Q: My son used to devour book series like "Big Nate" and "Captain Underpants" when he was younger. Now in sixth grade, he never reads for fun anymore. He seems to have lost interest in books. Should I worry?
A: Don't waste effort worrying. But do take a few steps to re-engage him. Here's why: Strong reading skills are essential to success throughout school, says Francie Alexander, one of the nation's top reading experts.
"And students only become strong readers when they read for pleasure regularly," she explains. "Think of it as fun practice. While parents, and even students, are aware of the link between reading for pleasure and academic success, fewer than half of students approaching their teenage years make leisure reading a priority."
Here are five things you can do:
One, help your son find things he wants to read. Research shows that one reason students move away from pleasure reading isn't homework or afterschool schedules. "It's because they say they have trouble finding books they like," says Alexander, the chief academic officer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. "Adults underestimate this as an obstacle. When parents play an active role in guiding them to materials that match their developing interests, they see them return to reading for pleasure."
Two, look for a series he can enjoy. "The neat thing about series such as J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' or Rick Riordan's 'Percy Jackson' books is that once a reader is hooked, finishing one book means they can't wait to tackle the next," says Alexander.
Librarians know which authors teens ask for; you can also consult online reviews from such sources as Goodreads, Amazon and Common Sense Media.
Three, don't limit your choices to "young adult" books. Your librarian can suggest high-interest adult books with age-appropriate themes that match your son's interests. Does he like sci-fi? "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams might keep him turning pages.
"Consider nonfiction too, such as biography," suggests Alexander. "A techie teen I know who loves all things Apple enjoyed Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. A football fan might love 'The Blind Side' by Michael Lewis."
Four, take a broad view of reading. Think beyond the book. Does your son love skateboarding? Get a subscription to Thrasher. Does he excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)? Send him Popular Science every month.
"And don't worry about the platform," says Alexander. "Whether he's reading print on paper, or on a tablet, laptop or his phone, it's all reading. He's learning new vocabulary and concepts that will provide context for his schoolwork. Audio books are fine, too. Download one to enjoy while you're driving to those away soccer games!"
Five, make your home a place where everyone reads for relaxation. "If the latest issue of People is your guilty pleasure, make sure your son sees you enjoying it," urges Alexander. "More and more families are ditching TV and picking a fun book to read aloud together for a few minutes each night. Contrary to what many parents think, older kids love to be read to, too. A reading-aloud ritual not only models reading for pleasure, it gives families precious quality time."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)