in his school district, where nearly every child lacked access to books:

3. When children have trouble finding books they like, they turn to parents and teachers. Despite positive attitudes toward reading, 41 percent of children have trouble finding books they want to pick up as they get older—even more so for infrequent readers (57 percent). But children say their No. 1 source for encouragement and recommendations is parents (82 percent), followed by teachers and school librarians (67 percent). Friends, siblings, and cousins are also sought-out recommenders, as well as school book clubs and book fairs for younger readers. Older readers ages 15 to 17 often find book suggestions through social media.

4. More parents read aloud to their young children. Seventy-seven percent of parents with children ages 0 to 5 began reading aloud with them before their first birthday, while 40 percent began when the child was less than three months old (up from 30 percent in 2014). Children ages 3 to 5 read aloud with parents five to seven days a week (62 percent), more than they did in 2014 (55 percent). But reading aloud together decreases after age 8 (only 17 percent of kids ages 9 to 11 do so).

5. African-American and Hispanic parents are more likely than other parents to look for books with ethnic and cultural diversity. More than one in 10 children ages 12 to 17 look for books with characters who are “culturally or ethnically diverse” or who “break stereotypes” (11 percent). But African-American and Hispanic parents are more likely than other parents to seek out books with storylines or characters who are culturally or ethnically diverse (37 percent of African-American parents vs. 24 percent of other parents and 28 percent of Hispanic parents vs. 20 percent of other parents).

As educator Alvin Irby argued in a recent Commentary, all children need to read books that represent their interests and culture. The author Gene Luen Yang, who is the current national ambassador of young people’s literature and recently did a Q&A with BookMarks, has urged all families in his national reading platform to “read outside their comfort zone.”

Source: Image by Flickr user US Department of Education licensed under Creative Commons

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.