Tweens: Why should kids read for fun?

As we wrote previously, South Africa scored alarmingly low in the PIRLS 2021 international reading literacy study. Of the 57 countries whose children were assessed for Grade 4-level reading ability, South African children came in last.

We’re talking about kids who, in less than a decade, will reach adulthood in a world in which the ability to read and write is more critical than it has been at any other time in human history. These kids’ jobs, households, families, and communities will demand more sophisticated literacy levels of them than were expected of us, their parents and teachers. And they will need to navigate the tidal wave of data that is the age of AI and be able to think critically about it.

We can’t expect kids who can’t read for meaning in any language to so much as pass matric.

So how do we help our kids? 

The answer might surprise you: We need to get our kids reading for fun.

Reading for pleasure – reading because we want to read – has been shown in studies time and again to:

  • Boost kids’ academic results.
  • Provide the digital and information literacy at the foundation of critical thinking skills.
  • Improve kids’ ability to think, reason, and plan.
  • Positively affect a person’s long-term wellbeing and stamina.

Reading for pleasure counts as learning. Tweens who love to read:

  • Consistently get higher marks in maths. 
  • Are better at logical problem-solving. 
  • Have better relationships with friends and family.
  • Demonstrate more empathy and self-awareness. 

Plus, reading sparks kids’ imaginations and helps them relax. 

Extra reading activities at school, or reading to avoid punishment or to meet parents’ or teachers’ expectations is not the solution. Research has proven that kids enjoy reading less as they grow older because it becomes more about learning and studying and less about enjoyment.

What we need to do is get kids internally rather than externally motivated to read.

How do we get our kids reading for fun?

Let kids choose what they read. A kid who is reading the material they chose is more likely to enjoy reading. It doesn’t matter if your tween wants to read trashy comics – let them! The more a kid reads, the more discerning their reading taste will become.

Let kids read whenever they want to. Of course our kids still need to do their homework and chores, but indulge them a little if they have the urge to read – it will increase their sense of pleasure in reading, and you can be comforted that they are learning!

Make sure kids have access to books and stories. Books are pricey, we know! Welcome hand-me-down books from friends and family, trawl secondhand bookstores for treasures, sign up to your local library. Encourage your kids to share books with their friends.

Read for pleasure yourself. Children who have a parent or caregiver that reads for enjoyment are more likely to become readers themselves. If we love to read, they will too.

It seems too simple: Get our kids to love books and improve the literacy statistics of South African tweens?

Simple, yes. But not easy.

At Zazi Books, we’re working hard to make great books for tweens accessible, books that our kids will relate to and love to read, books that will transform our children from reluctant readers to readers who can’t put their books down. It’s a first step in building a culture of reading in our country so our children can reap the rewards.

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash


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