Should I make my 7th grade son read books at home instead of articles online?

He reads a lot now, but most of it is non-fiction and news that he reads online. Is it still an important skill to read books, or should I just be thankful he reads at all?

Answers

Jacqueline Reeve, Library Media Specialist, Writer, and Parent

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I think it's wonderful that your son is reading a lot. Period. My MIL is a former English teacher and published poet, and she is still to this day disappointed that my husband isn't more interested in books. But the truth is, he is a software developer who spends a good deal of his life reading. But most of what is relevant and interesting to him is constantly being updated and changed. Online resources are where he lives and breathes, and for his interests that's better than most books. They are more current than nonfiction books, and if your son wants the newest information on a topic then he's looking in the right place.

I'm a school librarian, and my mother was, too. I was a huge movie fan as a kid, and I would devour articles about celebrities and filmmakers. So my mom taught me how to use the library databases so I could find more articles than I could just skimming magazines. This was when online databases were fairly new, but she took my interests and taught me a really valuable skill with it. When I went away to college, I was teaching kids in my dorm how to use databases for research because they never learned.

If most of the topics that interest your son are current, and online is the place with the best resources, bring him to the library and ask a librarian to teach him how to use EBSCO. It's a database of magazines and journals that many libraries subscribe to, and you can access it for free with a library card. A librarian can show him how to find the topics that interest him and get the complete article for him online. He can probably access the database from home, too, once he knows where to find it. This could help expand his reading beyond websites alone, into magazines and journals. Knowing how to navigate those resources is one of the best skills to have going in to high school and college.

Most standardized tests, and the Common Core, are really pushing for kids to read more nonfiction. And from my library stats, I can tell you that in every library I've ever worked in, we circulate far more nonfiction than fiction. This surprises people, but kids love facts.

If you really want to expose him to more literature, to see if he'll build an interest, you can try audiobooks, too. Check some out from the library, or look into a subscription to Audible if he's interested. Play the audiobooks when you're in the car, and then you'll both experience them and can talk about them. A good narrator might be a great hook to get him interested in material that may seem stuffy on a book page.

Good luck, and great job raising a reader!

Jenny Bristol, Homeschooling Parent, Writer, and Editor

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If your son is passionate about reading these articles, that is fantastic! My philosophy is to get kids reading and do whatever I need to do to keep them reading. Reading educates them, it helps them become better writers, it expands their vocabulary, and it teaches them about the world.

We homeschool, and through 8th grade, my policy with my kids is for them to always have a book (or two or three) going. Always be reading something. They get to pick (fortunately they've never picked anything too "adult" for their ages). If they run out of ideas, I have given them suggestions, and they've tried many of those out, to varying amounts of success. I also read in front of them, so they see what my interests are.

Once we hit 9th grade (which my older child is in this year), I still encourage them to read books of their own choosing in their spare time, but I also have a list of books that I want us to get through over the course of the year. These are more the literature types, like works by Edgar Allan Poe or Fahrenheit 451. I don't assign so many as to take up all of their free reading time, but we cover a dozen or two dozen assigned readings over the school year.

This combined approach still gives the kids plenty of time to read whatever they like, but it can also open their minds to potential new tastes. Perhaps the occasional novel or other book at home would be great for your son. Gradually introduce him to some non-fiction books that deal with subject matters he enjoys. Then perhaps add in some fiction covering those subjects. Don't push it too hard, or he may push back. But providing continual opportunities for his reading taste growth may have a fruitful outcome.

In the end, if he rejects your attempts at expanding his reading repertoire, don't fight it for now. His interests will likely expand in time. And if they don't, at least you know what he enjoys. With some kids, that's quite difficult to figure out.

Maryann Aita, Writer and Expert Tutor

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As others have pointed out, the fact that your son is reading, in any form, is excellent news. If he's reading online nonfiction, that's especially great. Many students shy away from nonfiction because they don't find it as interesting as fiction, so it sounds like you're in a great position to encourage your son to read more.

I would reiterate what other experts have said about a broad spectrum of texts. Reading from a variety of genres, forms, and content areas is helpful to build knowledge and analytical skills. All of the suggestions listed so far sound like great starting points. Your son should definitely continue to read articles if he enjoys them, but giving him more options and encouraging reading longer works would be a great idea.

The only suggestions I would add are these:

  • Search for books by the authors of articles he's reading online.
  • Search for nonfiction books about the topics he is reading about most.
  • Look into graphic novels as a way to ease into reading longer works.
  • Look for fiction that relates to the kind of subject matter he's reading. For instance, Hatchet would be great if he reads about nature. Tf he's reading video game reviews, you could search Amazon or check with your local bookstore for books that might involve characters getting lost in video games. Of course, that's only one example.
  • Have him track books he wants to read and has finished by keeping a reading log or joining Goodreads or similar site. As he sees what he's accomplished, he may be more motivated to continue reading. It also helps to know what you'll read next once you finish something.
Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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This is a tough question. Reading is so important, and developing a lifelong love of reading means one needs to find what one likes to read. I will give my perspective as a teacher of English over the past twenty years.

I see my students having a hard time with reading anything that is sustained, i.e., longer than a short article. Could you encourage him to read longer pieces? What is he interested in? Science? Get him a subscription to Scientific American. Design? Get him a subscription to Make. Find a magazine that has long form articles that supplement his interests and you will help him sustain his attention.

Now, when we think about higher ed, we know he will need to take the SAT, which now asks students to read in all genres. Meaning he will need some chops with literature. My middle school boys always loved the work of Gary Paulsen. Perhaps you can try the Hatchet series?

