Q: My son's fourth-grade teacher says he should read more for pleasure. My sister says boys read more if they have an e-reader. If I get one, will he really read more or just play video games?
A: It depends on the guidance you give him and the limits you set. "Managing screen time is a big challenge for parents today," says Francie Alexander, the chief academic officer of Scholastic Inc. She cites data from the recently released Scholastic 2012 Kids and Family Reading Report, adding, "The vast majority of parents think their children spend too much time playing video games or visiting social networking sites. Half of parents feel their children do not spend enough time reading books for fun."
The study, done last fall, shows some evidence that tablets can increase the time a child spends reading for pleasure. "We learned that kids who read e-books are reading more -- especially boys," says Alexander. "Half of children ages 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to e-books. That's a 50 percent increase since our 2010 survey.
"We learned that struggling readers like e-books because they feel 'cool' and can read material at a lower level without anyone knowing or judging it."
But don't think an e-reader will turn your son into a bookworm. The real impact comes when parents commit to key behaviors at home. For instance, the study shows that children who read most frequently for pleasure have parents who model reading.
"Not surprisingly, when parents are frequent readers, their kids are also frequent readers," notes Alexander. "The second factor is access to a large collection of books and reading materials in the home -- these have a greater impact on kids' reading frequency than household income."
Fourth grade is a critically important year in building reading stamina, advises Alexander.
"The coursework requires that students read complex texts, for longer periods of time," she says. "There's no way they can get enough reading practice at school to build this stamina and develop a content-rich vocabulary."
To raise a great reader, incorporate these behaviors into home life:
-- Be a reading role model for your children -- let them see you reading every day.
-- Fill your home with books and reading materials -- magazines, newspapers, comic books, how-to guides and reading materials that tap into your children's interests and passions.
-- Read aloud to your children -- even after they turn 8. Don't stop -- kids love to be read to! "It's quiet, cozy time kids crave," says Alexander. "Reading aloud shows your kids that reading is fun, builds their vocabularies, develops background knowledge they will need to understand meaning and texts when they read on their own. It can inspire a lifetime love of reading!"
Build reading into your children's daily schedule -- create reading routines at home -- using print, digital or both. The habit of reading on their own each day will grow with them over 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.)