Why Aren’t Kids Reading?

Child_with_red_hair_readingThere’s been a lot of talk lately about the lack of kids reading for pleasure. It seems that the statistical numbers are dropping, and less children are finding solace in the written word. If you simply do a google search on the subject, a plethora of articles will appear with opinions and suggestions and discussions from all over the world. I’ll give you yet another.

I don’t remember ever despising books. I seem to have always savoured them, even as a very small child. However, I don’t think that this would be the case had I not been encouraged to read. It’s not like I come from a super rich family that could afford all of the new toys and gadgets. I am the product of a single mother who lived in her childhood home (with her parents and three brothers) for the first three years of my life. One thing that we did have was books. Dr. Seuss, Robert Munsch, Mercer Mayer, Stan and Jan Berenstein, and many others told me stories in the quiet evenings before bed while I gazed at the teddy bear wallpaper that my grandmother picked and my grandfather applied (according to family legend, it was the only room that he has ever willingly papered).

As I grew, my tastes changed, and so did the books in the house. When I first decided that I was interested in animals, my grandparents piled books like Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, and The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be on my lap. Since they had read the books themselves, conversations about the stories became part of the norm. Although I no longer lived with my grandparents, I spent many of my weekends tucked away in a corner of the old red shingled farmhouse with a book in my hands and a plate of fresh cookies within reach.

My grandparents would find something for me to read no matter what I was interested in at the time. From animals, to Egypt, to The Romanovs, to Tolkien and beyond. If they didn’t have a book pertaining to the subject already in their collection, my grandmother would pick up whatever she thought I would like second-hand from a used bookstore or a flea market. Their collection has no rhyme or reason, there are books piled in all kinds of secret places, holding their secrets tight until you find them there, shining with information and calling your name.

I believe that children won’t read for pleasure unless taught. I also believe that in order to show the children in your life how magical books can be, you need to nurture their interests. I never would have been interested in a mystery book as a child, or even now really. If the only books that I had been encouraged to read were outside of my interests at the time, how would they catch (and keep) my interest? They wouldn’t.

In order to get people to read, we need to show them the power that books hold. Their interests may be different than our own, so we need to provide them with content that suits them, not us. It can be a tough pill to swallow hearing that someone doesn’t think a book was as brilliant as you did, but just tell yourself that it’s for the greater good.

To encourage a growing child to read, books should be a part of your home and your life. Real books, not just the ones that you can read onscreen. They should be visible and inviting. They should be available to grab your hand and pull you into another world when it suits you, not hidden away in a file on your e-reader or jammed into a storage box.

I think that fewer kids are reading because fewer kids are being encouraged to read. They need to be shown that there are books about almost anything, that there are characters and stories that will fit their interests and expand their imaginations. How would they know that books like that exist if we aren’t showing them?

Why do you think that fewer kids are reading? What do you do to encourage the kids in your life to read?

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58 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Kids Reading?

  1. I still hold the theory that anyone who claims they don’t like to read just hasn’t met the right book yet.

    I think in large part, you’re probably right. It may also have to do with our growing intolerance for quiet in our culture. Book reading time is quiet time. I mean, once you fully crawl into the book, it’s not “quiet”. You hear the rain and the thudding heart of the main character, the chilling laugh of the villain, the shoosh of the forest with the birds and the woodland creatures, the different voices of the different characters…but before then, it’s just you and silent pages. Quiet time. Also, reading a book often requires time set aside for doing so, and we also have an intolerance for free time. There has to be some activity ALL THE TIME. Sure, it’s not actually hard to carry a book to read in waiting rooms, car rides, while your meal is coming, but that’s not a good way to teach someone to read, to love it. For that, you need to sit down and read a chapter or five. During a time when you’re just reading. Not waiting. Not driving. Just reading. We don’t like that.

    • I suppose, but sitting on the computer or your phone is also quiet. It’s even reading. I just think that we need to promote more books to kids. Books that are relevant to their interests, their reading levels, and make them readily available. With all of the book bans proposed in the US, the content that is made available to students in the US is lacking.

      My high school library was small and had limited books. The books we were told to read in school were usually boring and even I had trouble finding a reason to keep reading them.

      Maybe e-readers should be better promoted to kids and teens if it’s the onscreen attachment that they are used to?

  2. The technology of games absorbs so much of their time that they do not pick a book. The great books are still around and the students would read them if given the chance but there are some new wrinkles that take up their time.

