Do Kids Read Anymore?

Today I taught a group of elementary school students as described in my previous “tableaux” post. My drama work with this particular group was supposed to connect to literacy in some way, as is often the case. So when we got to the part where the students get in small groups to create a tableaux about a story they’ve heard or read, I found it disturbing how many of them simply could not think of a SINGLE book they had ever been familiar with. “Can’t we do a movie?” they asked. Sometimes I run into groups that have a really hard time deciding on a particular story everyone can agree on, but this group of kids could not even get that far.

When I was student teaching third grade I remember working with a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood, and discovering when it came time to compare the two versions it became clear that less than half of the class knew the story. The nursery rhymes and fairy tales that I grew up with are simply not a part of a lot of kids’ childhoods these days. Maybe, as this article considers, books (per se) have less value in kids’ lives today. I think it’s sad that so many children are growing up without stories, and my lesson planning definitely has to be adjusted in light of this fact.

Question for the World: Have you run into this before? Do you think kids read less today than they used to? Does students’ lack of familiarity with nursery rhymes and fairy tales impact your work? What should be done?

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2 Responses to “Do Kids Read Anymore?”

  1. Lisa Davis Says:

    As an educator of young children, I see kids doing lots of reading. Additionally, I find the range and quality of children’s books to still be good. However, I do find that the taditional nursery rhymes and fairy tales are no longer popular. I think that is ok, as the themes at times are questionable in terms of stereotypes and prejudices. The area that I find it effects the most is retelling and reciting which are still necessary and valuable skills. It causes me to search longer and harder for stories that I can fit into a useful retelling pattern.

    • Nora Says:

      Good point Lisa! I definitely think that children’s books have come a long way and that the question of whether a particular piece of literature fits in with an anti-bias approach is an essential one. This issue transcends books in my own work and extends to what skits I should have children enact, what art I should make available for their viewing, what characters I should suggest they explore, etc. I think perhaps one reason I have often looked to “classic” stories rather than newer books in my short term teaching artist work is that there is often an inherent time pressure to come up with a “product” in a short class session and taking the time to fully introduce/read a story none of the children knows takes up time and I just want to “get to the good stuff.” There are definitely ways to do it, but I think I could think outside the box more with these sorts of literature-directed activities.

      I certainly have worked with kids that don’t have a single book in their home, and also with kids that are read to often. I guess what I am realizing is that assuming a common repertoire of experience in the realm of literature may be too much to ask– and perhaps not even desirable. In the past I have often started out a drama activity connected to a story I thought everyone would know of. But not every child has had my life experiences as far as children’s books are concerned– in the same way that looking to favorite tv shows or vacation spots as commonalities can be problematic as the question assumes that every family owns a TV or every child has been on an airplane. I’m finding my focus to be more on creating community through shared in-class experiences rather than making as many assumptions about what “all kids are like.” I suspect that I will have fewer “my-lesson-just-completely-fell-apart” moments that way.


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