Readers pick up books to be entertained by the stories they tell. Take Charlotte’s Web for example. It is the story of a girl, Fern, and a runt-of-the-litter pig named Wilbur. Wilbur learns that he is being fattened up for Christmas dinner, which rightfully saddens the pig. It is then that a spider named Charlotte vows to help him avoid becoming a winter meal. Through the course of the story, all of the characters have their ups and downs. Readers develop affinities for the various characters. They become real to the reader, which is critical to any story.
This is more than just good storytelling, according to a study done by Emory University. Emory researchers discovered that neural pathways in the brain stay active long after a person finishes a book. In some subjects, it was up to five days. Readers become charged by the emotions that were being felt by the characters.
Good fiction immerses the reader in the story. You feel the terror that Wilbur feels when he discovers he is going to be a meal, as well as the desperation the animals around him have to save him. But it is not always pigs and little girls on a farm where the reader feels a connection. There are many books out there that can help children develop social skills and empathy for fellow students.
The Newbery Medal-winning book Bud, Not Buddy, one of the books we offer on our Wish List, is the story of an orphan and his travels through Michigan to find his father. During the story, there are fantastic adventures and long, sad stretches for Bud. The story goes beyond something to entertain. It shows readers that there are people with different lives than they have. By feeling sad or happy for Ben, readers begin to develop empathy for him. Something that, through their new neural connections, can translate to the real world. These lessons can be extraordinarily powerful if the characters look like the student, or come from a similar background.
Books can also teach the importance of having friends. In the book My Friends by Taro Gomi, a girl recounts all of the lessons she learns from her friends. The experiences are all related to their abilities; horses teach running and birds teach singing. By showing students the power of interacting with others, this can encourage otherwise shy or socially uncomfortable students to interact with their peers. There can even be in-class exercises where students are encouraged to learn from the people around them.
Children can learn through reading the books. They can learn just as much be being read to at a young age. In a study published in April of 2018, researchers discovered that parents who started to read to their children from birth saw reductions in behavioral problems like aggression and short attention spans. This is even more important for children in low-income families where time spent with children may be scarce.
A wise grey spider teaches the whole farm, and the reader, some valuable lessons during her time with Wilbur and Fern. Lessons about friends, working together to overcome a challenge, and life on a farm are all themes that the book explores. Books teach more than the meaning of words, how they are strung together, and how they sound. They teach lessons about how to interact and empathize with people. Those are success skills that every classroom could use.
Sitting down with a good book for pleasure is much different than sitting down to go over tax documents or reading a book that you are analyzing for a paper. Readers relax when they read for pleasure. They make a comfortable space and do all they cannot be interrupted while they devour tales of trips to far off places, unlikely romances, and conflicts for the heart of the world. It can be about historical figures that made a significant impact on society or events that changed the direction of society. Reading for pleasure does not have to be fiction!
Reading for pleasure starts with the adults. Administrators, teachers, and parents all have to show that reading is as much a fun activity as it is a necessary activity. Any teacher, even math and science teachers, can read to young students at the beginning of class. Let the parents know what their child liked, and did not like, and help them build a library at home. Or encourage students to go to the school or community library and find books they love.
What reading for pleasure has to be, though, is self-selected. Teachers and parents who hope, or make, children read books outside of class that are “better for them” blunt some of the pleasure otherwise found in the book. As children’s book author Neil Gaiman once pointed out in a speech about libraries,”Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer.” It is a route to other benefits as well.
Reading for pleasure does not make them better at reading; it makes them better at learning. The British Cohort Study (BCS) found that children that read for fun are not just better at reading and English, they are better at all subjects. On a longer timeline, they have a better vocabulary as adults as well. In fact, whether or not a child reads for pleasure at a young age can have more impact on their educational growth than socioeconomic status.
Another benefit that reading for pleasure has uncovered is better empathy and decision making. The stories that people read often show characters interacting in a variety of situations. Children get so engrossed in the book that their brains would react as if the events were happening in the real world. A fourteen-year-old who participated in one of the studies commented that “sometimes when big stuff happens in my life, I’ll think about what my favorite characters would have done, the ones I admire most. … They all have different approaches, different ways they approach things, and then I try to apply that to my life, to see which way works for me.” The situations they see in books give them social clues to how people react to various experiences.
This understanding of socialization does not just come from what they are reading. Like any other hobbyist, readers often interact with other people that love reading. These interactions help students develop social skills at a young age. Students learn how to share opinions at a younger age as well as building their understanding of other cultures and perspectives.