    • I’m actually a big fan of video games and spend a lot of time playing them, and I don’t find them to have a negative consequence in terms of my reading time. I think that if we teach kids to read, they will find the time to do it.

  3. I think the situation you are addressing here is the result of a combination of influences — or lack thereof. Technology rules today and the plethora of games and videos and such are a huge distraction. Parents are too busy, or think they’re too busy, to encourage children to read (that and the fact that many parents don’t read, either). And finally, and I think most telling, is the idea of “instant gratification”, Kids (and not just kids, but a great many people) demand whatever they want “NOW”. Even e-readers can’t satisfy that demand. . .you have to invest time and energy (however slight) to the act of reading. No one seems willing to do that anymore. It’s not just the rewards of reading that are being overlooked, but the value of patience and putting forth the effort worthy of the reward(s). . .

    • I completely agree. I feel like I grew up in the era where books were beginning to phase out…cassette tapes were being passed off for CDs, VHS with DVDs, and books were offset with the internet. We now live in a society where information can be accessed immediately, and so now the idea of working one’s way through a book—whether it be Cat in the Hat or War and Peace—is completely off-putting since you can sit from anywhere between a couple of minutes to an hour or so to watch a similar story on video.

      The problem is everyone seems to think that these two mediums are equivalent…they aren’t. Anyone who’s read Harry Potter knows that there is a level of emotion in the books (not to mention truckloads of plot) that aren’t present in the movies, and thats because these are not the same medium. Sure, it’s easier to just show your kid a movie rather than reading to them, but it’s not the same experience.

      • With my sister, I encourage her to read the book that the movie was based on, if there was one. She is a movie fan, and she also likes to read, so chances are that if she liked one she will like the other.

        I don’t think we need to ban movies or video games, just show kids that books can give them similar experiences.

      • I don’t think we should ban them either, I just think we shouldn’t pass one up for the other. Both are great media for storytelling…but they aren’t equivalent. I watched Cloud Atlas and it has inspired me to read the book—when I get the chance to find a copy. Likewise, watching something like Lord of Flies and then watching a movie adaptation are completely different experiences.

        The problem is, like you said, the written form isn’t as encouraged nowadays, and therefore gets passed over for the “faster” medium.

    • I can’t blame it on games and videos because I am a huge fan of TV and games myself. I still find time to read because I was taught to read for pleasure, not just for education. If kids were more aware of what books could provide them in terms of adventure and interest, perhaps they would be more apt to participate in literature.

      I agree with parents thinking that they don’t have enough time, which I think is the main source of the problem. We should be teaching kids to enjoy a good book just like they would enjoy a good meal. It is food for the mind after all.

  4. I totally agree with this. Name a subject, no matter how obscure, and you can guarantee that there will be hundreds, even thousands of books related to it in some way. It’s all about finding the books that speak to you and fit your lifestyle. I believe there’s no such thing as non-readers; just people who haven’t looked hard enough yet.

    • Well said! I like the last bit of your comment. I think we need to provide kids with tools to find that literature. If we don’t show them, how will they know that it exists?

  5. When I was a kid, I was never fond of books…but because my mom is book worm, my house is always full of books…since childhood I have seen different kind of books…but I only used to enjoy comics and kids story book till I turned 15…after that I started reading novels and all other kind of books…and the rest is history…
    I agree with you that if you want to cultivate the habit of reading books in children…you need to be a reader and you need to have real books not e-books…I am still not fond of these e-books…I love the smell of fresh book, its crisp pages…e-book can never beat that…
    I love your writing…you are so inspiring…Thank you for writing awesome articles ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I haven’t read an e-book yet, because I feel like it’s blasphemy! Haha! My husband isn’t a reader himself, except for online content (he could research and read articles for days), and I wonder if we’re different in that because I grew up with books all around me.

      Thank you for your kind words, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post!

      • Don’t worry…you are not alone my husband isn’t a reader too…he and books can never get along but when it comes to doing online work and reading articles…he loves it…

        You have die hard follower now…keep posting ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Yes, my husband would rather read about computer parts online than curl up with a good book.

        Thanks! I’ll try my best to keep posting decent content!

  6. Elementary school teachers still encourage students to read, read, read, but not everyone likes curling up with a book. Kids are very busy in school, then they have homework and sports after school. There is not a lot of time for leisure reading after all that. And when you are in high school, your focus is on your classes and grades. Still not much time for extra reading. And technically, kids are reading all day long in school. They are reading fiction, history, doing labs, following instructions, researching, doing math. While it’s not exactly the same thing, it still counts for something!

