The number of American children who say they love reading books for fun has dropped almost 10% in the last four years, according to a US study, with children citing the pressure of schoolwork and other distractions.
The survey of 2,558 US parents and children, carried out for children’s publisher Scholastic and managed by YouGov, found that only 51% of children said they love or like reading books for fun, compared to 58% in 2012, and 60% in 2010. According to the report, in 2014 37% of children said they like reading a little, and 12% said they did not like it at all.
Researchers have found a sharp decline in reading enjoyment after the age of eight. Sixty-two percent of children between six and eight say they either love or like reading books for fun, but this percentage drops to just 46% for children between the ages of nine to 11, with the figure at 49% for 12-14-year olds, and 46% again for 15-17-year-olds. “Reading enjoyment declines sharply after age eight,” reported the publisher.
“I do like reading, but it’s not at the top of things I like to do,” said one 12-year-old boy, responding to the survey. An 11-year-old girl told researchers: “In second and third grade, I read above my grade level and I felt really proud of that. But then the books got bigger and bigger, and it got more intimidating.”
The fifth edition of the biannual Kids and Family Reading Report found more than four in 10 children (44%) said they like reading more now that they are older, with nearly three in 10 (29%) – especially boys (33%, compared to 24% of girls) – liking reading more when they were younger. Sixty per cent of the children who enjoyed reading more when they were younger put this down to the fact there are “so many other things that I now enjoy more than reading”, and 47% blamed the fact that “I have to read so much for school that I just don’t feel like reading for fun”, with others citing the fact they now have to read on their own, rather than being read to.
Scholastic also surveyed the parents of children between the ages of zero and five for the first time this year in an attempt to discover what made children frequent readers. The report found that a six to 11-year-old child is more likely to be a frequent reader if they are currently read aloud to at home, if they were also read aloud to five to seven days a week before starting nursery, and if they are less likely to use a computer for fun.
According to the report, 54% of children up to the age of five are read to at home five to seven days at week, with this declining to 34% of six to eight-year-olds, and 17% of nine to 11-year-olds. But 40% of six to 11-year-olds who are not read to told researchers they wish their parents had continued reading aloud to them.
Overall, 51% of children aged six to 17 were reading a book for fun when surveyed. But three quarters of parents surveyed said they wished their child would read more books for fun, while 71% agreed that “I wish my child would do more things that did not involve screen time”.
“Our research shows that providing encouragement and time both in school and at home for children of all ages to enjoy books they choose to read will help them discover the power and joy of reading,” said Scholastic’s chief academic officer Francie Alexander. “These tactics will also help to motivate kids to read more books, which will improve their skills and open a world of possibilities for them in the future.”
There are a number of things which we, as parents, can do to encourage our children to become good readers.Getting children reading is about always finding new opportunities for them to read, or for you to read to them. One of the main reasons children don’t read more is because they cannot find books they like to read. Help your children find books they love and you are on your way to getting your children reading more.
Motivate your children to read by setting up a reading log or trying this bingo reading activity. Help your children to really understand and engage with books, making connections with the characters, situations and settings. This will increase their enjoyment of books making it all the more likely that they will voluntarily pick up the next book.
Don’t forget to be a good role model also by being seen to read yourself. And do continue to read aloud to your children. Up until the age of 13 or 14 years old children listen on a higher level than they can read. So when you read aloud to children below this age you can read stories with a level of complexity and interest which they would not be able to read on their own.
You may wonder about the benefits of reading to your baby. An infant won’t understand everything you’re doing or why. But you wouldn’t wait until your child could understand what you were saying before you started speaking to him or her, right? Nor would you bypass lullabies until your baby could carry a tune or wait until he or she could shake a rattle before you offered any toys.
Reading aloud to your baby is a wonderful shared activity you can continue for years to come — and it’s an important form of stimulation.
- teaches a baby about communication
- introduces concepts such as numbers, letters, colors, and shapes in a fun way
- builds listening, memory, and vocabulary skills
- gives babies information about the world around them
Believe it or not, by the time babies reach their first birthday they will have learned all the sounds needed to speak their native language. The more stories you read aloud, the more words your child will be exposed to and the better he or she will be able to talk.
Hearing words helps to build a rich network of words in a baby’s brain. Kids whose parents frequently talk/read to them know more words by age 2 than children who have not been read to. And kids who are read to during their early years are more likely to learn to read at the right time.
When you read, your child hears you using many different emotions and expressive sounds, which fosters social and emotional development. Reading also invites your baby to look, point, touch, and answer questions — all of which promote social development and thinking skills. And your baby improves language skills by imitating sounds, recognizing pictures, and learning words.
