Scholastic’s ‘Kids & Family’ Report Sees Summer Youth Reading Lagging

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

More children are seen by Scholastic’s researchers as reading ‘zero books’ during the summer, and many parents don’t grasp the ‘summer slide’ problem. But next summer, Suzanne Collins may help out.

Does your family beach trip include a library? Scholastic’s seventh Kids & Family Reading Report says access to books can be critical in avoiding the ‘summer slide’ in youth reading. Image – iStockphoto: Mike Sheridan

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

Scholastic Report: Kids’ Summer Reading Is Down

When the seventh edition of the biennial Kids & Family Reading Report from Scholastic was released in the depths of January—focused on reading habits of American families—summer reading wasn’t on a lot of minds. As we reported then, the emphasis was on the reported valuable effects of reading aloud.

Today, as July opens, Scholastic’s Read-a-Palooza Summer Reading Challenge is in full swing and putting a lot of blue pins on the North American map, with kids having logged—at this writing—54.7 million minutes read so far. Working with the United Way, the publisher releases staged donations of books to young readers in need, with the minimum level of contributions coming in at 200,000 books.

For more on book lists (in Spanish and English), a reading pledge for participating kids, a minute tracker, and a certificate of achievement is here. The program runs to September 6.

From Scholastic, Read-a-Palooza’s updating map of where more than 54 million minutes of summer reading have taken place so far this year. Image taken July 1, 2019

And as summer approached, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books released another section of interpretation from its biennial Kids & Family report, with several highlighted research points.

Those surveyed include more than 1,000 pairs of children ages 6 to 17 and their parents, as well as 678 parents of kids ages 0 to 5.

The ‘Summer Slide’

Image: Scholastic, Kids & Family Reading Report, Seventh Edition

“At first glance,” researchers write, “parents seem aware of the importance of summer reading, as 94 percent agree reading over the summer can help their child during the school year.

“And yet, nearly half of parents with school-age children are unaware of the “summer slide” (47 percent), the loss of academic skills that occurs when school is not in session and which is attributed largely to the lack of reading.”

This may be more important than many think, Scholastic’s team says, because summer-slide effects are cumulative. “Researchers estimate that by the time a struggling reader reaches middle school, summer reading loss has accumulated to a two-year lag in reading achievement.”

Apparently, there’s been a rise in awareness of the problem since 2016—that awareness was seen at 53 percent in 2018 over 48 percent in 2016.

More Kids Read Zero Summer Books

Image: Scholastic, Kids & Family Reading Report, Seventh Edition

On the other hand, the study is citing a rising number of children reporting reading no books at all during their summer break.

“Thirty-two percent of kids ages 15 to 17 said the number of books they read over the summer was zero, up sharply since 2016 (22 percent).

“The trend line among kids ages 9 to 11 also needs to be watched: the percentage who read zero books over the summer has doubled since 2016 (7 percent to 14 percent). Notably, if a parent is aware of the summer slide, their child is less likely to read zero books over the summer (16 percent vs. 25 percent).”

All this despite the fact that, according to the researchers, “Most kids know that summer reading provides benefits that extend well past the summer months. Seven percent agree that reading over the summer will help them during the school year and on average, kids read nine books in the summer of 2018.”

And in some wider commentary from the report on influential factors in children’s reading in general, we quote from the report:

  • “Kids need help finding books. While four in 10 kids agree that they have trouble finding books that they like, this is far higher among infrequent readers than frequent readers (59 percent vs. 32 percent) and is true of roughly half of kids by age nine.
  • “Reading role models show kids the way. Frequent readers are more likely to be surrounded by people who they perceive to enjoy reading: 82 percent say a lot or nearly everyone they know enjoys reading, versus infrequent readers at 34 percent. And much like reading frequency, there’s a clear decline as children age: 77 percent of kids ages 6 to 8 say a lot or nearly everyone they know enjoys reading, but this drops as children age to 48 percent among 15- to 17 year-olds.
  • “Books at home and in the classroom provide access. Frequent readers have an average of 139 books for children in their homes vs. 74 in infrequent readers’ homes. In school, classroom libraries are only available for 43 percent of school-aged children and only one-third say they have a classroom library that has enough of the types of books they’d like to read.
  • “When kids choose, kids read. Regardless of reading frequency or children’s ages, the majority of kids (89 percent) agree their favorite books are the ones that they have picked out themselves.”
‘A Disconnect Between Parents and Kids’

Image: Scholastic, Kids & Family Reading Report, Seventh Edition

There are several additional observations worth looking at here.

