Many American Adults Don't Read, But That Doesn't Mean Kids Can't Learn To Love Books

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According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, just over a quarter of American adults haven't read a single book in the past year — or even cracked one open. For those who grew up loving books or retreat into them on a regular basis, that number can seem alarming, especially considering that the percentage of Americans who haven't read books in the past year has increased by 7 percent since 2011. If you're worried about the growing number of Americans forgoing reading though, there are still plenty of ways to help your kids learn to love books — because if you instill that passion in them while they're young, they're less likely to quit later on.

In order to collect its data, the Pew Research Center conducted a representative telephone survey of 1,520 American adults over the course of several weeks in early 2016. According to the survey, the average American reads four books a year, but a full 26 percent of those surveyed said they hadn't read a book (in whole or in part) within the last 12 months.

Those numbers may be disheartening, but all is not lost, book-lovers. There are plenty of ways to help your kid become a life-long reader. One 2009 study found reading was the single most effective way for people to beat back stress. According to The Telegraph, just six minutes of reading was enough to do the trick, working more quickly and more effectively than other forms of stress relief. Even better? It didn't matter what participants read, so regardless of whether you're reading Don Quixote or Fifty Shades of Grey, you'll reap the benefits. (I wouldn't necessarily recommend either of those books for children, however.)

Reading also increases people's ability to empathize with others and helps grow tolerance and inclusivity. It boosts intelligence and can ward off mental decline later in life. It promotes creativity, can help people accept change, and increases self-esteem. And, perhaps most importantly, regular readers report that reading improves their lives and helps them feel happier.

So how can you give your children the best chance at reaping those life-long benefits? Luckily, there are a few ways.

Start Them Off Early

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Make reading and read-aloud a regular pasttime, starting when children are as young as possible. Creating a bedtime reading ritual is a great way to bond and instill a love of books in your kids. In an article for Psych Central, psychologist Marie Hartwell-Walker recommends that parents read aloud right up until kids' teen years.

Don't Make It A Chore

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Reading should be about having fun and getting lost in a new world — not about being pressured to learn to read. Don't make reading a chore that they learn to dread. Kids learn at their own pace, and the best thing you can do to help their education along is to give them a great incentive: the desire to read.

As they learn to read, supply help when it's needed and create a supportive, fun environment.

Let Them Read What They Want

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Most kids aren't going to enjoy Don Quixote or Shakespeare — and I can tell you that from personal experience. Forcing children to read books they're not interested in may supply them with some background knowledge for a (boring) dinner conversation in the future, but they'll also probably associate reading with drudgery.

One Scholastic study found that kids who are allowed to read whatever they want while at school are more likely to read for pleasure. "For us, choice is key," Kyle Good, a spokeswoman for Scholastic, told The Washington Post. "When you let kids choose the books they want to read, they'll be voracious readers."

Have Fun With It

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Give different characters different voices. Talk about the stories your children are reading. Let them draw scenes from the book, or ask them how they would react to a certain situation. Books are meant to be fun, and kids are naturally creative, so this shouldn't be too difficult.

Be A Reading Role Model

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Make sure to pick up library books for yourself, too, not just your little one. Kids emulate their parents' behaviors, and if they see you reading — books, the newspaper, magazines — they're likely to follow suit.

It can be easy to let kids turn to television or video games for entertainment, but reading is a hobby that will benefit them intellectually, socially, and emotionally for the rest of their lives. By setting up a few good habits early on, you can share a love of reading with your kid and help them become life-long readers. So go take your little one to the library and ask them to pick out a whole stack of books that look good to them — and help the rest of the country change those dire reading numbers one kid at a time.