Reading books matters, and doing it as a family is a wonderful thing with many benefits.
Reading Books Matters
Buy lots of. books.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, this advice might seem rather obvious, but what is not as obvious is the strong correlation between book ownership and academic achievement. It turns out that parental ownership of books is “even more important than whether the parents went to college or hold white-collar jobs.”
This study of which The Chronicle reports, published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, was conducted over 20 years in 27 countries. Researchers found that kids who grew up in homes with more than 500 books were more likely to attend college and spend more time in formal education. In fact, the presence of books is a better indicator of kids getting college degrees than whether or not their parents went to college.
Now, it is important to stress that correlation does not necessarily indicate causation. Just because the presence of books is correlated to a child’s academic achievement does not mean that the books themselves are responsible. A more likely scenario is that the families who have lots of books are communicating that they value reading and learning. When parents have lots of books, read lots of books, and talk about those books, their children will be exposed to the thoughts and the values that those actions communicate. In other words, since children learn most by the behaviors and attitudes parents model for them, if we value books in a way that they can readily observe then they are more likely to catch those same values.
Thus it seems that scholarly culture, and the taste for books that it brings, flows from generation to generation largely of its own accord, little affected by education, occupational status, or other aspects of class … Parents give their infants toy books to play with in the bath; read stories to little children at bed-time; give books as presents to older children; talk, explain, imagine, fantasize, and play with words unceasingly. Their children get a taste for all this, learn the words, master the skills, buy the books. And that pays off handsomely in schools.
If your children don’t see you valuing reading books, they won’t learn that reading books is valuable. If your children don’t see you reading, they’ll assume that reading is not important. Buying lots of books – and taking the time to read them – is an incredibly important way to invest in your child’s education. The bottom line…books matter.
Reading Aloud to Children is Important
When I was 7 years old, my older brother Isaac read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring aloud to me. I remember being enthralled by the exciting adventure of Frodo and his friends. Oh, I should probably mention that my brother Isaac was only 9 years old when he read it to me. My brother’s behavior was no doubt learned from our parents who frequently read to us.
Reading aloud to our children, especially when they are little, is an integral part of human bonding and the cultivation of relationships. In addition to spending quality time together, reading aloud to our children helps engender in them a love for language and story.
While it is important for us to read to our children, it is also important to let our children read aloud to us. This allows us to help them work through more challenging passages.
“What does this word mean?”
“How do I pronounce this word?”
Allowing our children to read aloud to us also gives them foundational skills for public speaking and even theatrical performance. Besides the external skills that are developed by children reading aloud, there are also the internal values of confidence and self-esteem. When children read to their parents, there is a healthy sense of accomplishment that is birthed within them which goes a long way in encouraging future learning and academic achievement.
Remember the story about my brother reading to me?
Siblings reading to each other is also an opportunity for bonding and growth. Older siblings can bond with younger siblings (much like the parent-child bond) by reading aloud to them and young siblings can grow in skills and confidence by reading to their older siblings.
Reading aloud is about communal relationships, bonding, and expression of love. Read to your children, let them read to you, and have your children read to each other. Remember, years and years from now, your children may forget the specific plot details of the books you read to them, but they’ll never forget that you read to them.
A Few Favorite Read Aloud Books
- Summer of the Monkeys
- Little Britches
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- Cheaper by the Dozen
- The Indian in the Cupboard
Related blog post: 34 Favorite Books to Read Aloud as a Family [Curated]
Facebook: The New Reader’s Digest
Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death)
Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, was written in 1985. To put that in perspective, it was written before the majority of people owned cell phones, let alone smartphones; it was written before the Internet hit mass adoption and well before the advent of social media; it was written at a time when people watched VHS tapes, not DVDs or BlueRay discs. Postman was very unhappy with what he saw as cultural deterioration as a result of image-based entertainment taking precedence over reading books and writing letters.
It’s safe to assume that if he was still alive, Postman would not approve of Facebook. However, if Neil Postman was truly worried about the decline of Western Civilization because of lack of reading, perhaps he should have made a movie. After all, who’s he trying to convince? If people aren’t reading, writing a book saying that people should read is not helpful. The people reading Postman’s book already agree with him – after all, they’re reading his book.
I like a lot of what Postman has to say but I think the discussion should be focused more on the cultural implications of the messages people consume rather than the medium by which they consume them. But that is a post for another time.
The reality is that people will always read what they want to read and they won’t read what they don’t want to read – it’s that simple. Facebook is the new Reader’s Digest. Consider how most of us engage with our Facebook feed; we enjoy seeing pictures, reading little snippets that make us laugh, and finding practical advice for everyday life. We want to be entertained and also informed and we want it to be in bite-size chunks rather than being hit with a wall of text. All of this is true of the format of Reader’s Digest. I remember many a rainy Sunday afternoon browsing through Reader’s Digest: reading thrilling tales, chuckling at “humor in uniform,” and sharing the funny parts with my siblings. Those who want to read full-length books will continue to do so just like they always have while those who want short pieces of information will browse Facebook or pick up an old copy of Reader’s Digest
Technology may be changing the way we read in terms of what mediums we use, but some things never change. According to the wisdom of King Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun. We also have to keep in mind his other famous saying, immortalized by ‘The Birds’, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven.” With greater options for how we consume media and information, it becomes more important, for parents especially, to discern which medium is best for which information. There is a time for Facebook, a time for reading books, a time for videos, and a time to sit and just talk to each other. It is the role of the parent to guide the next generation in making good choices.
Fiction and Training the Imagination
Since college, I have read very little fiction. I’m motivated to learn and digest ideas so I read a lot of nonfiction books. I read about business, education, politics, theology, and the life stories of people I admire. In my younger years, I had read a lot of fiction; from classics like Jane Eyre and Robinson Crusoe to classic fantasy from such literary giants as Tolkien and Lewis to pulp fiction like the Tarzan books, The Hardy Boys, and every Louis L’amour Western I could find.
Recently, I have started reintroducing fiction into my regular reading diet. While getting new information is important, cultivating your imagination by engaging with a good fiction book is equally as important. Too often our society divorces imagination from reality, promoting the hard sciences and creative expression as two separate entities. In truth, fiction is to non-fiction what the arts and music are to STEM (science, technology, education, and mathematics). Just like music and the arts are as important in education as STEM (science, technology, education, and mathematics), fiction is just as important as non-fiction. As evidence for the claim that the arts and the hard sciences are integrated not separate entities, consider that the best visual artists have a clear understanding of shapes and the relationships between lines (in other words, geometry) and the best scientists rely on imagination to come up with new hypotheses and to design experiments (which is a form of creative expression).
It is important to introduce children to fiction because fiction and story are fantastic training grounds for the imagination. Children are moldable and easily influenced which means training their imagination from an early age is important. Stories allow them to engage with imagery and humanity in a way that can then be translated into their everyday experience.
Introduce fiction early and often, and talk with your children about which stories they are drawn to and which stories are their favorites. Go to the library and discover new books together, and share your favorite novels with them. Fiction is a great way to train an imagination, and a robust imagination is a great skill to have whether you are a scientist or an artist.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.Albert Einstein
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