by Barbara D'Amato
Yesterday I was talking with a staff member at our neighborhood Barnes & Noble. She was optimistic about reading in general and about children reading. She pointed me to their Teen section, which I had not realized existed, and said it was their fastest-growing area. Now, I realize that a lot of people view teen-specific books as Literature Light, but I looked at the stock and most of it is good stuff.
This past January Publishers Weekly reported on a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that total media use by eight-to-eighteen-year olds rose from six and a half hours to seven and a half hours per day between 2004 and 2009. Yes, much of the increase was digital media, but that is still reading. The decline was in print media, but that turned out to be entirely the result of the kids reading fewer newspapers and magazines. They are still reading books.
In another survey, 56 percent of children reported reading more than ten books a year. Of middle schoolers it’s seventy per cent.
Really encouraging was the finding by the National Center for Education Statistics that the percentage of prekindergarten children read to by a family member increased from seventy-eight percent in 1993 to eighty-six percent in 2005. Not only does this bode well for future young readers, but it suggests that the message is getting through to families and caregivers.
I know I’ve said this before. Maybe my optimism is the result of seeing the children I know reading avidly. But the surveys suggest that reading is not dead.
And reading is vital for all of us. Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association has said that the connection between literacy and being a useful member of society is so strong “that some states use grade-level reading statistics as a factor in projecting future prison construction.”
Of course the bottom line here is read to children. Find a child and read.