By Chaitram Aklu
Research on the value of reading and being read to from a very early age has revealed the tremendous benefits of this very basic activity. Yet only a year ago, 23 % of American adults said they did not read a book in whole or in part, whether in print or electronic or audio form. (Pew Research Center Feb. 2021).
Dr. Benjamin Carson, the renowned pediatric brain surgeon, later turned Politician, shared that up to the 5th grade, he could not read, lacked knowledge and struggled in school. Then one day his mother, who was illiterate, discovered that all the people’s houses she cleaned had something her house did not have – books. That very day she took her two sons to the library (much to their reluctance) and made them borrow books. They were required to read a book, write a report and read to her. Academic improvement was noticed almost immediately at school. Both became hooked on books. Benjamin became an internationally recognized brain surgeon and his brother, Curtis became an aeronautical engineer.
V.S. Naipaul, the Caribbean-born writer and 2001 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, wrote that he knew he wanted to be a writer since he was eleven but even though he liked books, he had trouble reading books for his age.
He credits his father for his success. Because of the enthusiasm with which his father read to him, “I was able to simplify everything I listened to” he related in his book: Reading & Writing A Personal Account, NYRB. (2000). “Sometimes he would call me to listen to two or three or four pages, seldom more, of writing he particularly enjoyed. He read and explained with zest and it was easy to like what he liked.” As a result by age 12 he had compiled an anthology of what was read to him by his father, a self-educated man and self-trained journalist. It included pages from Julius Caesar, Oliver Twist, Nicolas Nickleby, David Copperfield, Joseph Conrad, Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare, O’Henry and others.
According to Scholastic.com 60% of parents, reported that they read 5 -7 days a week to their children before they reach kindergarten. 91 % of parents started reading books aloud at home before their children turned six. Interestingly also 41 % of 6-7 year old children reported that they were currently being read to.
Scholastic also reported that 87% of parents of infrequent readers aged 6-17 say their children would rather be on an electronic device or game system than read books, compared to 41% of parents of frequent readers.
Research has also shown that reading aloud to children and having books in the home has been proven to be beneficial to all. According to a U.K University Study reading could improve a child’s reading performance by increasing their vocabulary by 4,000 – 12,000 words a year. That study also found that students without classroom mini-libraries read 50% less than children with classroom libraries. It can also reduce stress by 68 % over listening to music or walking. Reading aloud and exposing children to books motivate children to read more and for longer lengths of time. The activity also produced improved attitudes toward reading and learning among children.
Not surprising then those children with reading skills by age 7years scored higher on IQ Tests than those with weaker reading skills.
The website highspeedreading.co.uk lists the top ten benefits of reading for children as:
1. Their vocabulary is larger and more extensive.
2. They perform better academically.
3. Their imagination can run wild.
4. Their creativity skills develop.
5. They develop empathy.
6. They gain a deeper understanding of the world.
7. Their concentration levels improve.
8. The parent and child bond improves.
9. Their cognitive development is supported.
10. Their social skills and interaction improve.
The Pew Research Center also reported “The shares of American 9- and 13-year-olds who say they read for fun on an almost daily basis have dropped from nearly a decade ago and are at the lowest levels since at least the mid-1980s, according to a survey conducted in late 2019 and early 2020 (Before the pandemic) 42% and 17 % respectively. Their lowest points, since the question was first asked in 1984.”
When ethnicity was factored in there was a gap. “Around four-in-ten or more Asian (50%), White (44%) and Hispanic (41%) students said this (read for fun on an almost daily basis), compared with 35% of Black students. Among 13-year-olds, 28% of Asian students said they read for fun almost every day, along with two-in-ten White students who said they do this almost every day. These shares are larger than the shares of Black (15%) and Hispanic (10%) students who said the same.”
In addition low income (< $30,000) adults are more likely to be non-book readers. Hispanic adults (38%) are more likely than Black (25%) or White adults (20%) to report not having read a book in the past 12 months.
Compared to 77 % of nonreaders, 86 % percent of readers were employed fulltime and earned an average of $5,000 more annually according to mentalfloss.com. Also those who read seven or more books per year are more than 122 % more likely to be millionaires as opposed to those who never read or only read one to three books,” the website medium.com reported on February 22, 2020.
In 1998, the National Education Association (NEA) designated March 2, (Dr. Seuss’ birthday) as “a day to celebrate our favorite activity — to help get kids excited about reading.” The NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are promoting Read Across America “to celebrate a nation of diverse readers, and are encouraging “parents, teachers, students and members of society all come together to celebrate the joys of reading and to encourage it to become a habit for children…”
Progress in reading depends on a child’s readiness which usually develops with chronological age. There are individual differences. It is therefore important to select age appropriate books and materials. For children under 3, illustrated books with bright colors and rhyming stories with repetition would be appropriate. Illustrated short chapter books would be suitable for five year olds. By age 7 they could be introduced to more detailed high interest texts with characters, animals and fantasy.
It would be worthwhile to heed Maya Angelou’s advice when it comes to choosing books: “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.