According to a 2007 study funded by The Jenkins Group:
- “1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
- 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
- 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
- 57% of new books are not read to completion.”
What a sorry state of affairs. How sad for all those who never experience the joy of a good book, who are never transported through their imagination to another time and place, who don’t experience the discovery of new, in-depth information on a topic that would enrich and deepen their understanding of the world.
What can we, as teachers and parents, do to help our children become life-long readers? Research shows that nothing works as well as increased time spent reading – not reading worksheets and skill sheets, but time spent reading books, magazines, and newspapers. In order to develop a love of reading, we need to encourage more reading.
For young pre-reading children, the habit of reading for pleasure starts with being read to – early and often. Young children need to see the adults around them reading for pleasure and information. Family reading time is essential, a time when the TV is turned off and everyone reads. Libraries often have summer reading programs with rewards and incentives for books read or time spent reading. Begin a lifetime exploration of books by visiting the library regularly. Pack books in backpacks for summer trips and take along books on cassette for listening in the car. Finally, children should have their own libraries. Books are valued when they are owned. Make a habit of giving books as gifts for special occasions. For reluctant readers, find books that are at their skill level, about subjects that they enjoy, or try comic books, or graphic novels.
Teachers encourage reading by requiring reading as homework – at least 15-20 minutes per night for kindergarten and first grade children, more for older. Time must be set aside in the classroom for silent reading, for literature groups where children read and discuss a common book, for sharing favorite books, and for teacher book talks. Summer reading is essential for continuing to develop and improve newly acquired skills
Like any skill, reading improves with practice, lots of practice. Research shows that there is a correlation between time spent reading and reading achievement. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success, cites research showing that 10,000 hours of practice can make anyone a top performer in pretty much any field, from sports to music to business. Reading is like any other discipline, in that practice is required to become proficient. Children may initially need external incentives and motivation to acquire the reading habit, but it is a habit worth acquiring. Consider ways that you can help children develop a life-long love of reading. As educators it is the greatest gift you can give them.