Does your fourth-grader suddenly roll his eyes when you suggest reading him a story and say, "But I know how to read!" Does your fifth-grader say, "Do I have to?" when you suggest that she read a book? Has your sixth-grader suddenly announced that "Reading is boring"?
During fourth grade, as many as one-third of all students stop reading for pleasure, and the problem seems to affect boys slightly more than girls. The main reasons cited for this phenomenon are that academic challenges and expectations greatly increase, interfering with independent reading; after-school activities and sports take up more time; and peer influences that "reading is for sissies" come into play.
Other experts add that the lack of independent reading time in middle school contributes to this decrease in reading. For example, during the early elementary years, most schools schedule library time and a free reading period in class. However, once children reach the upper grades, these are often dropped in favor of other class activities. Still other experts suggest that teachers are forced to cut reading and independent work time to prepare students for standardized assessment tests.
Whatever the reasons, parents are in the best position to head off this phenomenon, known as the "fourth-grade slump." Parents need to realize that once their children are able to read by themselves, their job is to encourage independent reading. Beginning readers need encouragement and help with word meanings and the sense of the story. More experienced readers benefit from talking about a book's characters and plot.
Experts agree that the single most important thing parents can do to encourage their children to read is to read themselves and to provide a book-rich home life. This can mean reading the newspaper, subscribing to magazines, visiting the library, buying books as presents and reading for pleasure as well as for work.
Learning to read well takes time, but those who do have the skill to succeed in school, college and at work. Paul Kropp, a teacher and the author of Raising a Reader, likens a beginner reader who stops "reading for fun" to a plane whose engines stall out after take-off - the results are disastrous. Sustained recreational reading builds vocabulary, concentration and new avenues to knowledge.
Let Them Read
So, how can parents keep their children reading? Pediatrician and author Perri Klass, a founder of the Reach Out and Read program at Boston Medical Center (and sister of David Klass, author of numerous young-adult books), encourages parents to create a home environment that "respects" reading. Create a place to read comfortably and allow your children to read when and where they want - including while eating or in the bathroom. At bedtime, let older kids choose between "lights out" or a designated amount of reading time. (Because they'll want to stay up, reading is reinforced as a privilege.)
"Let them see you reading and don't be afraid to say, -Don't bother me, I'm reading,'" says Klass, an attitude that underscores reading as a valued activity. But the most important, she adds, is for you to read the books your child chooses and loves. This shows her that her choice matters and you are interested in what she likes. It also gives you both something to talk about.
Once a child is reading well, the parents' role shifts from the mechanics of reading to discussing the plot and helping the child to understand the greater meaning of the book. Talking about the books you're all reading connects the family and sparks further reading.
An important component of reading well is limiting children's TV viewing. Students in grades 4, 8 and 12 who watch less than four hours of TV daily have higher reading scores than those who watch more TV, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But, parents need to be careful not to make reading the "bad guy" in this equation. Telling a child to turn off the TV to read will make him resent reading. Instead, use TV and other media to reinforce reading.
For example, suggest that your child read the book on which a TV show or movie is based and compare the two. Or find books similar in subject to favorite TV shows or build on your child's interest in a show by reading the companion books. Remember, it's the act of reading that's most important - not what your children are reading. Fashion magazines, the sports section of the newspaper, book series and even comic books will engage your children in reading. Save your favorite titles for later when he's hooked.
Older Kids Judge a Book by Its Cover
Adolescents commonly say they don't read because nothing interests them about the books they're expected to read. But, even reluctant readers will pick up a book if allowed to choose what to read. Each year, the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, puts out a list of recommended books for teens who dislike reading.
Middle schools students cite the following reasons they pick up and start reading a book:
But what really motivates tweens to read is being able to choose what to read, being given time to read and feeling that their opinions matter.
Susan Steinway is a former writer and editor for the Boston Parents' Paper.
© Parenthood.com, used with permission.