Guest Post By: Maria Jose Meneses
As children we were told that reading is important, and many of us are among the millions of library users, audible subscribers, and bookstore shoppers. But exactly why is it important and how do we convince kids of its inherent value? Well, like most things, there’s a fiscal angle here. According to Pew Research Center, “adults whose annual household income is $30,000 or less are more likely than those living in households earning $75,000 or more a year to be non-book readers.” In other words, reading is associated with a higher income.
But, of course, it’s not only about the money. Reading is the gatekeeper of knowledge acquisition. Readers tend to be more empathetic humans because they view the world from multiple different perspectives thanks to the lens of fiction. Reading both fiction and non-fiction helps us become stronger communicators, better at speaking and writing. It’s only natural, therefore, to want to give our children an edge in life by encouraging them to read–to read well and read profusely. Here, we’ll examine the many different benefits there are from reading and how to encourage kids of any age to read more.
Most of us know that reading offers many benefits, but it’s helpful to spell them out, especially if we’re faced with reluctant readers. Who are reluctant readers? They’re the 27% of adults who haven’t read a book in the last year, a statistic that’s up, according to Pew, by 10% from a decade ago. Parents know that reading requires some self-discipline and patience; and, the truth is, it doesn’t always provide the instant gratification that streaming movies and video games do. But, the better we understand the benefits of reading, the more disciplined we can be about supporting our children’s healthy reading habits and encouraging them to spend time with books.
Key Benefits of Reading:
Builds vocabulary: children who read are likely to encounter more new words than non-readers. Reading supports vocabulary acquisition and helps kids to become more effective at expressing themselves in speech and writing.
Supports communication and social skills: as kids read, they pick up on sentence structure and multiple ways of expressing thoughts. This helps them to become more skilled at communication. Better communicators tend to navigate their social environment more effectively than people who struggle to communicate.
Promotes independence and self-confidence: reading is a life skill. When children feel that they’ve mastered this skill, they grow in self-confidence and are certainly more independent because they are aware that they have the skills to find answers to their questions.
Enhances safety: can books make kids safer? When kids are reading books, they aren’t encountering content on YouTube or TikTok that is potentially harmful.
Supports imagination: reading words on a page allows kids to transport themselves to other places, other worlds, other mindsets with their imaginations running full steam ahead.
Entertains and engages the reader: if you haven’t stayed up past your bedtime because you’ve gotten lost in a great book, have you really lived your best life? We think not.
Improves grammar skills: Learning the mechanics of good writing isn’t fun. Somehow, when we learn these things through reading our favorite stories, it’s fun. We aren’t even aware that we’re learning these things!
Stimulates curiosity: reading inspires new interests because it confronts us with topics we weren’t familiar with before. That spark of curiosity can set up on a path to life-long learning.
The earlier we begin to encourage reading, the better, but it’s never too late to nurture a love for books in your kids. Although you know your child best, you can rely on some tried-and-true techniques among other parents and educators for encouraging your kid to read. Here are some ideas to try out:
Create a reading niche: just because you can’t have Belle’s library (alas), you can still create a small library or cozy reading space in your home. It might be a reading tent in a corner of your child’s bedroom or a window seat beside a shelf of good books. Have your child help with its design so they’re invested in its success.
Set an example: parents are the most successful teachers–and kids learn our positive and negative behaviors. If they never see us reading, they’re unlikely to be convinced of reading’s fundamental importance to life–to real life, the life that adults are privy to. Model reading so they understand that you value it with actions, not just words.
Read to them when they’re young: children enjoy listening to stories, and that builds developmental skills too. Read to them and then discuss the stories. You’ll find that your chats will become treasured experiences you share together. Plus, when kids are interested in books when they’re young, the more likely to find them interesting as they age.
Keep reading materials in your home: “no kid who has parents who are interested in him and a houseful of books is poor.” –Sam Levinson. Enrich your kids’ lives by filling their bookshelves.
Support kids’ reading interests: fantasy or adventure stories might not be your cup of tea, but it’s more important for kids to enjoy what they’re reading when they’re young than to instruct them to read classics or more cumbersome texts before they’re ready. Support their interests by visiting libraries and bookstores together to find their favorite types of books.
