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30,000 Reasons to Teach a Child to Read
Nothing is more fundamental to education than a child’s ability to interpret and understand written language. This is perhaps why there is so much information available on how to teach a child to read, ranging from instructional books to educational games. Unfortunately, many well-meaning parents leave the job of teaching a child to read up to the child’s local school, mobile device applications, or educational television programs. While it makes sense to blindly leave the job up to the educational governing bodies, the approach of relying solely on an outside system is in no way the best strategy. Parents must understand that the process of teaching a child how to read begins before they enter the institution of education, and if not done properly, the effects on a child’s future can be devastating.
According to a landmark study executed by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, children from high-income families are exposed to 30 million more words by the age of 4 than children from families on welfare. Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting negative effects on a child’s performance later in life. To begin this study, Hart and Risley recruited 42 families as participants; their subjects included 13 high-income families, 10 families of middle socio-economic status, 13 of low socio-economic status, and 6 families who were on welfare. The researchers carried out monthly hour-long observations of each family from the time that the child in question was seven months old until he or she reached the age of three. To render the study valid and reliable, variable factors such as gender and race were also balanced into the equation. Upon examining the data, what Hart and Risley discovered was astonishing: 86% to 98% of the words that each child used by the age of three were derived directly from the parents’ vocabularies. In addition, there were several other chilling findings that are worthy of noting:
- Children from families on welfare heard about 616 words per hour
- Children from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour
- Children from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour
- The average child from a family on welfare will hear 125,000 more words of discouragement than encouragement
- The average child from a high-income family will hear 560,000 more words of praise than discouragement
The research goes to show how important vocabulary is to a child’s development and success later in life. For example, there was a strong and positive correlation between the number of words that a child heard during the ages of 0-3 and that child’s test scores on standardized tests. To illustrate, children from low-income families did not perform well on a standard reading test at age 9-10, perhaps due to the lower quality and volume of words heard during their years of infancy. Clearly, a child’s academic performance is strongly related to the level of vocabulary that he or she was exposed to as a newborn.
In addition, children who do not develop a strong vocabulary will most likely suffer difficulties in keeping up with academics, potentially leading to an array of problems including (but not limited to) behavior issues, learning disabilities and a lower likelihood of graduating high school. Moreover, children who consistently hear more negative words than positive ones have a higher probability of developing self-esteem issues. These problems cumulate to potentially impose dire consequences, including setting the scene for children to wind up in a cycle of poverty and crime due to a lack of a proper education. In fact, the Department of Justice has connected Illiteracy to crime by stating, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.” Evidently, the long-term effects of a vocabulary that lacks quality and volume of can be devastating for a child’s future.
The best way to ensure that your child has a solid foundation in life is through teaching them how to read! As we have seen, the amount and quality of vocabulary to which a child is exposed can make the difference between success in life or none at all. However, it is important to note that socioeconomic status does not always equate to high quality vocabulary, especially considering the modern world’s overload of information from advertisements in television, mobile applications, movies, and other outlets that tend to value quantity of language over quality.
According to CBS News, “we’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970’s to as many as 5,000 a day today.” Thus, it is not correct to assume that children from high-income families consistently hear and see quality content, or are able to filter through the sheer volume of information by which they are bombarded. This is where the answer to how to teach a child to read becomes clear.
Teaching a child to read contributes to their quality of life in a myriad of ways. First and foremost, the process of reading introduces them to a progressively larger and more complex vocabulary. As previously mentioned, the 30 million-word vocabulary gap between income levels is a blatant sign to parents that introducing children to quality vocabulary is of vital importance. Conveniently, teaching kids to read accomplishes this goal. As the child learns more words, his or her vocabulary expands, and the more vocabulary that is available to the child, the more successful they will be in school and life. Also, a great benefit to teaching your child how to read is that you choose the vocabulary; therefore, you can perform quality control to ensure that they are getting the right volume of vocabulary with the right quality of words, tailored to be appropriate for the child’s age and personal pace of learning.
In addition to increasing vocabulary, teaching a child how to read helps them cultivate a strong sense of self-confidence. In fact, according to Teaching Reading Early, “Reading promotes greater maturity, increases discipline and lays the basis for moral literacy. It sparks curiosity about people, places and things and also satisfies the child’s curiosity by providing explanations of how things work. It exposes the child to a range of problem-solving techniques. In addition, early reading ignites the child’s creativity and imagination.” Indeed, a well-read child is more likely take on the world and rise to challenges with the confidence that they have the skills to do so.
Teaching a child how to read is also beneficial for their neurological development. At birth, a healthy baby is born with approximately 200 billion active brain cells or neurons. Each of these brain cells is capable of forging up to 20,000 different connections between other brain cells, a process known as synaptogenesis that ensures the storage of large amount of information. These connections, which are a direct result of stimulation that the child receives through early experiences, form the basis of all future learning and intellectual ability. Consequently, a child who can read will benefit from a greater capacity to continue to learn and perform at a high intellectual level through life compared to a child whose reading skills were not shaped strategically.
There are other important reasons to teach a child to read; for instance, children who can read have more forgiving attention spans and sharper concentration abilities. Also, when a child can read, they can be recognized for their ability to do so. They have more potential to be socially accepted and to make friends because they can communicate better with their peers. Moreover, children who can read will have improved linguistic skills in the form of correct grammar, improved writing, better spelling and more articulate oral communication. When a child can read, doors of opportunity that may not have existed before open with warm welcomes.
Reading is fundamental and learning to teach a child how to read is even more fundamental. A child who can read will have a larger and higher quality vocabulary, leading to improved brain function, stronger interpersonal skills and social abilities, a greater sense of self, and a higher intellectual ability that will surely lead to academic success. More importantly, however, children with high degrees of literacy have a wider and more positive array of outcomes to their lives in comparison to children with low degrees of literacy. As the landmark study and subsequent statistics have shown, a child who cannot read well will have a far greater chance of ending up in prison and a child who can read is more likely to end up with a positive life outcome. Ultimately, learning how to teach your child to read is in your hands as the parent— do not let the most cherished thing in your life down.