    • That’s true, books aren’t for everyone. However, at least in my high school, outside of activities and classes, we all still had time to read if we wanted to. I think that reading is just as important as other extra-curricular activities, so if there is time for those, time can be made to read.

      And teachers do encourage students to read, but it isn’t always material that interests every student.

      • I think what it comes down to is that some kids love reading and don’t need to be encouraged. Others are busy doing other things and might enjoy reading if they sat down and tried. And still others really hate reading either because they’re behind or they don’t think they’re good at it. But you can’t actually make someone read. And if you insist they sit in a room with a book, they will resent you. So the best I can do as a mother of 4 is read during my own free time and hope it’s catching!

      • Oh, I agree, some just won’t take to it. I just think that it should be provided as an option. A kid wouldn’t know that they liked a sport if they had never been exposed to it. They won’t know about books unless they’re shown.

  7. I don’t mean to be a “blabbermouth”, but I just had a thought while reading the comments. . .leannaatc’s comment about the dissimilarity of movies and books really resonated with me. . .there is so much more in a book. I wonder if kids, today, even know many of the movies they love are adapted from books (and I don’t mean the “graphic novels” — we used to call them “comic books” — so prevalent with movie-makers today) Wouldn’t it be great if parents used movies as a means of introducing their children to the wider world of literature?

    • Yes! I totally agree with that. I don’t want to tell them not to watch movies, and if they already like them, we should be telling them that there are books out there just like that.

  8. I agree, children need to be taught that reading is fun, and can appeal to any interest. Nowadays parents let their kids sit in front of the TV or play video games rather than read them a book. I think that’s a huge contributor to kids not reading.
    Then again, many of them are finding things to read online, even if they’re only tweets. Not to mention that some do develop reading tastes later in life, especially with Kindles and stuff.

    • That’s true. Not everyone develops an interest in books early on. It can take years and years for some. I play games now, and did as a kid, but it never changed how much I wanted to read, it enhanced my interest. To me, the two are part of the same hand. TV and video games don’t need to be sacrificed for reading, kids should be taught that you can get the same types of experiences in books.

  9. I love what you said: “They should be available to grab your hand and pull you into another world when it suits you, not hidden away in a file on your e-reader.” I’ve talked about that with my husband so many times. We have three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves packed with books in our front room, which ensure that pretty much every conversation that ever happens in that room turns to books at one point or another. I love having books out where you can see the covers and remember how good they were and recommend some to visitors or let people borrow them.

    • I have trouble letting people borrow mine, but I do use them to start and enhance conversations and as recommendations to fellow readers. I think it’s important to have them be accessible, so as to encourage kids whenever they feel the need.

  10. When I was a child, I hated books. I didn’t learn how to read until I was about five years old. It’s kinda weird, but today, I love books! My parents didn’t really encourage me to read or do any activities with me. They were both busy, and I was mostly by myself. Though, I did have a wild imagination when I was child, and I loved fantasy. I even had an imaginary friend. I do think that parents should encourage their children to read so they can be more open-minded and educated as they grow up. Looking back, I wished that my parents also encouraged me even just for a little to read books so that I could have caught up with all the classic books and improved my vocabulary skills. Because of the increased technology, children are becoming more obsessed with it. Sure, some technological devices can be beneficial, but I also think that children should learn and appreciate books, physical books. Children are so engrossed with technology that I think they are relying too much in it. But, to me, having an imagination is very important, and I was glad that I did when I was a child. If I didn’t, I don’t think I would appreciate books and going to the libraries more often.

    I really enjoyed reading your post.

    • Thanks, I am pleased to hear that you liked it!

      Thanks also for your input. As someone who wasn’t encouraged to read, your viewpoint is quite relevant. Sure, people can pick up on books later in life, but showing them the joys of reading early can jump-start their appreciation and interest.

  11. For the past four years I have been volunteering on and off at a local organization that collects used books to be sent to Peace Corps missions and other humanitarian projects. We receive a wide plethora of books-science, health, picture books, textbooks, dictionaries and encyclopedias, atlases, the works. But when we get requests for books from Peace Corps volunteers, they most often ask for fiction novels for elementary and middle schoolers for the exact reasons you discuss-nurturing a love for reading in children. I’m not a parent, but by packing a box of fiction bound for Moldova, Kenya, or Armenia, etc, I like to think my selection of books will one day open up a whole new world for a child I will never meet halfway across around the globe.

