Only 17% of parents say reading is a top priority this summer

man reading on grassFrom GalleyCat comes this depressing survey, from a group called Reading is Fundamental, and Macy’s. They surveyed 1,000 parents and found that only 17% of them feel that reading is a top priority this summer.

I am not sure what to make of it. The sample size is pretty small for this one, and the survey does also point out that parents who do make reading a priority are more likely to have kids who read. But it stuck in my mind because I had read only yesterday a thought-provoking question on Ask Metafilter that struck close to home on this very issue. The questioner remembered growing up in a houseful of books and really treasuring the experience of reading. But now they buy ebooks primarily, and they were struggling with the convenience factor of not having to store all that paper, versus the desire to have lots of books around for their kids. From the question:

“I would love for my (future) children to get the same gift of this deep connection to books. Can that same sense of magic and discovery really be recreated in a house with few permanent books? This article seems to suggest that if I want smart kids, I should buy lots of books, but the kinds of factors that produce smart kids are hard to separate completely from a tendency to buy books, so I remain skeptical that this is causative. I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue (and if this all a lost cause in the age of ubiquitous electronic devices, I’m willing to hear that too).”

The admittedly anecdotal answers, from an admittedly even smaller sample size, confirm my own instinctive feeling on this. You have to buy the paper ones for your littles, clutter be damned. I’m okay with that; our kids will have their own rooms, their own shelves, their own places to keep their treasures. There will be room for the books they love, and money to transition them to e-devices when they hit the chapter book stage.

But this person’s question was about more than that. It was about creating in kids the feeling that Mom or Dad value reading. Will they be able to understand that when I am sitting there with the Kindle on my lap, that I am reading books? Will they be able to see how much time I spend on books, if there is no paper talisman to represent it? I think we’re still early enough in this tech game that we don’t know the answers. I do know that I would love my kids no matter what their interests might be—but that if I had the option to choose, I would dearly love to have a child who loves books. I would love to share my childhood favourites with them. I would love to read together, as a family, in that sacred bedtime ritual my own parents started with me. And, although my Kindle works for me, I do worry that it might not work for promoting the love of books in a kid the way a shelf full of paper would.

2 Comments on Only 17% of parents say reading is a top priority this summer

  1. Sturmund Drang // June 21, 2014 at 6:13 pm //

    I’ve only a sample space of two. My parents worked in a factory. They read the newspaper and the Bible, sometimes the Reader’s Digest. I was a librarian from 5th grade through my junior year in college, I read Dickens in grade school. My library is packed with Folio Society, Easton Press, and Heritage Press books. I told my children if they found a book in my library, read it, loved it that it was theirs to keep. I never lost one book that way. My children are both very smart and succesful college students who only rarely read books they aren’t required to read. What I’m trying to say was that my love of reading was not inherited nor learned; neither was it passed on.

    My kids know I have over 40,000 books on my computer and on my netbook. They know I have five to ten books I’m currently reading on my leather covered reader. Had they been book lovers they would have their own leather covered ereaders loaded with their favourite books managed from their Calibre library always live on their laptops.

    I don’t think paper is necessary to share the joy of reading.

  2. Mrs. Robinson // June 21, 2014 at 6:54 pm //

    I do sound a lot like Sturmund Drang, in that no one in my family read. Ever. My mother once bragged that she hadn’t read a book in 20 years, as if it was a good thing. Yet I’ve been a reader ever since I was small, in a house that usually only had three books at a time. (Medical, Bible and Dictionary.) You couldn’t stop me from reading.

    When my kids were small and there were only paper books all around them, they didn’t like bedtime stories all that much. Neither liked to sit still long enough. Later, they found things they liked in the library on their own and through friends. Not what I had on my shelves at home. Their tastes were different. Now they read ebooks almost as much as I do. Their ‘paper’ phase didn’t last all that long. You wouldn’t know that they are readers by looking at where they live, unless you know what they’ve got on their tablets and laptops.

    I don’t think format has anything to do with a child’s love of reading. You can’t force it, you can only encourage what interest is there. If there is none, you can’t push and shove it into them. Otherwise, they may get turned off at the idea.

    I think that it’s more the willingness to discuss stories with them. Point out plots, ask about character decisions. Bring up interesting situations you found your characters in. Discuss what choices they would have made if faced with the same situations. Have them invent their own characters as they play and let them tell you about them. You can do that with the movies/TV shows they watch and fall in love with.

    If they find a love of ‘story’, then they’ll find the format they like best, which may or may not ever be paper. Even if you surround them in it while they’re small.

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