Why Children Should Read—A Lot!
by Maggie Lyons
How important is it for a child to read well? Some states predict their prison populations based on the number of students failing fourth-grade reading tests. (This fact was presented at a Congressional hearing by Dr. Reid Lyon of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.) According to the ProLiteracy organization, 63 percent of prison inmates can’t read. Prison is perhaps the direst of the numerous consequences of illiteracy.
Here are a few more surprising facts published by the ProLiteracy organization:
In the United States, 29 percent (63 million) of the population over the age of sixteen can’t read well enough to understand a newspaper article written at eighth-grade level.
An additional 30 million adults (14 percent of all US adults) only read at the fifth-grade level or lower.
Seventy-seven million Americans have only a two-in-three chance of correctly reading—and therefore understanding—the label on their prescription medicine.
Illiteracy costs the United States between $106 and $236 billion each year.
These are just a few of the social consequences of poor reading skills in the United States.
Learning to read proficiently takes a lot of effort. Sally Shaywitz of Yale Medical School once observed that “reading is the most complex of human functions.” But the rewards for grasping the skill of reading proficiently make that effort worthwhile. A study by American researchers Cunningham and Stanovich found that, not surprisingly, the more children read, the more they expand their vocabulary, improve their spelling skill, and increase their verbal fluency and general knowledge. And common sense suggests that reading proficiency improves writing skill too.
But the benefits don’t stop there. A British project, Every Child a Reader, has found, among other things, that children who learn to read well enjoy learning. Their social interaction with adults and classmates improves and their self-confidence is boosted.
The key to improved academic achievement lies in the amount of reading a child does. Just adding an extra ten minutes per day can dramatically increase a child’s exposure to words and, by extension, improve their ability to comprehend what they read. For example, according to researchers Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (article in Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 23) students who read for only 1.8 minutes per day, read 106,000 words a year. If those students were to increase their reading to around eleven minutes per day, they would read almost 700,000 words per year, an increase of a whopping 556 percent.
Studies indicate that the most productive reading in terms of academic achievement comes from voluntary, independent reading—that is, reading outside school. Children who enjoy reading so much that they happily read outside school are the ones most likely to develop significant cognitive skills—and most probably social skills—the fastest. This is where adults can have an enormous influence. Encouraging children to read should be a primary goal for all adults who care about the children in their lives.
Maggie Lyons is a writer and editor who was born in Wales and crossed the pond to Virginia. With no regard for the well-being of her family and neighbors, she trained as a classical pianist. Then came a career of putting rear ends on seats—that is, orchestral management, marked by reams of marketing and fundraising writing and program note scribbling for audiences whose first priority was to find their names in the donors’ lists. Editing for academic publishers also brought plenty of satisfaction—she admits she has a fondness for nerds—but nothing like the magic she discovered in writing fiction and nonfiction for children. Several of her articles, poetry, and a chapter book miraculously appeared in Stories for Children Magazine and knowonder! magazine. She hopes her stories encourage reluctant young readers to turn a page or two.
Her middle-grade story Vin and the Dorky Duet and Dewi and the Seeds of Doom are available in MuseItUp Publishing’s MuseItYoung line. www.maggielyons.yolasite.com