But perhaps the most important reason to read aloud is that it makes a connection between the things your baby loves the most — your voice and closeness to you — and books. Spending time reading to your baby shows that reading is a skill worth learning. And, if infants and children are read to often with joy, excitement, and closeness, they begin to associate books with happiness — and budding readers are created
Reading to your child regularly early on helps them to develop vocabulary, learn the names and sounds of letters, connect their own experiences to the books you read to them, and learn how books work. We now know that these skills, knowledge and understandings that lead children to be successful readers are developed long before kindergarten starts.
Birth to five is an amazing time in your child’s life! In this period your child’s brain and knowledge grow at a faster rate than they ever will again. You can help your children learn about the world around them and help them make connections between books and their own experience by reading, playing and talking with them. How cool is that?
Help Kids Notice Print
As adults and readers, we encounter text all day every day. In fact, we process text so much we don’t even notice it. Think back on your day…what text did you process today? Email? Stop sign? Recipe? Newspaper? Receipt? Help your child notice the print in your environment, and enrich the print in your environment by trying some of these ideas:
- Make “book looks” the go-to activity between other daily activities or while waiting for something like a doctor’s appointment.
- Play “I spy” a word. See what words your child can find in your home. Encourage the hunting even if your child doesn’t yet recognize the letters or the word. You’re building awareness of print anyway!
- Enrich the words in your home by placing labels on common things like “door”, “table”, “chair”, “window”, etc.
- “Think aloud” about the print you use. Say things like, “I’m going to read this letter,” or “I need to read the map to figure out where we are going.” This models for your child that using and creating text is something important that big people do…and they can too!
Learning about the different ways we use text in our lives is an important part of getting ready to read. Take time to talk about how you are using print throughout the day. This helps your child understand reading is not only about books and reading.
Pointing out road signs? Making a grocery list? Share your favorite way to make your kids aware of the print around them.
The first time I played my acoustic guitar for my son, Michael, he was just a few months old. But even though the only other occasions he could have heard me play was when I was pregnant with him, he turned around and gave me a smile that seemed to say, “I recognize that sound!” Was it possible that he was remembering what he had heard in the womb?
For years, doctors assumed that babies were born without any knowledge about the outside world. But recent research is questioning this assumption, offering clues to what babies comprehend in utero, what they remember after they’re born, and how that information prepares them for the world outside the womb. Today, doctors realize that babies begin to engage many of their senses and to learn about the world around them during the last trimester of pregnancy—and maybe even before.
What’s That Noise?
The uterus isn’t exactly the quietest place to hang out. Not only can a baby hear the sounds of his mom’s body—her stomach growling, her heart beating, the occasional hiccup or burp—but he can also hear noises from beyond. If mom sits in a movie theater with state-of-the-art sound or walks by a noisy construction site, odds are the fetus will react to all the ruckus by kicking or shifting around.
Of course, not all sounds are the same. Perhaps the most significant one a baby hears in utero is his mother’s voice. Around the seventh and eighth month, a fetus’s heart rate slows down slightly whenever his mother is speaking, indicating that mom’s voice has a calming effect.
By the time they’re born, babies can actually recognize their mother’s voice. In one study, doctors gave day-old infants pacifiers that were connected to tape recorders. Depending on the babies’ sucking patterns, the pacifiers either turned on a tape of their mother’s voice or that of an unfamiliar woman’s voice. The amazing result: “Within 10 to 20 minutes, the babies learned to adjust their sucking rate on the pacifier to turn on their own mother’s voice,” says the study’s coauthor William Fifer, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. “This not only points out a newborn’s innate love for his mother’s voice but also a baby’s unique ability to learn quickly.”
Interestingly, there is no evidence that newborns show a similar preference for their father’s or siblings’ voices, or for any other voices they may have heard frequently while in the uterus. “The difference could be that the maternal voice is communicated to the fetus in two ways: as ambient sound through the abdomen and internally through the vibration of vocal chords,” says Janet DiPietro, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. “In contrast, external voices and other noises are only heard as ambient sounds.”
In fact, research has shown that if newborns are given a choice, they prefer the version of mom’s voice that sounds closest to what they heard in the womb. “In studies where we gave day-old babies a choice of hearing their mother’s voice filtered to sound as it did in utero—muffled and low—or as it does outside of the womb, they showed a distinct preference for the filtered voice,” says Fifer.
An Ear for Language
Muffled or not, unborn babies seem to develop a fine ear for certain sounds. Research reveals that babies had their first lessons in their native language while still in utero. They’ll suck more vigorously to turn on tape recordings of people speaking in the language of their mothers, rather than in a foreign tongue. Of course, it’s likely the babies are picking up on the rhythm and melody of the speech, rather than individual words.
This doesn’t mean that moms need to converse directly to their swelling belly to give their child a head start on language, however. A developing fetus gets all the information he needs just by listening in on his mother’s conversations with others. He also may be picking up something from any books she reads aloud. Besides being able to tell the difference between English and French, a study shows that babies in the womb may be able to recognize the specific rhythms and patterns of the stories they hear. Pregnant women read out loud one of two stories—The Cat in the Hat or The King, the Mice, and the Cheese—twice a day for six weeks before they delivered their babies. After birth, when the infants were three days old, they were played tape recordings of unfamiliar voices reading those stories: They consistently changed their sucking patterns on the pacifiers to hear the story they’d heard in utero.
