Author Aldous Huxley wrote, "Everyone who knows how to read has it in their power to magnify themselves, to multiply the ways in which they exist, to make their life full, significant, and interesting." Although most homeschoolers have an awareness of the importance of reading for children, it is always helpful to review the evidence that backs up our feelings. With the cooler weather coming, fall is the perfect time to take a fresh look at why reading is such a critical factor for children’s success, as well as get reinvigorated toward making reading one of the foundations of the homeschool curriculum (and part of everyday family life).
There is a multitude of research that demonstrates the efficacy of reading. Here are just a few studies, which underscore just how fundamental reading is for children’s development and well-being:
- Literacy changes lives – This compilation of research by the National Literacy Trust illustrates multiple benefits of reading, including the fact that individuals with improved literacy are less likely to receive state benefits, more likely to own their own home, and are more involved in democratic processes. The research also traces the profiles of literate families and literate communities.
- Role of environment in literacy – A 2010 study of twins, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that although both genetics and environment impact children’s beginning reading skills (such as word and letter identification), a child’s environment is almost completely responsible for development in reading skills such as words, letters, and sounds. That environment, according to the study, includes not only school instruction, but also things such as parental care for the child, frequency of being read to, and even nutrition.
- Children better prepared for school – According to this research review by the Archives of Disease in Childhood, young children have improved language and reading skills if their parents have read to them, and they are also more likely to develop a love for reading. The research reveals that one program in Boston improved low-income children’s language skills simply by increasing the number of parents who read to their children.
- Parental involvement and literacy achievement – The National Literacy Trust put together this review of research literature, which demonstrates a variety of benefits from parental involvement with their children’s reading. Some highlights: Pre-reading and reading activities within the home are the strongest predictors of children’s attainment scores on preschool entry tests; parental reading is a predictor of later literacy; children (ages 6-8) of parents who listened to them read showed significant learning gains; and reading at home enhances children’s language comprehension and skills in expressive language.
- The words children know determine later success – University of Kansas researchers published a longitudinal study called Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, of students from all different socioeconomic levels, in order to determine the driving force behind which students performed well academically and those who were academically behind. The study found that it was the children’s vocabularies that made the most significant impact on their performance in school. By age 4, children from professional families knew about 45 million words, those from working class families knew 26 million, and those from families on welfare knew 13 million words. It was the activities within the home which promoted word acquisition (such as reading and talking) that made the greatest difference in the children’s later school success.
- Reading is necessary for English acquisition – Although many languages, such as Greek and Finnish, have a one-to-one correspondence between letters and their sounds, English does not. Because of that, for English speaking children, “having someone read to you frequently as a child - explaining what the meaning of words are and playing around with the letters - makes a big difference as to whether you will become a good reader”, according to research from the University of Alberta.
The evidence is clear: reading is about as good as it gets for the optimal development of children. Fortunately, homeschoolers are in the perfect position to infuse a reading-rich environment into their children’s lives. So pull out the books and spend time in the pages of some great literature, knowing that you are doing one of the best things possible for your child’s success.