29/04/2016 12:27 PM AEST | Updated 03/08/2016 12:28 AM AEST

Parents And Schools To Blame For Decline In Kids Reading: Report

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Boy studying in library

Children's reading habits are declining and, for once, it's not only technology to blame. Parents and schools are being urged to create 'reading communities' and allow children to choose their own books because that means they are more likely to enjoy and finish reading the book.

Back in the 1980s, New Zealand author (and mother of eight) Dorothy Butler told us that 'babies need books.' She was a passionate advocate for children's literacy and the importance of books in young people's lives. Today it seems Butler's message needs to be revived.

A frequent reader is classified as someone who reads a book for fun, or one they've chosen, five to seven days a week. Children aged between six and eight are most likely to read five-seven days a week.

One new study, by education educational book publisher Scholastic, found only 37 per cent of Australia children (aged 6-17) are frequent readers. Sixty-three per cent of children admitted they rarely read books for fun (as opposed to the books they have to read for school work). But a whopping 90 per cent of children surveyed in the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report said they would read a book that they had chosen themselves.

The Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report showed children who are given time for independent reading at school are more likely to be frequently reading for fun, more like to enjoy it and to believe it is important.

Christine Vale from Scholastic told The Huffington Post Australia if more parents and schools allowed children to pick their own books to read, the more the children will love reading.

"We know there is a strong link between independent reading and success in education. The report also verifies that principals can have a great deal of influence over children's attitudes towards reading enjoyment and frequency by creating a culture within the school that embraces independent reading," Vale said.

"There's a direct correlation between children whose principals actively encourage reading for fun and children who love to read."

As kids grow older, reading time competes with other activities, such as sport or technology. Seventy-five per cent of parents with kids aged 6-17 said they wish their child would do more things that didn't involve screen time.

Vale said we all know how important it is to have reading skills. But many parents and schools are not encouraging reading for fun.

"It's partly due to habit and partly due to actually valuing reading and loving the printed word. It's always created in the home and also in the schools. As a community, we don't really talk about the importance of reading. Yet we all know how important it is to read," Vale said.

"We also looked at the importance of reading aloud and the importance of parents reading to kids from a young age. Many children will also have their favourite books that they will read more than once and others like to read books that have also been made into a movie."

Reading to your children is just one way parents can help with learning skills and overall development. A separate study by researchers from Indiana University in the U.S., found parents could improve the cognitive ability of their kids just by paying attention to them.

The eye movement of different sets of parents and their one-year-old children were tracked by researchers as they played. It was found that the longer a parent looked at a toy or object, the longer the child would keep their attention on that toy after the parent looked away. Researchers believe this shows joint play with young kids can have an impact on their development into the future.

"When parents play with objects with their children, they extend in time the duration of the infant's attention to the object, and the infant then sustains attention after this point, on their own," said, Chen Yu, co-author of the U.S. study.

"Showing interest in what your child is interested in playing can support and train children to sustain their attention, which may have dramatic long-term effects in their cognitive development," Yu said.

The study also shows that attention, long thought to be based on individual ability and studied in isolation, has a social context.

"Because sustained attention matters to school success, this influence provides a way to understand individual differences in sustained attention and to potentially influence its development," Yu said.

What kids want in books

•An overwhelming majority of kids agree that their favourite books -- and the ones they are most likely to finish --are the ones they choose themselves, and nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) say they would read more if they could find more books that they like.

•Children aged 6–17 want books that make them laugh, and what parents want in books for children is often the same as what kids want for themselves.

Print books in a digital world

•One-third of children aged 6–17 (33 per cent) have read an e-book, with kids aged 12–17 being the most likely to have done so.

•Nearly eight in ten children aged 6–17 (79 per cent) agree they will always want to read print books, even though there are e-books available.

The Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report was conducted using a sample of 1,748 parents and children, including 358 parents of children aged 0–5; 695 parents of children aged 6–17; plus one child aged 6–17 from the same household.