Extending that love of reading to the home is equally important. Have books ready to be read at any place around the house. Instead of watching television, have a family reading night. Once your children are reading on their own, spend time reading books you like with them for pleasure. It can encourage them to ask about the book and possibly introduce them to a whole different subject or series!
Reading for pleasure has benefits that go beyond the scholastic. By giving students choices about what they want to read, a lifelong reader is created. Practice allowing your child to read what they want and see where it takes them!
“He turned and reached behind him for the chocolate bar, then he turned back again and handed it to Charlie. Charlie grabbed it and quickly tore off the wrapper and took an enormous bite. Then he took another…and another…and oh, the joy of being able to cram large pieces of something sweet and solid into one’s mouth! The sheer blissful joy of being able to fill one’s mouth with rich solid food!
‘You look like you wanted that one, sonny,’ the shopkeeper said pleasantly.
Charlie nodded, his mouth bulging with chocolate.”
The above passage is from the beloved children’s book and movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. This book has been the subject of two movies and is considered a classic of children’s literature. It is also a book that is written at a third grade reading level.
A 2010 report compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, titled Early Warning! Why Reading By The End of the Third Grade Matters, lays out a grim image of what happens to a child that is not reading proficiently at that age level. In 2009, 49 percent of low income students were below “Basic” reading level when they reached fourth grade. This correlates to a 23 percent drop out rate for these students. Even raising their reading level to “proficient” lowers their odds of dropping out to just 4 percent. Lower income students are at greater risk of dropping out because of a general lack of resources, including time with parents.
The focus in education switches at that point in most schools. For the first eight years of their lives, students are learning to read. They are picking up vocabulary, context, and learning the flow of a story. Fourth grade is a pivot point where they start reading to learn. Their understanding of the written word and how it is used contributes to learning about topics like science and history. Lagging behind in the basics of reading this point accelerates the learning gap.
Bringing students to a third grade reading level is a critical mark to hit in the education of students. It is not a goal to start working on in the August they enter third grade. There are many other opportunities before then to bring them up to grade level.
The first opportunity is getting them ready for kindergarten. We know that reading at an early age provides lifelong benefits. If they are ready to read when they start kindergarten, they are already ahead of the game. They have a larger vocabulary to work with and they are already starting to put together words and context.
Encouraging them to read over the summer keeps them from the dreaded “summer slide.” Like any other skill, if you are not using it you are losing it. Students who do not read over the summer can lose up to two months of learning. They will be forced to work hard to catch up. A little bit of reading daily, even if it is at bedtime, can help prevent that loss.
Beyond being able to read wonderful books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, proficient reading by third grade is crucial. It is a launching point on the educational path into new worlds. They are laying the groundwork, even at that young age, to get ready for college. It is important that educators and parents are making every effort to ensure their success
Encouraging children to read at a young age offers benefits that last through their life.
Educators witness advantages that range from building a strong vocabulary to developing positive feelings about reading. At school age, children are very impressionable and become interested in what their parents are doing. This time is an opportunity to build that love of reading.
It sounds like an easy task, but it is more complicated than it would seem. A desire to learn everything can be a curse; it can be difficult to encourage young readers to focus long enough to read. Or to be interested in a passive activity when there is running around to do and games to play. Convincing children that reading a book is fun may seem like a monumental task. With the right incentives, a child reading a book on his own could occur more frequently than you think.
Building an internal desire to read is the most significant motivator when it comes to reading for pleasure. We have discussed the benefits of external motivators previously. They work well when used appropriately, but they do not substitute that inner fire for reading.
The goal is to encourage children to take the initiative out of a desire to read.
- Grab a book off the bookshelf out of love,
- Ask for books to be read in class,
- Take a trip to the school library,
- Bring their books to class for show and tell, and
- Allow them to read some selections out of it. Or read it to the class for them!
These are all opportunities to build that internal flame. They are reading, and being read to, because they love to read.
That devotion to reading will require effort from teachers and parents. One of the most significant ways to show a child that reading is a delight is through example. In school, if students are working quietly in class, read a book. It is a great way to give the mind a little break while demonstrating reading for fun!
If a student asks what you are reading, it is an opportunity to give them a brief description of the book. See what piques their interest as far as themes, subjects, and styles. Experimenting with different books is a great way to probe their interests. Bringing those topics to different lessons can keep their interest longer when trying to teach subjects like science and history.
No class of students is going to agree on one topic. This difference of opinion provides an opportunity to give them some control over the stories enjoyed in the classroom. It does not have to be a wide range of material; two or three books are more than enough for young students. Allowing the class to vote on the book, or giving students a choice as a reward, is another motivator. Those decisions will be part of the lesson, possibly introducing students to new books or topics!
