In college I learned an important fact that came to be a driving force in my classroom as well as in my parenting. It’s good enough to share. Are you ready? The number of books a child has available in their home is strongly linked to their academic success in school. Specifically, studies show the more books in the home, the better those children do in school. It made a lot of sense to me at the time and seemed rather obvious; if a large amount of quality books were made available to children, they would likely be read to more often. Furthermore, those parents likely placed a heavier emphasis on reading and held a deeper understanding of its early benefits.
The study struck such a chord with me that many years later and at six months pregnant, I created a children’s library for the nursery. I bought a bookshelf and took one hundred dollars with me to a discount book store. I filled up all the shelves before my first child was even on this earth. As my family increased over the years, I made sure all of my kids had their own library. I added books along the way to meet their interests and developmental stages. I placed a heavy emphasis on reading aloud, always reading with them at night and as much as I could during the day. I taught them as many early literacy skills as possible during this time (text goes left to right, using pictures as clues, asking what they thought was going to happen or what the problem in the story was).
Reading aloud with children had always come naturally to me but a crash course in college and putting the skills into practice in the classroom allowed me to learn there is a stark difference between reading with kids and reading to kids. The craft, being able to engage a young reader so they can get the most out of the literature experience can be learned by any adult. But whether you are reading to a child or with a child, one things is clear. Scientists and doctors can now biologically prove that when children hear books read aloud, the chemical makeup of their brain actually changes.
Numerous studies have been done to show the benefits of early literacy and how its immersion ties into academic progress. But, a new study shows the “why.” It’s been something scientists and doctors have been wanting to prove for a while now. Most compelling is that this study has more than just observation-based data.
Doctors and scientists now have scientific proof that the developing brain of a 3-5 year-old actually looks different when being read aloud to, dependent upon on how much the child has been read to in the past. “The MRIs revealed that children from more stimulating home reading environments had greater activity in the parts of the brain that help with narrative comprehension and visual imagery. Their brains showed greater activity in those key areas while they listened to stories.”.
From nine months of age, my girls have had a book read to them nearly every night before bed and often had two or three books read aloud to them during the day. My oldest is in the 99th percentile for her vocabulary and my four-year-old is as precocious as they come. I absolutely attribute their speech and language, comprehension, above grade level reading level, oral retelling and contextual understanding to one thing…being read to aloud daily.
Early on in the school year teachers can often pinpoint which children have had a literacy rich background and which one’s have not (excluding children with suspected disabilities). Children who have not had books read to them often have lower comprehension skills, lower vocabulary skills and present with weaker reading stamina. Of course with anything and anyone, there will always be an exception to that rule but the statistics are telling.
If you want the best chance for your child’s academic (and even social) success, carve out as much time as you can for exposure to literature. Go to the library or bookstore and bring home books, lots of them. Libraries often have a check-out limit that goes well over one hundred books. This means you don’t have to make a weekly trip; every few weeks is plenty and can be worked into a realistic busy schedule. Getting these books into your home and then reading them aloud is the number one key to creating a literature rich environment.
Look at it as front-loading. I realized veryquickly I would be far more capable of helping my children at the ages of three or five years of age than I would when they were failing high school chemistry or Algebra II. I hope by giving my children the needed tools when they are young, they will be better prepared for the future.
Thank science for its findings later but for now, make a plan to make your home more literature-based. At least once a day, tell your child to put down the iPad and pick up a book. Kids need to remember that reading is not only an option, but a necessity. And remember, there are more benefits to reading aloud with your child than just the academic successes that will come. The time spent one-on-one makes it even better. Adding daily read-alouds to your family’s routine is something you will never regret doing, sadly the regrets only come with the opposite.
Featured photo credit: Albumarium via albumarium.com
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