Teach Your Children The Joy Of Reading

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Children are reading less for fun these days, a trend that doesn’t prepare them for the future or to be a part of civil society.
“The shares of American 9- and 13-year-olds who say they read for fun on an almost daily basis have dropped from nearly a decade ago and are at the lowest levels since at least the mid-1980s, according to a survey conducted in late 2019 and early 2020,” Katherine Schaeffer of the PEW Charitable Trust writes. The study was done by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It looked at reading for fun among both age groups for the 2019-20 school year.
While the falloff in reading for fun is compared to the mid-1980s, it has likely fallen off for decades longer. The surveys started in the 1980s. Go back to the time before the proliferation of televisions in homes, and you would likely find many more children reading.
Though at their lowest point, the percentages of nine-year-olds who say they read for fun almost every day seems high in today’s world at 42%. But that is down 11 percentage points from 2012 and 1984. Back in 1984, 9% of 9-year-olds “never or hardly ever read for fun on their own time,” Schaeffer writes. In the 2019-20 school year, that percentage increased to 16%.
As kids get older, they spend less time reading for fun. The survey found that only 17% of 13-year-olds read for fun most days, a significant decline from the 27% who said they did in 2012 and the 35% who did in 1984. Girls read more than boys, but both groups read less.
Why is this important, some may ask? After all, all the information they could possibly want is on the internet today. We believe the decline should concern us all.
It is no surprise that students who performed better on the reading section of standardized tests in 2020 reported reading for fun more frequently.
While the principal focus of providing child care to the very young has been to help their parents participate in the workforce, earning a living, there is another reason every bit as important. This one applies to far too many children: It gets them out of a house where they are not exposed to reading to a setting where they are.
Inspiring children to read starts at home but the statistics aren’t good. In 2018 the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey found that 33% of high school graduates never read another book. It also found that 80% of adults hadn’t bought a book in the five years between 2013 and 2018.
Reading a book is a more intimate experience than watching TV, or streaming movies on the internet. The effort required to read draws you into the story. You become part of it, developing a deeper connection with the characters. Unlike the internet, a book doesn’t constantly distract you, pulling you away from your involvement with the characters. “Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you,” western author Louis L’Amour wrote.
Reading for pleasure often leads to reading more broadly as we get older. We may read biographies of people we admire, we may read about parenting, leadership, politics, the environment, or about what it takes to build a strong community.
Reading broadens our minds. “Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions,” Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., a physician, poet, and observer of the world wrote in the 1800s. Books provide that stretching. When reading print, what you are exposed to sticks with you. It is a solitary, thoughtful engagement.
Too many today live in small worlds dominated by their political silos on the internet and their hyper-partisan, often misleading, television news sources. Their sources of information shrink their worlds. Rather than connecting us to others, it divides us. It creates enemies, not empathy for fellow citizens and their struggles.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read,” author James Baldwin wrote. “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
We are creating a generation of shallow thinkers on the internet. It is rewiring our brains to skim, seeking the constant pleasure of the next contact, like, or juicy bit of gossip. English teachers are finding it difficult to have students read longer, in-depth books. Young people, including those in college, can’t focus long enough to get through a chapter. Their minds no longer have the patience for the deep reading, much less comprehending what they read.
In his book “The Shallows,” Nicholas Carr writes that to turn a short-term memory into long-term memory, the human brain requires attentiveness. Attentiveness is fragmented on the internet.
Our constant searching, reading, and scanning of our digital devices is improving our ability to pore through the shallows of information rapidly, but we can’t get into the depths where greater meaning, understanding, and connection lie. These shallow reading habits are being ingrained in children.
Our parents gave us a world far beyond the city limits of Benson, Minnesota’s state lines, the shores of America, and Earth’s atmosphere. We were given a universe to explore through the books we read. We were not fixed in time but given the past and the future to explore. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” author Mark Twain wrote. His quote applies to not just traveling physically but traveling in our minds with a book as well.
In books children meet heroes who stand up to oppression, fight for justice, and defeat the scary dragons in their lives. “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” author Emilie Buchwald says. Put your phone down, turn off the TV, and read to your children.

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