'Decline by 9' Is the Latest Trend That’s Worrying Parents—Here's What to Do About It

Calling all parents of third and fourth graders

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Reading: It’s one of the three Rs (you know—reading, wRiting, aRithmetic) and a main pillar of education. As such, reports of kids losing interest in reading around age nine—dubbed ‘decline by nine’—are highly concerning to parents, publishers and educators. So, what’s going on here exactly? And most importantly, what can we do to prevent it?

What Is ‘Decline by Nine’?

It’s a catchy name for the trend of kids in the third and fourth grade beginning to stop reading for enjoyment. In the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, researchers found that reading for fun sharply declines around age nine, with only 35 percent of nine-year-olds reading at least five days a week, compared with 57 percent of eight-year-olds. “The number of kids who say they love reading drops significantly from 40 percent among eight-year-olds to 28 percent among nine-year-olds,” the Scholastic report notes.

Why Does This Matter?

We’ve all heard that proficient readers are more likely to be successful in both school and life. But what does that mean, exactly? “Reading for fun is a big indicator of a child’s future success,” says Brenna Connor, books industry analyst at Circana. “To start, research conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that the amount of time children spend reading for fun is directly related to their reading test scores—those that read for fun more frequently are testing higher compared to those who rarely or never read for fun.” Proficient reading skills by the end of third grade have also been linked to higher academic achievements in other subjects, as well as college enrollment.

Beyond academics, reading for pleasure is, well, pleasurable. “There is also a connection between reading for fun and overall well-being, where children who read for fun or identify as readers are more likely to report they are “very happy” compared to those who are non-readers or only read occasionally,” says Connor, citing research from The Farshore and HarperCollins Children’s Books annual review of Children’s Reading for Pleasure.

So Why Is This Happening?

There are a few potential factors at play here. “Book discovery for this age group has been an ongoing issue since the pandemic,” per Kristen McLean, books industry analyst at Circana. “There was a break in the chain of peer-to-peer discovery when schools, libraries and bookstores closed,​ and there is no broad discovery mechanism like ‘#BookTok’ when it comes to middle-grade readers.” (‘Middle-grade readers’ generally refers to students aged 8 to 12.) And while the Scholastic data points that the decline started before 2020, our time in quarantine seems to have exacerbated it. Post-COVID, though, things haven’t gotten any better: Sales of “middle-grade” books for ages 8 through 12 down 10 percent in the first three quarters of 2023.

Pandemic aside, experts cite two other culprits: technology and social media. “With the advent of smartphones, kids actively seek the intermittent dopamine hit of video games and other online offerings versus curling into a chair with a book,” says S.J. Waugh, the co-author, along with M.M. Downing, of the middle-grade historical adventure trilogy The Adventures of the Flash Gang. “Even if reading is quiet time and inherently a wonderful stress reduction, it’s the thrill that wins. It is notable, too, that there is a change between second and third grade expectations, where books become assigned as homework and reading is evaluated and graded. What fun is reading when it turns into a chore or a performance?”  

Another factor, per many of the parents that I spoke with, is that kids tend to get busier as they get older. “They are just so busy and overbooked,” a mom-of-two laments. “So even if they like reading, it can fall by the wayside.” Another parent says: “Things that interfere with reading at 10 are: friends, video games and independence (being able to stay after school on his own to play basketball).”

Of course, the ‘decline by nine’ trend isn’t necessarily the case for all kids. “My 11-year-old son has increased his reading the last two years because the school has required it,” shares one mom. And the experts I spoke with agreed that schools have an important role to play here (more on that below).

What Can Parents Do?

Lots of things, per our experts. Most importantly, make reading part of family life. One way to do that is to bring back reading aloud. “At this age parents tend to stop reading to their children, which can maybe make it seem like less of a priority,” a parent tells me. “For instance, we now watch a family TV show together every night (which is really fun; we're working our way through Modern Family), but it has come at the expense of reading aloud.”

Waugh stresses that reading aloud is essential. “Bedtime stories are the foundation of a child’s imagination, curiosity and interest in pursuing reading him/herself (and no one is too old to be read to).” If your kid resists, set an example by taking time to read to yourself. “If you can, have shelves of books in your home. When there’s ‘nothing to do,’ the collage of book spines on a shelf can be fascinating to study and arouse (again) a child’s curiosity,” adds Waugh.

Another tip is to give your kid lots of opportunities to read books they’ll like. “Get to know your local bookseller and who can provide suggestions to your child and you for titles based on other books and authors your kids have enjoyed,” suggests Dr. Rebecca Mannis, learning specialist at “Just as in sports or other mastery areas, provide your child with lots of opportunity to read books that are enjoyable and at their current level.”.

But—and this is key—don’t force it. “There is the age-old parental joke that if you want your child to do something, forbid them,” notes Waugh. “While no one is going to forbid reading, nagging a child to read will surely turn them off. We’re advocating for gentle encouragement, time, and space.”

What Can Schools Do?

What happens at school, of course, may be largely out of parents’ hands. But if there are opportunities to speak with educators about reading then here are some suggestions.

“We would encourage more free time for students,” says Waugh. “To have them not be over-homeworked, to let summers be summers, to give space for children to wander, to wonder.” She also suggests allowing kids to spend time at their school library weekly if they have one, without asking anything from them. Other ways to encourage reading inside the classroom walls include having author visits to inspire young readers and writers and having teachers find time to read chapter books aloud in class.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...