    • Hats off to you, sir! I think that fiction nurtures so many wonderful things in children, and everyone else. It teaches us to use our imaginations, to think critically, to ask questions and find their answers. Of course, other books are also educational, informational, and inspiring, but fiction is what gives kids a chance to believe that their thoughts and dreams can one day become reality, even if only on paper.

      What a great thing to doโ€”I applaud you!

  12. I still thank him who introduced to this. I love the write of this… I have learnt why our children are not reading. Fortunately, am living with my younger sister son i.e my nephew who is just 5year old last April.
    I will spend my money more in buying books for him.
    Thank you for reminding me dear writer.

    • My thoughts are just a theory, but it only makes sense to promote books to children to get them to read more. It looks like you are doing a good job of teaching your nephew that reading is important.

      I’m glad that you liked the post!

  13. To jmchris you have a good job by sending books to unknown children. Please I have love for teaching CHILDREN if you can offer me such books I will be glad. Since it will easy my job.
    Greetings!

  14. Great topic!

    I grew up in a book loving family. My parents had 4 newspapers delivered daily, plus my family always had books nearby waiting to be read. I’m a huge reader and I’ve encouraged my 2 sons (10 y.o and 14 y.o) to read. Initially, they liked reading comic books/graphic novels. Their reading interests changed from comics to Captain Underpants to space/science/weather books. I always have books of their interest lying strategically around the house – knowing eventually they’ll pick them up. They still play video games and go on the computer. Even from a young age, when they weren’t excited about reading, I told them it’s a good idea to make reading a habit of reading, because no matter what you do in life, you need to be able to read.

    • No matter what the subject or genre is, reading is still reading, in my opinion. Comics, textbooks, etc. are still beneficial as long as kids have a passion for them. I’m sure that as their tastes change, they will become even bigger reading fans!

  15. We read the exact same books as kiddies!!! How funny ๐Ÿ™‚ Also, I totally agree that you must be taught to enjoy reading. My sister has always read a lot more than me (she’s a true bookworm) so for a time I was convinced I wasn’t a reader. (She read bath books as a toddler. I chewed on them.) But as I got older I found genres I liked, and they had nothing to do with what my sister was reading. I’m obsessed with biographies, whereas she’s really into fantasy. I think it’s so important to read to kids when they’re young, and encourage them to be curious about stories so that they try and suss out ones they’re really interested in. It breaks my heart to think that kids don’t read these days. But then I think ‘if they don’t it’s probably because their parents don’t’ which is doubly disheartening.

    • That’s awesome, the writers and books were a huge part of my life as a child.

      Once you find what you like, it’s easier to read. I like a lot of fantasy, but don’t enjoy too much non-fiction unless it’s about animals or parts of history that I am interested in.

      Everyone has a genre (or a few), and as long as you’re reading, it’s good reading!

  16. Reblogged this on Writing and other stuff and commented:
    I can’t imagine a home without books. In our house they are always within reach. Perhaps minimalist decor doesn’t have room for books, or they are hidden away to keep things tidy. Perhaps changing tastes will redress this. I hope so.

  17. I learned to love books in my grandmother’s house, as my parents weren’t great readers. My home now is filled with bookcases, stacks of books and odd volumes on any flat surface. I loved this post, and have reblogged it. Thank you.

  18. I was the same way. My parents never denied me a book. My best friend and I growing up always read together. As her bridesmaid, when I planned her bridal shower, the theme was books and tea. The centerpieces were antique teapots on small piles of old books. The titles were those I had recommended to her and she to me. The activity of reading really bonded us and now, over twenty years later, she is having a baby. We’ve decided that my gift to her child every year on his birthday will be a new book. This kind of tradition is very special to me so I loved this post. I think the problem also lies within the schools. I can’t tell you how many books I hated growing up, almost every one was a title I was forced to read for class. This needs to change. No child is going to want to read unless it is something that interests them. Thank you for this post and I hope you don’t mind if I reblog it.

    • That’s wonderful! That must have been a lovely bridal shower.

      I get my little sister books for most holidays, or a NatGeo Kids subscription. She doesn’t always read all of them, but at least I am giving her a multitude of books to choose from when she ends end wanting to read anything specific.

