Suzanne Loring is a Staff Writer for the Stern Center for Language and Learning. She has spent the last 10 years working in the world of children’s literacy as a program director for a literacy nonprofit as well as many years as a children’s librarian. She has a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Boston University and has published many articles and blogs on the effect that books and reading have on the lives of children. She lives in Vermont with her family.

Read for Success!

In a study done by the National Endowment for the Arts, To Read or Not to Read, "The habit of daily reading ... overwhelmingly correlates with better reading skills and higher academic achievement. On the other hand, poor reading skills correlate with lower levels of financial and job success." According to the report, children who read on a daily or weekly basis for pleasure score better on reading and writing tests than infrequent readers. And reading comprehension and writing skills are rated the first and third-most important skills by today's employers (this chart found on page 78):

So how does one help a child develop a love for regular reading? Start by reading aloud to him or her every day. The interaction between loving caregiver and child during shared book reading allows children to begin associating reading with pleasure. And the earlier you start, the better! Why? Because the brain is growing most rapidly during the earliest years.

Exploring and playing with books during the first three years stimulates brain development, improves listening skills and builds vocabulary even before children can speak on their own. By nine months of age, children’s brains are responding to the sounds of language, and by watching the caring adults in their lives, they are learning the mouth movements needed for early speech production.

Shared book reading or reading with your child not only helps with language development, but teaches toddlers how the real world relates to the printed page. For example, toddlers quickly learn that the words they are using are the same as those depicted in the pictures of books and likewise that the writing on the page correlates with spoken language. That’s why reading the same book over and over and over again, while sometimes challenging for the parent, is very beneficial for the child. The repetition is helping to solidify those brain connections involved with learning words.

As toddlers get older, they will be able to interact more during shared book reading, answering questions like, “What do you think will happen next?” or “I see a dog and a horse in this picture. What are some other animals that you know?” These types of questions will help build problem-solving skills, help children predict outcomes, learn cause and effect and give them a basic understanding of classifying objects.

By age three children should be comfortable around books. They should know how books work, how to hold them and how to turn the pages. And, as children begin talking more, reading together provides a wonderful opportunity to learn what is going on in their minds—if they find something in the book scary or funny or interesting. Your child’s personality will start to emerge. (For more on the development of early literacy, check out this article from Zero to Three, and the book "Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success," by the National Research Council.)

In addition to reading, including children in everyday conversations—even if they're at an age too young to participate themselves—helps them expand vocabulary while at the same time increases their ability to understand stories and figure out how things work.

And reciting nursery rhymes and singing songs also helps build early literacy skills by allowing children to become familiar with the sounds that words make. They are introduced to rhyme and repetition, and the concept that words are made up of syllables—all necessary steps in becoming a reader.

As the aforementioned report concludes, "Regular reading not only boosts the likelihood of an individual's academic and economic success ... but it also seems to awaken a person's social and civic sense. Reading correlates with almost every measurement of positive personal and social behavior surveyed."

So, read with your child. Talk to your child. Recite nursery rhymes with your child. Sing with your child. You don’t have to think about all the synapses and connections being developed in the brain while you are doing this. But, do remember that given the opportunity and the access to books and words and stories, children will begin to develop the necessary early language and literacy skills needed to become strong readers and writers—and the love for learning needed to achieve great things!

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