Seeing the Light
Since there’s no such thing as a womb with a view, it’s no great loss that a baby’s eyes, which form in the first trimester, are sealed shut until about the seventh month. After they open, the fetus is able to see, but there’s little or no light to see anything by. Some doctors have reported, however, that if you shine a very bright light up inside the uterus, the fetus will turn away from it. Similarly, doctors suspect that the fetus may be able to detect a faint glow if a strong light is pointed right at mom’s belly. Ultrasound has also revealed that fetuses gradually open and close their eyes more and more as they near delivery, as if practicing for blinking and seeing in the outside world.
A pregnant woman really is eating for two, and the quality of what she eats matters as much as the quantity. Taste buds develop in a fetus around the seventh or eighth week and, by week 14, there is some evidence to suggest he can taste bitter, sweet, or sour flavors in the amniotic fluid. As with his other senses, he uses taste to explore the womb around him. Ultrasounds have even shown that fetuses lick the placenta and uterine wall.
Studies indicate that the flavors and aromas of the foods mom eats during pregnancy, which pass through to her amniotic fluid, may affect her baby’s taste preferences long after birth. “The more varied a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the more likely that the infant will accept a new food,” says Julie Mennella, Ph.D., biopsychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia. Studies have also found that breastfed babies are more willing than those who were formula-fed to consume a new food when they get older. “This could be because they’ve learned to accept the many different flavors that have passed through the mother’s digestive system to her breast milk,” says Mennella.
A Nose for Mom
An unborn baby not only tastes foods, but can smell them as well. Doctors have noted that, at birth, amniotic fluid sometimes carries the scent of cumin, garlic, fennel, and other spices a mother has eaten while pregnant. Amniotic fluid, which babies swallow and breathe in during their time in utero, not only has the smells of the foods mom eats, but of mom herself.
That, in fact, may be how newborns recognize their mothers. “It’s possible that in the first few hours after birth, a baby’s sense of smell may be more important in helping him identify his mother than his vision is,” says Mennella. In fact, studies have shown that if a mother washes just one breast right after birth, the baby will prefer to nurse at the other, unwashed breast. (This is why some doctors advise new mothers not to shower until at least after the first feeding—to allow their natural aroma to help establish breastfeeding.)
Perchance, to Dream?
Through ultrasound tests, researchers have seen evidence that babies in utero experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is associated with dreaming, at around 32 to 36 weeks. No one knows whether they’re actually dreaming, since their brain waves can’t yet be monitored, but doctors believe that it’s certainly possible.
In fact, the sleep patterns of fetuses in this stage of development closely resemble those of newborns: They spend a lot of their time in REM sleep, but also in a quiet, deep sleep where there is no eye movement. Researchers have also observed babies in utero in a state of quiet alertness, which suggests they may be concentrating on something—listening to mom talking, perhaps.
Ready for the Big World
Babies eagerly investigate whatever they can get their hands on—and the fun starts before birth. As early as 20 weeks, fetuses react to what’s around them. (Ultrasounds have shown that some try to grasp the amniocentesis needle when it’s inserted into the uterus.) But it isn’t until the third trimester that they really begin to grow curious about their intrauterine world. Though there isn’t a whole lot in there to play with, fetuses entertain themselves by sucking on their hands and fingers (especially their thumb, which they discover at about 18 weeks). They also ‘walk’ around by pushing on the uterine walls with their feet, and yank, pull, and swing their umbilical cord—they even practice breathing.
All this playing around helps them develop important reflexes they’ll need once they’re born. Sucking will not only be crucial to taking in food but will also be a source of comfort. And feeling things with their mouth is an important way for babies to explore things. Filling their lungs and moving the diaphragm up and down—albeit with fluid instead of oxygen—is also good practice; by the time the baby makes his entrance into the world, he will have learned to breathe on his own.
Doctors believe that pushing off the uterine wall probably helps the fetus develop the ability to reach his mother’s breast soon after birth. When a newborn baby is placed on his mother’s bare abdomen, his primal instinct starts to kick in: Within the first hour of life, he’ll push his way up toward his mother’s breast, guided mostly by scent, according to research by Marshall Klaus, M.D., author of Your Amazing Newborn.
So compelling is the research on this early dance between mother and baby that Dr. Klaus and other neonatal researchers are now urging hospitals to change their procedure for handling newborns: Instead of weighing and bathing the infant right after delivery, they suggest placing him between the mother’s breasts immediately after an initial examination and waiting at least an hour after birth to perform any necessary procedures.
All this goes to show that a baby isn’t just passively waiting to be born while in the womb. He’s already building important skills and developing a strong bond with one of the most important people in his life—his mother.