      Of course, thank you for the reblog!

  19. They watch to much tv these days. Moving pictures are more entertaining to them than books and then are the console games, app games on tabs and smartphones. Although i think technology could make reading more fun. Reading apps for kids will encourage children to read more if the app its self provides a fun interactive environment.

    • I play a lot of video games, and like I’ve said before, I think that they are similar to books in experience. I suppose it depends on what you are playing, but I don’t want to condemn one to promote the other. They are both useful for the imagination in their own ways, it’s just up to us to teach that to the kids around us.

  20. I think kids have been brought up in the ‘instant’ generation whereby they want everything and they want it now. TV and video games provide a sort of instant gratification whereas reading a book takes time before the reader experiences the ‘payoff’.

    Perhaps the advances in technology are just making us all a little lazier…. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I like video games, and I find that a lot of them have stories. They aren’t instant for me, since a lot of the time you have to work towards a goal and build the story. I don’t think that one needs to be sacrificed for the other, I think that they are more similar than most realize.

      Perhaps e-readers and e-books need to be better promoted to a younger generation, if it’s the technological aspect that they are seeking.

      • I agree. So many children have access to iPads and tablets that ebooks could be better promoted to make them more appealing to the younger generations. Perhaps they could be made into some sort of interactive, all-in-one story, game and music whereby the ‘reader’ has a complete visual and audio experience.

  21. I agree too. I think that technology has limited the next gen’s capabilities of doing things “old school.” I’ve been an avid reader my entire life (though I hated required reading in school). Now that I’m a dad, I’ve read my daughter (5 years old) over a dozen complete novels. I’ve been reading to her since she was in her mother’s belly where I used to lie next to her mom and speak to her baby bump. Even then, my daughter would respond to my voice.

    Now, at almost 6 years old, she wants to read before bed. Every book always had pictures until the last one I read, where she just wanted to hear the story. My son on the other hand (he’s 4) took a little more getting used to the reading, and he’s a very visual person. He prefers more colorful art like comic books, in his stories, BUT he also pays close attention to detail of what is going on. I encourage them both to ask questions too but not until the END of the page, so that they can listen to what is going on.

    It has to do with society and parenting. I’m not saying that parents who don’t read to their kids are neglecting them in some way, but I AM saying that even five to ten minutes before bed or during the day with the kids is not too much to ask, and you will be proud of them for it.

    In closing, my daughter now likes to write her own stories (she takes after daddy), and my son plays with his action figures using similar storylines instead of just hack and slash playing. I’m proud of my kids for loving to read, and its become fun for me as well doing so and being able to talk to them about it.

    Thank you for an amazing post.

    • I also had to add one more thing. The technology thing with ipads etc is directing focus to more hands on stuff. Basically kids are increasing their motor skills but decreasing their creativity by being on video games all the time. I’m all for video games, because they are an important part of my life too, but there has to be an intelligent balance. In other words… I won’t just give them my phone or an ipad etc just to keep them “out of my hair.” As a parent we have to cherish our children while they are young because once they are older, they won’t be around as much. I’d rather read with them then give them a device to do it for them. It’s a bonding moment that should be shared between parent and child.

    • I wonder if boys are statistically less likely to pick up on reading than girls. I remember there being fewer boys who read during school, but I did know a few that enjoyed books. I’m all for enjoying what calls to you, but I think that books would call to more kids (and adults!) if they knew what was inside of them.

      I don’t have any kids of my own, but I promote boos to just about everyone I know. Especially to my little sister and my sisters-in-law, since they’re all pretty young and still in school (my husband and myself are both from families who started early and continued late).

      I started reading Unfinished Tales to my sister when she was about 6, and I’d like to get her into LOTR when she visits this summer. Here’s hoping!

      Glad you liked the post, and thanks for your input.

  22. I agree with you completely. I don’t know I would be reading so much if not for my family habits. Christmas is what I associate with books the most. Books were always the primary gift in our household and we spent holidays munching cookies with books in our hands. Only now I understand how important that tradition was for my upbringing and I do anything I can to uphold it. I couldn’t wait for my nephews and nieces to learn how to read to bombard them with written adventures- the variety of books for children is enormous and it’s easy to find something for each of those unique little persons (well, it made me spend few hours in a bookstore, but who would complain about that). Now when I call my brother and he says that his 9 years old daughter prefer to read books instead of watching cartoons it makes me really happy.

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