Reading to kids pays off, research shows

It might be the dramatic page turns, the silly sounds or the shared anticipation that grows as a story unfolds.

Perhaps it’s just hearing the voice of a loving adult narrate a nursery rhyme, animal misadventure or modern-day fairy tale.

Whatever the reason, literacy advocates say magic happens when a young child is read to regularly.

“I felt like they cared and they liked that I was reading,” said 11-year-old Marin Billionis, who was tucked between her parents Friday. “Some of the books I read so many times, I memorized them.”

Tom and Michelle Billionis loved to read and started early with their three daughters. The girls — all students at Boyd Elementary — have developed an insatiable appetite for new stories and talk fondly about early favorites.

“I loved ‘Good Night Moon,'” Marin said, referring to the children’s’ classic.

The love of reading at an early age is key to success in school and later life, research shows. Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3-4 times more likely to drop out in later years, according to a National Adult Literacy Survey.

“Reading to your child is certainly the most important thing you can do to get your student ready for school and have them be successful,” said Roseann Bentley, a Greene County commissioner who also serves on a new state Coordinating Board for Early Childhood. “What happens from birth to age 5 really makes a difference.”

(2 of 3)
Decades of involvement in early childhood and literacy efforts has convinced Bentley that the parent who reads to a child is making a lasting investment.

 

Nancee Dahms-Stinson, youth services coordinator for the Springfield-Greene County Library District, said reading plays such an important role in bonding, language and prereading skills.

“We’re exposing them to ideas, to language, to story structures,” she said.

Literacy advocates agree that excitement about reading is contagious.

Related

“Books are another toy they can play with their child,” Dahms-Stinson said. “When they’re reading, there is a particular cadence — they’re sharing that experience with them.”

It often starts with reading one simple, colorful book to a child and then another.

“The vocabulary in a picture book is very rich and fluent and expressive,” she said. “Picture books have five to nine unusual words.”

For example, an author might use “slumber” instead of the more common “sleep” but children understand what the new word means because they’re hearing it in the context of a story.

“The more exposure we have to different words, the easier it will be to decode,” she said.

Experts agree the earlier children are exposed to literature and language, the better.

“It makes a huge difference in their vocabulary,” said Laurie Edmondson, associate professor of education and child development at Drury University. “They know words, they know how a story works and where to start.”

That familiarity can help ease the transition into a preschool or kindergarten class.

Bentley, the county commissioner, applauds ongoing early childhood literacy efforts through the library, Jordan Valley Community Health Center, school district, quality child care centers, preschool programs and the Parents As Teachers program. But, she worries they’re not reaching every parent.

“Some parents are isolated,” she said.

While early success in school can catapult students higher, she said limited vocabulary and literacy skills also follow a child through school and into the work force.

(3 of 3)
“If they come in at such a critical disadvantage, it is so hard to catch up,” Bentley said. “If they can’t follow what the teacher is saying and they don’t understand the words, they’re destined to fall behind.”

 

Tom and Michelle Billionis had different experiences growing up but knew they wanted to raise children who prefer to bury their nose in a book than watch TV. Tom was read to as a child but Michelle — the fifth of eight children — wouldn’t sit still long enough.

“We knew it was really good for them — for their learning,” Tom Billionis said. “They love to read and will bring the books to us.”

Along the way, reading has become a resource. It helped the couple figure out that the oldest learned new words by sounding them out while the middle child looks for clues in the illustrations.

Related

When one daughter was struggling with writing and spelling, they encouraged her to spend more time reading. She started to improve quickly.

In addition to the library the family has created at home, they regularly participate in reading programs through the school and library.

“It motivates them to keep learning,” he said, noting the oldest two love to read. “Amelia, the youngest one, has the benefit of four people who read to her.”

Decades of involvement in early childhood and literacy efforts has convinced Bentley that the parent who reads to a child is making a lasting investment.

Nancee Dahms-Stinson, youth services coordinator for the Springfield-Greene County Library District, said reading plays such an important role in bonding, language and prereading skills.

“We’re exposing them to ideas, to language, to story structures,” she said.

Literacy advocates agree that excitement about reading is contagious.

“Books are another toy they can play with their child,” Dahms-Stinson said. “When they’re reading, there is a particular cadence — they’re sharing that experience with them.”

It often starts with reading one simple, colorful book to a child and then another.

“The vocabulary in a picture book is very rich and fluent and expressive,” she said. “Picture books have five to nine unusual words.”

For example, an author might use “slumber” instead of the more common “sleep” but children understand what the new word means because they’re hearing it in the context of a story.

“The more exposure we have to different words, the easier it will be to decode,” she said.

Experts agree the earlier children are exposed to literature and language, the better.

“It makes a huge difference in their vocabulary,” said Laurie Edmondson, associate professor of education and child development at Drury University. “They know words, they know how a story works and where to start.”

That familiarity can help ease the transition into a preschool or kindergarten class.

Bentley, the county commissioner, applauds ongoing early childhood literacy efforts through the library, Jordan Valley Community Health Center, school district, quality child care centers, preschool programs and the Parents As Teachers program. But, she worries they’re not reaching every parent.

“Some parents are isolated,” she said.

While early success in school can catapult students higher, she said limited vocabulary and literacy skills also follow a child through school and into the work force.

“If they come in at such a critical disadvantage, it is so hard to catch up,” Bentley said. “If they can’t follow what the teacher is saying and they don’t understand the words, they’re destined to fall behind.”

Tom and Michelle Billionis had different experiences growing up but knew they wanted to raise children who prefer to bury their nose in a book than watch TV. Tom was read to as a child but Michelle — the fifth of eight children — wouldn’t sit still long enough.

“We knew it was really good for them — for their learning,” Tom Billionis said. “They love to read and will bring the books to us.”

Along the way, reading has become a resource. It helped the couple figure out that the oldest learned new words by sounding them out while the middle child looks for clues in the illustrations.

When one daughter was struggling with writing and spelling, they encouraged her to spend more time reading. She started to improve quickly.

In addition to the library the family has created at home, they regularly participate in reading programs through the school and library.

“It motivates them to keep learning,” he said, noting the oldest two love to read. “Amelia, the youngest one, has the benefit of four people who read to her.”