January 11, 2007
Read to Your Children!
Recently, library staff began work on a handout for parents to help them select books for their children. I just got the latest draft of it from Andrea Logan, one of our Youth Librarians, and I thought some of the research she cited deserved a broader audience.
The key finding is this: literacy begins at home. Families play an important role in their children's reading success. Indeed, a 1994 study of individual families showed that what they do to support literacy in the home is more important to student success than family income or the years of education of the parents.
Sadly, not all families understand that. More than 4 in 10 preschoolers, 5 in 10 toddlers, and 6 in 10 babies are not read to regularly.
It's a shame. Parents who glom onto libraries find that we can help their babies and young children:
* Develop cognitive skills through sensory stimulation. This helps to foster intellectual development. Hearing words and music, seeing pictures and text, touching objects and turning the pages of books helps connect brain synapses.
* Understand the function of words and pictures in books.
* Develop language skills.
* Develop the idea of sequence by experiencing the beginning, middle and end of stories.
* Learn to socialize - understand what people do and why.
* Develop positive habits.
* Stimulate their imaginations.
But reading is not only useful for preschoolers. A 1998 study showed that students improved 2.99 grade level for every school year in which they read 60 minutes per day.
Fourth-graders who reported daily reading for fun scored higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test than peers who reported less reading for fun. It's important to point, out, however, that the love of reading doesn't just suddenly bloom in 4th grade. Children need to be exposed to books long before then!
Children who scored at the 90th percentile on a reading test spent five times as many minutes per day reading books as children at the 50th percentile.
Naturally, most parents want their children to do well at school. But reading proficiency is not just about good grades. Low literacy is strongly related to crime. A National Institute for Literacy report in 1998 found that 70% of prisoners fall into the lowest two levels of reading proficiency.
I don't want people to feel that the encouragement of reading is just to promote academic achievement and avoid social dysfunction, however. It's fun!
Recently, my family took a trip to Estes Park's YMCA camp, where we rented a cabin way up in the woods, then promptly got snowed in. Later, we all agreed that the highlight of the trip was when we read aloud to each other from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." We would each read a chapter, then pass it along to the next person to pick up the story. The fire crackled in the fireplace, snow fell outside the big picture window, and we had a wonderful time listening to each other's voices.
Ultimately, the most powerful educational experiences -- the defining moments of our character and comprehension -- build on this simple truth: parents are the child's first and most important teachers.
Books are a bridge between generations, and the sooner you start reading them to each other, and the longer you keep it up, the better both generations will feel about each other.