Strategies like this work in the home too. Allow them to see you reading at the kitchen table in the morning or before they go to bed at night. Ask them to grab their book and join you. Children love to do activities with their parents, and this will encourage them to do it more often. Discussing the book as they are reading helps with their vocabulary and their understanding of the story. These are simple activities that reinforce to them that reading is something they want to do!
Intrinsic motivations drive children, and most people, more than external ones. Vansteenkiste, Lens, and Deci did a study in 2006 that found that learning done for private interest encourages a deeper understanding of the material as well as a desire to find out more. It develops good learning habits early, with an impact that will help them grow through the rest of their lives.
In the middle of the summer, it can be difficult to keep children motivated to read. There are pools to play in, friends running up and down the street, and for many, little desire to be reading anything.
School is not for another month, and there is not a scrap of homework in sight. They have a small stack of colorful and exciting books to read, and even more of them will be coming as they finish each one. Without the motivation of assignments or encouragement of teachers, reading over the summer could fall the wayside.
There are multiple ways to keep students motivated to read over the summer. These tips are just as valuable during the school year as well, encouraging students to read for pleasure as well as for homework and information.
- Create a fun environment – Getting children to do something they do not want to could be a labor worthy of Hercules. Creating a fun reading environment will make them want to read, not force them to read. Instead of external motivation, they become internally motivated, making it more likely they will grab a book as a fun activity.
- Give them choices – Allowing children to have say in the books they read and when they read them gives them control. Children that are interested in a topic will spend hours exploring it. Providing books on that subject strengthen the association that books are for more than homework.
- Discuss what they are reading – As children approach preschool ages (three to five years old), they are starting to develop their standards and communication skills. The books they are reading are perfect opportunities to allow them to practice discussing with you about a topic they enjoy.
- Set attainable expectations – Children, despite what we may think, can be reasonable. Giving them specific goals, with specific rewards, is a way to encourage them to be motivated. Go the extra mile and make them visible. Make a chart where they can color in a box or add a sticker when they complete a book. These visual reminders allow them to see where they are in relation to their goal.
- Always be encouraging – When a child sits and reads, or discusses their reading, give them positive encouragement. Support from teachers and parents builds confidence in the task they are performing. Even when they do not perform to a high level, encourage them to try again and congratulate them for the work they put in will go a long way in their eyes.
Summer reading does more than preventing the summer slide. It is an opportunity to build their love of reading outside an environment where reading is required. Maintaining the momentum of reading through the summer will help students find an appreciation for reading they may not discover elsewhere.
For young readers, even those not yet reading, the value of libraries cannot be overstated. They open doors to a relationship with reading that can translate to well-rounded students and engaged citizens. By giving children space, opportunity and encouragement to lose themselves learning about any subject they desire, children can be made to feel comfortable and confident enough to be independent thinkers and decision makers. Knowing the benefits of choice is one of the reasons Kids Read Now allows the children to pick the books they want. When readers become freely engaged and entertained, they craft their journeys and following their path.
There are more public libraries than Starbucks in the U.S., according to the association, which reported a total of 17,566 locations, including branches.
Librarians are an important part of the network of adults tasked with creating and nurturing young readers. They ignite this passion within them as they grow. Crafting summer reading programs and library contests can act as incentives that help fill young readers with pride and a sense of accomplishment by rewarding their interest in literacy. Librarians can help children overcome obstacles and open up paths to answers. They guide them and provide them a way to independently discover solutions, knowledge and creative experimentation that becomes the foundation for a healthy relationship with learning.
According to the American Library Association, reference librarians in the nation’s public and academic libraries answer nearly 6.6 million questions weekly. There are more public libraries than Starbucks in the U.S., according to the association, which reported a total of 17,566 locations, including branches. Nearly 100% of public libraries provide Wi-Fi and have no-fee access to computers, giving patrons of all ages access to a valuable resource.
For students, libraries can play a major role in achievement. Research shows the highest achieving students attend schools with well-staffed and well-funded school libraries. Students make almost 1.3 billion visits to these libraries during the school year, which is on par with attendance numbers for movie theaters in 2014.
Libraries have had a significant influence on the majority of Americans’ lives. According to a recent Pew Research Center study on the future of libraries, 78 percent of Americans say they’ve ever been to a local public library, and 76 percent of Americans say that libraries serve the needs of their community well.
[bctt tweet=”Librarians are an important part of the network of adults nurturing young readers.”]
Of those who continue using libraries, 97% of those who used a library or bookmobile in the past 12 months would describe themselves as lifelong learners and a similar share of library website users (98%) also strongly identified with being lifelong learners.
