Last year only 31% of children surveyed by Scholastic, the British publisher of children’s books, reported reading a book for fun almost on a daily basis. The past four years the percentage of children who read for fun decreased ̶ something which is most likely not limited to the British society.
But is there reason for concern? Does reading for pleasure really increase children’s learning ability? Researchers say yes. A British cohort study follows 17 000 people who were born in the same week in 1970. By the time they were 16 years old, cognitive tests showed that those who frequently read for fun had better intellectual progress in terms of vocabulary, spelling and mathematics than their counterparts. According to the researchers, a strong reading ability helps children to absorb new information and influences performance in other subjects like mathematics.
Reading is also associated with better comprehension. Children whose parents read aloud to them learn more complex words than they would have if they read by themselves. Especially picture books are associated with learning complex vocabulary. Reading aloud also strengthens the bond between the parent and the child, because it is associated with love. In Scholastic’s survey children frequently cited that they associate reading aloud with quality time with the parent.
So how do you raise a book loving child? Experts give advice:
- Start early
It is never too early to start reading to your child. Even if your child can’t speak yet, it stimulates his language development and vocabulary.
- Be an example
The best way to ensure that your child becomes a book lover is to read for fun yourself.
- Let your children choose their own books
Jaco Jacobs, famous Afrikaans writer of children’s books, says it is important to allow your child to choose his own books from an early age: “Go to the bookstore and give your child the opportunity to explore what the bookstore has to offer.”
- Books must be fun
It is true that books will make you smarter, but Jacobs warns parents not to emphasise it too much. Children love to play and it is important that they grow up with the idea that books are fun.
- Get involved
“Get involved in your child’s world of reading, get to know his favourite writers and try to get more information on the writer’s books,” is Jacobs’ advice.
- Read in your child’s mother tongue
Nal’ibali, a national organisation which campaigns for sparking a love for reading and stories in children, encourages parents to read to their child in his mother tongue ─ reading is easier and more fun this way.
- Read printed books
Babies and toddlers learn by using their senses. Nal’ibali advises parents to exposes their children to printed books. Touching, holding and turning pages are part of a child’s learning process.
Alice Sullivan, 2013, “Reading for fun improves children’s brains, study confirms”, The Guardian,http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/sep/16/reading-improves-childrens-brains.
DebbieGlasser , 2013, “Books Without Words May Help Boost Your Child’s Language”, Psychology Today,https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/parenting-news-you-can-use/201306/books-without-words-may-help-boost-your-childs-language.
JacoJacobs, 2013, “Vyfwenke om jou kind ’n lesertemaak”,JacoJacobs se SkryfBlog, http://jacojacobs.blogspot.com/search?q=kinders+lees.
MotokoRich, 2015, “Study finds reading to Children of all ages grooms them to read more on their own”, New York Times,http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/us/study-finds-reading-to-children-of-all-ages-grooms-them-to-read-more-on-their-own.html?_r=0.
Nal’ibali, 2015, “Easy ways to encourage your children to read for pleasure”, http://nalibali.org/reading_story_topics/invest-in-your-children/.