Healthy reading habits: Tips for encouraging middle schoolers to keep reading recreationally

By Rebecca Long Pyper

While little kids are eager to snuggle up with Mom or Dad and a big stack of books, that love of literature starts waning when middle school enters the scene.

According to, an organization created for young people interested in effecting social change, 53 percent of fourth graders admit to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20 percent of eighth graders say the same.

Parents can foster a positive reading climate in the home by following these tips:

>> Read to your kids. Just because they can read on their own doesn’t mean you should abandon reading together. “It’s the best thing in the world to have someone read to you,” said Marshall Public Library young-adult librarian Kath Ann Hendricks.

Read favorite picture books at bedtime or take turns reading pages in the novel they’re working through right now. Also consider reading side by side; when they’re doing their nightly reading in bed, plop down alongside them with your own book. “When kids see their parents reading, it makes them want to be a reader,” Hendricks said.

>> Talk to them about books. Discuss interesting tidbits from your current novel. And ask about what they’re reading; in that way you’ll send the message that you validate them as a reader and that spending time reading is valuable.

As children transition from children’s books to young-adult fiction, some parents “get concerned about the content in young-adult books in particular,” Hendricks said. One way to alleviate concerns is to “read that book too, then talk to them about it, and ask what they thought about it,” she said. That can open a dialogue about issues teens and tweens face (because that’s the kind of conflicts characters in YA books will face too).

Hesitate to ban this book or that book based on what you heard from another parent. Check it out yourself because in YA literature, characters sometimes make bad choices, then suffer the consequences later. In this way readers can learn vicariously why it’s best to maintain their standards, Hendricks said. Also, details regarding inappropriate behavior usually aren’t gratuitous or excessive in YA books, though situations might be hinted at or presented in a general way.

>> Listen to audio books. Turn on a story while “cleaning your room or doing chores or driving around town,” Hendricks said. Take time to listen as a family, and load your iPod with audiobooks before this year’s road trip. “It always feels like it takes forever to get to Grandma’s house. You put a book on, and time just flies. It takes your mind off the boredom, sitting there and waiting,” she said.

An added benefit of listening to books is that you’ll get clarification on pronunciation of names and places, and familiar actors often narrate the story, making the tale more engaging and animated.


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