From these statistics, it’s easy to see the value of libraries in establishing positive experiences at a young age and how that can translate into a greater appreciation for reading as an adult. What’s less able to be put into hard numbers, however, are the memories–the smell of books, the mazes of shelves, the memories of adventures through books–those things not tracked by statistics, that can ignite an ongoing passion in children that lives well into adulthood.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. ” -Frederick Douglass
Literacy is a strong component when it comes to predicting the success of students. The earlier we build that foundation, the better off the student will be in the long run. Studies show that the end of third grade and beginning of fourth grade is a crucial time in a scholastic career. Children who are not proficient at reading by this point are four times as likely to drop out of school than their better-read peers. That is only if students compared exist on the same income level. Add the challenges of being from a low-income home, and those same students are thirteen times more likely to drop out. Students that drop out are much less liable to be employed and far more liable to end up using government resources like low-income housing, food stamps, and possibly correctional facilities.
For those who are at the lowest income levels, the challenges in school can be the least of their concerns. Their attendance can be inconsistent because of family needs or transportation issues. They are often undernourished, causing them to be distracted when they need to focus on lessons. Students at the lowest income levels may not be able to afford even the basics like pens, paper, or shoes. And families of poor students may not be able to offer educational support like helping with homework or attending school activities. This can be due to their work schedule or a lack of education themselves. Their lack of education perpetuates a cycle that keeps these families on the low end of the social and economic scale. At this end, the drop towards criminal activities is not too far.
“For those who are at the lowest income levels, the challenges in school can be the least of their concerns.”
There are strong ties between incarceration and having a poor education. Those relationships start with students not having a high school diploma, or equivalent, having a much more difficult time finding a job. High school graduates are almost twice as likely to find a job than a student that has dropped out. People who cannot read at an 8th-grade level have a more difficult time reading newspapers (most written at a 9th-grade level) to find jobs or even applying for jobs. When the option for growth become limited, many dropouts will turn to crime. Studies estimate that up to two in three inmates read at the lowest levels or are functionally illiterate. Recidivism is much higher for those who have not improved their reading as opposed to those that have. Seventy percent of poor readers will end up back in jail, as opposed to sixteen percent that read well.
We have the opportunity to help break this cycle by focusing on literacy early. Kids Read Now provides tools to help students embrace becoming better readers by giving them the books they want to read in the critical kindergarten through third-grade years. Parents are encouraged to participate by helping them read the books, answer the questions, and obtain the next book for their child. Through the efforts of the entire community, we can build readers at a young age that will become learners and leaders in the future.
Kids are constantly being told to read more, but what can we do to help them be more enthusiastic about it? We want kids to be able to pick up a book on their own and have it be enjoyable instead of feeling like a chore. These young learners need to have access to a wide variety of books; books that entice them and attract them to reading. Self-selected reading provides daily opportunities to practice new skills and understandings across tasks, texts, and environments. This creates an environment favorable to reading and making kids eager to participate.
“Self-selected reading provides daily opportunities to practice new skills and understandings across tasks, texts, and environments.”
Self-selected reading includes: teacher read aloud, mini-lessons, students choose and read independently, student-teacher conferences about reading and sharing. The books available, whether at home or in the classroom, are the tools to make self-selected reading happen. They should support varying interests, reading levels and formats. These can include printed books, e-books, and text-to-speech. Each of these categories can house multiple types of books.
Print books can include wordless books, picture books, graphic novels, tactile books, object books, comic books and pop-up books. Whatever form the book comes it should be accessible to the reader. That may mean easy to turn pages, pictures above the words or braille. Comic books can be created to document learning experiences and help students process them. This engages the students through thinking, creating and writing. Involving them in the book making process, enriching reading, writing and thinking. Online books or e-books offer another way to involve the reader. Pictures and sounds help create the story and immerse the kids. They can either read the book themselves or have it read to them.
“Kids Read Now, a self-selected reading program, provides the tools to create active and engaged readers.”
Self-selected reading also engages the students in reflecting on what they have read. It helps them make connections to themselves and actively ask questions to process what they are reading. This turns reading into a social activity as well as a solo endeavor. Kids Read Now! is dedicated to making reading accessible to as many students as possible and self-selected reading is one way to do that. These practices encourage students to pick up a book on their own outside of the classroom. It provides the skills necessary to actively process what has been read and learn from the material. During the summer months, kids can be hard pressed to pick up a book. Kids Read Now and other self-selected reading programs provide the tools to create active and engaged readers. The summer slide may become a thing of the past.