Does Anyone Read for Fun Anymore?
Updated: Jul 30
There's been a lot of buzz this past week around test scores. And initially this seemed like an unusual topic to be discussing in October, knowing most state assessments happen in the spring. But as I dug into it further, I realized our nation’s annual report card was released this past week, and the results were more dire than expected.
Our country has been publishing an annual report card for over fifty years. The assessment is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The results help guide education policy and look at ways we can improve education in the U.S.
The most recent assessment showed a decline in math and reading scores, for the first time in almost fifty years (read the NCES press release). This is troublesome, especially considering the assessment was conducted pre-pandemic, during the 2019-2020 school year.
One trend that caught my attention was data around reading for fun. Over the last ten years the number of kids that say they never or hardly ever read for fun has increased exponentially. And yet reading for fun has been shown to have a direct and positive impact on student achievement.
So this begs the question, how important is pleasure reading? And how often do you read for fun?
Why is reading for fun so important?
There are some obvious benefits to voluntary reading and its impact on academic success by improving comprehension skills and vocabulary, increasing content knowledge, and helping us empathize with others.
But, reading for fun goes beyond the academic benefits and has also been shown to have a positive impact on social mobility, defined as an individual’s ability to change their position in society, and more so than parental socioeconomic status and educational attainment.
Educators are well aware of the benefits of voluntary reading, and most schools heavily promote daily reading with various reward systems. Libraries also have their summer reading clubs. But how often do we (as adults) encourage reading at home?
Why are kids reading less?
Kids aren’t the only ones reading fewer books. On average, Americans aged 20 to 34 spend a mere 0.11 hours reading daily, which amounts to less than seven minutes per day. One obvious reason for the decline is the large variety of entertainment available to us from browsing social media to streaming services, and playing online games.
Yet there’s a few other reasons kids are struggling to motivate themselves to pick up a book. Many children (mine included!) have a hard time finding things to read that interest them. And if you aren’t reading about something of interest, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy reading.
Additional research suggests how we teach reading may impact a child’s motivation to read. Many reading programs focus heavily on the mechanics of learning to read with less focus on comprehension strategies. It’s like reading a bunch of words without understanding the story.
What can I do to encourage my child to read for fun?
Encouraging children to read books for fun can be an ongoing challenge at home. A few strategies that have worked in our household:
Make sure your child has access to books they find interesting. Whether that’s frequent trips to the library or setting up a bookshelf in a visible place at home.
Make reading part of your daily routine, for everyone. For younger children, you might read aloud together. For older children, consider a “no tech time” where everyone is encouraged to read for fun.
Create a designated space for reading that has good lighting and (ideally) minimal distractions.
Incorporate reading into your daily activities. Take time to read with your kids about places you’ll visit, recipes you want to try, and other “real life” activities your kids enjoy.
Model the behavior you want to see in your child. Find time to add more pleasure reading into your busy schedule.
Looking for book ideas? Here’s a few recommendations:
50 Books All Kids Should Read Before They're 12 - Common Sense Media
21 Books Every Teenager Should Read - PureWow
Join the Discussion
Reading is a foundational skill with numerous benefits. Beyond the positive impact on academic achievement, reading can help kids explore new interests, better understand how the world around them works, and also help reduce stress.
Motivating a reluctant reader can be one of the biggest challenges, so taking the time to find books your child finds interesting is likely your first priority. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing your child curled up in a chair lost in a story they love (and bonus points if it's a book series!).
What’s your strategy to get your kids reading at home? Do you have a favorite book to share?
About the Author
Jennifer Larson is an entrepreneur, charter school founder and mother to four children. Connect with her @startupjen.