For one, the report indicates that parents responding to researchers “underestimate the challenge” for children in finding books. “Nearly one in three parents (28 percent) agree that their child has trouble finding books,” the report reads. “This percentage increases among parents of infrequent readers and among parents of children older than age eight.

“Despite a similarity in trend lines, there’s a disconnect between parents and kids on this challenge: one-third fewer parents than children think their child has trouble finding books.”

Some of the most concerning data from the survey has to do with how socio-economic factors play into the kind of access children may have to books in the home.

“On average,” researchers write, “there are 103 books in the home libraries of children ages 6 to 17, yet this varies widely. Most strikingly, frequent readers have an average of 139 books in their homes vs. 74 in infrequent readers’ homes.

Image: Scholastic, Kids & Family Reading Report, Seventh Edition

“Similar trends are seen by income as well as race and ethnicity. Families with incomes of US$100,000 or more have nearly twice the amount of books than families with less than $35,000 in annual income (125 vs. 73), and Hispanic and African-American children have fewer books in their homes than white, multi-racial, Asian or children of other racial backgrounds.”

Classroom libraries can also play a role, researchers writing:

  • “Among 6- to 8 year-olds, 60 percent of kids with a robust classroom library are frequent readers, compared to 51 percent of kids without a robust classroom library.
  • “Among 9- to 11 year-olds, this split is 40 percent vs. 31 percent and among 12–14 year-olds, the gap narrows to 26 percent vs. 23 percent.
  • “Among 15- to 17 year-olds, the gap widens once again with 17 percent of kids with a robust classroom library being frequent readers, compared to only 10 percent of kids without a robust classroom library

An interesting response from young readers surveyed: “While 70 percent of school-aged children say they have a school library, only 56 percent say the school library has enough of the books they want to read.”

More Book Access Needed to Increase Summer Reading

Image: Scholastic, Kids & Family Reading Report, Seventh Edition

As might be expected, book access appears to shrink during the summer. The kids aren’t at school with its library, right? “Research on book deserts—areas with a stark lack of access to print materials—showed in the studied urban areas that the summer months drastically limit book access in high-poverty neighborhoods,” the study team reports.

And that, it turns out the survey researchers might just applaud that idea.

“To better understand reading behavior among kids and their parents when school is out, the Kids & Family Reading Report probed the different strategies parents use to encourage summer reading at home,” researchers write.

“Notably, the top three all centered on creating book access and choice for the child: taking trips to public libraries ranked first (54 percent), followed by ordering from school book clubs or book fairs (42 percent) and taking books on road trips or vacations (42 percent).

“Parents also reported putting limits on screen time (40 percent), finding new book series (36 percent) and purposefully making reading part of the summertime daily routine (30 percent), with fairly significant variation across ages of children.”

Help May Be on the Way: ‘The Hunger Games’ Prequel

“Parents who are aware of the summer slide are more likely to engage in nearly all activities to encourage their children to read while school is out,” according to researchers. “And a peer-reviewed study—published by the American Library Association in 2017 and centered on the effect of summer program participation among fourth grade students in North Carolina—found that if parents understand the summer slide, they prioritize transportation to the library to facilitate summer reading.”

And in 2020, Scholastic itself may be young summer readers’ best friend. The company in the latter part of June announced that author Suzanne Collins is coming in with a new novel “revisiting the world of Panem 64 years before the events of The Hunger Games, on the morning of the reaping of the 10th Hunger Games.”

Scholastic is telling us that international rights for the trilogy have sold into 54 languages and 57 territories. There are more than 100 million copies of the books from the trilogy out there. The four films have pulled in almost $3 billion since the first one went to the cinemas in 2012.

And it will have been 10 years since the third book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, was published when the Untitled Panem Novel, as it’s called at the moment, is released on May 19, shortly before BookExpo in 2020.

“With this book,” Collins is quoted saying, “I wanted to explore the state of nature, who we are, and what we perceive is required for our survival. The reconstruction period ten years after the war, commonly referred to as the Dark Days—as the country of Panem struggles back to its feet—provides fertile ground for characters to grapple with these questions and thereby define their views of humanity.”

And along the way, she may also single-handedly lift beach reading for kids to tidal-wave ferocity and slow that summer slide in 2020.

More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here, and more from us on Scholastic is 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.