Finally, reading the texts he reads will help you both be able to talk about the reading. Reading skills need to be developed in all genres, so keep encouraging him and guiding him to things that speak to his abilities without squashing his love for what he is reading now.

Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School

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Yes, I agree with Regina. I think it is important that he reads both from books and articles. It gives him the best of both worlds not to mention to see different styles of writing and story telling. When he gets to high school and even in college, he will need this experience especially when he is in his English classes.

If you really want to expand his horizon let him try some white or technical papers.

Regina Moreland, Middle School Literacy Coach with 17 years of English Language Arts Experience.

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As a Literacy Coach, you will find that I whole-heartedly believe that if a child is reading, that in and of itself is wonderful. I always introduce struggling or unmotivated readers to a topic they have the most interest in. That way, it doesn't seem as much like they are being forced to read, especially if they get to choose the material. Once they are hooked, we then work on expanding their tastes for what is read and how.

For example, if one of my students is interested in science, I would absolutely begin with articles from reputable sites, the newspaper, or credible magazines. I would then move into the genre of science fiction, and then guide them into popular texts that include fantasy, but are richly written, such as the many dystopian novels on the market we currently see students devouring in single weekends. Likewise, if the student were interested in historical nonfiction, I would begin with that, and encourage historical fiction texts in the future.

The bottom line is, reading is reading, and to do so will never be a bad thing. What we need to do, however, is to expand horizons so that your son learns critical skills from fictional text as well as continuing to hone what he has been able to grasp from nonfiction. This way, although he may lean toward a favorite genre, his skills are strong and balanced in both areas of text.

Good luck!

Stacey Ebert, Educator, Writer, Event Planner, Traveler

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Reading, by any means (online or in print) is better than not reading at all. However, as many have mentioned, a lot of on-line reading comes with other issues that are not part of the package with pages in one's hands. As with anything in life, variety and moderation are keys. If your child has a specific interest, perhaps there are books, newspapers or magazines that can be helpful to delve further into his/her interest and perhaps find even more. The librarians and staff at your local public library provide a wealth of knowledge that could be truly beneficial to find things your pre-teen might like.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

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I think that in general, it's good for students to be reading no matter what at that age, regardless of whether it's books or articles. But I will say this being a Language Arts teacher - most students do need to get the skill of learning how to read chapter books as well as informational texts. Much of the focus in curriculum these days is centered around informational text, especially with the Common Core standards and the Smarter Balanced assessments. But I have found that often times in my classes, certain students find it much easier to read shorter articles, and/or graphic novels because the pictures, and sometimes the formatting of these books (with cartoon-like pics, etc.) make it easier for them. Mentally, I think it's important for students not to get intimidated by how many word are on a page or how many pages a book has, but instead to focus on the book's content. In addition to this, when it comes to story elements such as plot, characters, story arc/climax/ denoument, etc. - it is much easier for students to identify these elements in fiction novels and chapter books than in the other materials. And yes, these are all things they need to know in LA classes. There is certainly no problem with or no need to discourage reading online articles at all, but I'd say reading chapter books and novels is equally important.

Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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As a high school teacher, I am always thinking about how to incorporate more nonfiction into my classroom. Most students are more comfortable with fiction, and they have a harder time focusing on nonfiction passages (which, incidentally, standardized tests -- including the SAT and ACT--pull from). As others have said, the most important thing is that your son reads ... period. I'm assuming that what he reads online is probably nonfiction, so he is quite possibly strengthening his comprehension and analytical skills more than it may seem.

How do you know? Read something that he is reading. Ask him two questions: "What is the author's point?" and "How does he/she support this point?" Exercises like this are simple, offer discussion points, and can really help students retain information in a discerning way.

Patrick Farenga, Author and speaker about self-directed learning, homeschooling, and unschooling.

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Regarding eyestrain from computer screens—and even paper—consider using colored overlays. They can help reduce strain and comprehension issues for people with reading difficulties, as well as for regular readers who need too see print more clearly.

Gina Badalaty, Parent of 2 kids with disabilities, Professional Blogger

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I agree that it's best for a child to read than not to read, however, extensive periods of screen time may be harmful. In the Psychology Today article, "Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain," Dr. Victoria Dunckly, M.D., does a review of several studies that show that excessive screen can be harmful, especially to grey matter. While some of those studies are specifically for gaming, I think it's wise to be prudent when taking all the sources of screen time that someone is exposed to on a daily basis.

As for other health concerns, some of the other concerns are digital eye strain and lack of sleep, both caused by backlit screens that emit blue light. In this CBS News report, Dr. Christopher Starr, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, recommended using the "20-20-20 rule" to reduce eye strain. Every 20 minutes, have your son look away from the screen at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Additionally, the article says that having enough exposure to outdoors daylight can help.

Meanwhile, keep on hand newspapers and magazines in topics he enjoys around the house, so he'll have the option to read those when he has down time instead of automatically logging on to read.

Pamela Petrease Felder, Parenting

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I'm always glad to hear pre-teens and teens are reading. Though, with kids being highly susceptible to reading on-line a lot, I get concerned about the physical strain of this kind of reading on the eyes. I think it's okay for kids to do this but when on-line reading becomes the only "go-to" for reading, this, for me, is troublesome. I recommend you consider a variety of reading activities with books, magazines, newspapers, and on-line articles. I also recommend pre-teens and teens write about what they're reading to support their reading activity.

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