Enjoy audiobooks: audiobooks are easy on the eyes, and they offer many of the same benefits as reading, but in listening form. Listen to audiobooks together when driving or doing household chores together.
Read each day: by making reading a part of the daily routine, you can help kids develop robust reading skills. Reading will become a positive habit for them, one they can carry into adulthood.
Parents and other family members can enhance the benefits kids can obtain by complementing reading with a few related activities. While you might think that school teachers have plenty of time for these types of activities, the truth is that there often isn’t time during the school day for kids to “luxuriate” over books and book activities. However, you can supplement what happens in the classroom with fun book activities of your own such as these:
Illustrate text: encourage your budding artist to create art for their favorite books. Have them design a book jacket, bookmarks, or a poster for their bedroom walls. Grab some crayons and you can channel your inner artist too!
Describe the text: ensure that kids are comprehending what they’re reading by asking them to describe what’s happening in their book. Paraphrasing is an important developmental skill. You can also encourage them to describe settings and characters. By discussing the texts, you help children feel more connected to what they’ve read. This connection helps build a foundation for loving books.
De-stress and unwind: kids get stressed too. Books can help them take a break from their worries. Unwinding with books conveys to them that there are healthy ways to decrease stress and rejuvenate after a trying day.
List new words: ask your child to pick out some words from the text that are unfamiliar to them. Then, tell them to go look up the definitions in the Merriam Webster–Nah! Just kidding. Don’t do that! Leave that activity for the classroom! Instead, choose a new word together and discuss its meaning. Then make a game of using that word throughout the day when talking. This will help them to improve their working vocabulary.
Write a letter to an author: when your child finds a book they love, take time to write a letter or send a postcard to the author or the publisher. In many cases, publishers will reply–and sometimes send cool stuff like bookmarks.
Attend library programs: public libraries feature book-related activities and storytelling sessions for kids of different ages throughout the year. Be sure that your child, at least, takes part in the summer reading program. It’s a great way for them to connect with other young readers and enjoy fun activities together.
While we all develop our skills at a slightly different pace, there are some markers that we can use as a guide for ensuring that our children have the reading skills they need to thrive as young learners. Here, we’ve outlined them for you:
Babies (up to 12 months)
Understand that speaking communicates meaning
Learns up to 50 words with their meanings
Responds when they are spoken to
Toddlers (ages 1-2)
Pretend to read books
Can point to pictures and identify images in books
Can turn book pages
Can answer simple questions about stories (what is the farmer’s name?)
Preschoolers (ages 3-4)
Knows how to care for books (i.e. doesn’t rip pages or color in them)
Can retell their favorite stories
Sit with a book independently
Is aware that letters make words
Begins to learn (or even masters) the alphabet
Kindergarten (age 5)
Learns letters and their sounds
Can match spoken words to written words
Can provide a definition or explanation of words
Can predict what may happen in a story
Can retell a story with accuracy
Young elementary school students (age 6-7)
Read longer books (i.e. chapter books) on their own
Can read aloud with increasing proficiency
Correctly use basic punctuation (i.e. period and question mark)
Can spell age-appropriate words correctly
Older elementary school students (ages 8-10)
Can spell increasingly difficult vocabulary and use the words in their own writing
Can provide written summaries about what they’ve read
Can answer questions about what they’ve read with accuracy and increasing complexity
Understands different types of writing (i.e. poetry, biography, fiction, non-fiction, etc…)
Can identify different parts of speech (i.e. noun, verb)
Middle and high schoolers
Can read and write about more complex writing
Write essays and research papers
Cite their sources
Determine central ideas conveyed in texts
Analyze point of view or perspective in text
Read increasingly challenging texts
If you’re eager to encourage your kids to read, we’ve got some great recommendations for you. It can be helpful to seek out award-winning books when building your home library. Check with your local kids’ librarian about the best books for your child’s age.
Young readers (age 4-7 years)
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback
Julius the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes
No David by David Shannon
Middle readers (ages 8-10 years)
Abel’s Island by William Steig
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Older readers (ages 11-14 years)
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
Number the Stars by Lois Lowery
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
These books can help you inspire a love for reading in your kids, but there are thousands of others. Be sure to visit your local library and area bookstores with your kids so they can explore their reading interests. In fact, you may find that you expand yours too!