Scholastic’s New ‘Kids & Family Reading’ Report: Reading Aloud Is Up

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Scholastic’s biennial family-reading study finds American families are reading aloud to their children more often, but falling fast as children start reading for themselves.

From Scholastic’s 2019 7th edition of the ‘Kids & Family Reading Report’ / YouGov

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

World Read Aloud Day is Friday, February 1

The seventh edition of the biennial Kids & Family Reading Report from Scholastic was released at the end of last week and compiles the result of a survey on reading habits of American families.

With a focus two years ago on diversity issues, as Publishing Perspectives reported, this edition reports good news about the effects of reading aloud to children.

The quick version:

  • Reading aloud is important, and it’s on the rise since the study started looking for it in 2014.
  • But reading aloud peaks at age 5 and falls off precipitously after ages 6 to 8. Parents say they stop or decrease reading aloud because children can read on their own.

The quick version with numbers:

  • The percentage of parents reading aloud during a child’s first three months is up nearly 50 percent since 2014, and the number of 6 to 8 year olds being read to 5 to 7 days a week up 7 percent since 2016
  • While a majority of families (55 percent) said they read aloud 5 to 7 days a week before a child turns 6, this percentage then begins to decline dramatically, even as research shows read-aloud frequency can help shape a young child into a frequent reader

The quickest version: Read aloud more to children’s, and keep doing it, even after they can read for themselves.

What relation may this have to reading—and publishers’ fortunes—among adults? That’s not what Scholastic is here to tell us.

But bear in mind the fact that the one dependably growing format sector of the book publishing industry’s array in recent years has been audiobooks. The latest StatShot report we have from the Association of American Publishers is for November and it showed that audiobook sales had jumped a formidable 37.1 percent in a year-over-year comparison of January to November 2017 and 2018.

And audiobooks, of course, are a form of reading aloud, primarily to adults. Granted, there are concerns that so much audio may be training consumers to listen and not read. But while the Scholastic study looks only at children and their experience of being read to in the family, it’s possible that the experience of being read to may be something we don’t “grow out of” as surely as might have been thought.

Anecdotally, we get this in a quote from a 17-year-old boy who told the Scholastic study, “I have special memories of picking out the books that they would read with me. It was quality one-on-one time with my parents.”

Dads, Grandfathers, Brothers: Read Aloud

Pam Allyn is Scholastic Education’s senior vice president in innovation and development.

She’s also the children’s books executive who, after visiting the poverty-stricken Kibera area of Nairobi, helped develop the LitWorld literacy charity’s programs. That’s the organization that on Friday (February 1) will be staging the 10th anniversary of World Read Aloud Day—that link offers a full packet of information, registration for your participation, and a recommended reading list for creating read-alouds.

Allyn, on Thursday (January 24) posted an article at Scholastic’s “On Our Minds” blog site, in which she looks at the results of the new study and makes a special call for men to participate in reading aloud in the family, something championed in the UK by such campaigns as Fathers Reading Every Day from the Fatherhood Institute.

Pam Allyn

“It’s undeniable that it is hard to fit everything needed to raise a child into a single day, or even week. But I urge you, parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators, to look closely at this powerful data and to see the opportunities that will open up for the child in your life.

“Parents tell us they are incorporating read-aloud moments into routines, using them at impromptu times throughout the day, reading aloud to foster quiet time or as a part of an already boisterous playtime.

“And while the study shows that it is still the mother who reads aloud most often to her children, let’s make a new commitment—as dads, as men, as grandfathers, as siblings—to read more often to the children in our homes and in our care.

“The beautiful thing about the read-aloud is how it can be tailored to the lifestyles and preferences of families and caregivers. Everyone can join together around the read-aloud to create a sense of well-being and mutual care. It is a prescription for lifelong success for the child and a dose of deep well-being for the family.”

In the study’s discussion, we read, “Overall, 30 percent of parents with children aged 5 and under in the 2014 study reported reading aloud to their child before the age of three months, and 73 percent reported doing so before their child’s first birthday.

“Since then, the percentage who say their child was read to before the age of three months is up nearly 50 percent, with 43 percent saying their child was read to essentially from birth. Plus, 77 percent of parents with children ages five and under say read-aloud time started before their child turned 1.”

The Quick Drop-Off of Reading Aloud

In a way, the real story of this seventh edition of the Scholastic family reading report is that almost as soon as a family really gets going with one of its best literacy activities, it lets it slide as the children begin reading for themselves.

Here are some more data points drawn from the study:

  • Lower-income families with children aged 8 and under read aloud less frequently; 39 percent among families with household incomes less than US$35,000 and
    62 percent among families with incomes of $100,000 or more
  • Lower-income families with kids aged 5 and under are also less likely, at 46 percent, compared to about seven in 10, to have received information on the importance of reading aloud from birth when their children were babies.
  • 85 percent of children ask questions during reading aloud by the time they are 8, with 72 percent of parents asking questions when reading aloud to babies and toddlers aged 2 and younger
  • About four in 10 children across age groups make sound effects and funny noises: about eight in 10 parents of kids age 8 and younger do this, and even six in 10 parents of 9-to-11 year-olds continue to do so
  • Book choice starts early with 66 percent of parents of kids younger than 2 saying their child picks the books during read-aloud time, increasing to more than 90 percent of children aged 3 to 11
  • Among parents of children aged 8 and younger who are read aloud to, 94 percent said they include this activity as part of a routine and 91 percent said it’s a spur-of-the-moment activity

And the methodology here is interesting. The study was managed by YouGov and was fielded between September 6 and October 4, 2018. The total sample size of 2,758 parents and children includes:

  • 678 parents with children aged 5 and younger
  • 1,040 parents with children aged 6 to 17, plus one child aged 6 to 17 from the same household

Parents of children aged 6 to 17 completed their survey questions first before passing the survey on to one randomly selected child in the target age range. The survey sample was sourced and recruited by GfK using their nationally representative “KnowledgePanel.”  For proper demographic representation, final data were weighted according to benchmark distributions of children ages 0 to 17 from the most recent (March 2018) Current
Population Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

There’s a PDF edition of the key findings of the study available now for download here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here.

Publishing Perspectives and Frankfurt Book Fair New York will present their second annual Children’s Book Salon for international book editors and publishers to meet with their American counterparts in new-title discovery, rights trading, and networking. More information on the invitational event is here

Our report on the 2018 salon is available for download here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.