We All Need to be Challenged by Reading
by Mary Curcio
Superintendent, McGraw Central School District, 2010-2016
A family reading program benefits parents, children, and the community. In 1998 the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act defined literacy as “an individual’s ability to read, write, speak, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family and in society.”
Family literacy is more important than ever. While schools march ahead with curriculum, technology, the common core and more, parent engagement by reading aloud to their children should not be overlooked.
When schools decide to use a Family Literacy Program, their primary concern or assumption is that parents can’t read. Their solution is to choose a book that requires a low-level reading ability. School districts feel if they choose a book with a higher reading level, their parents won’t read. They are concerned that parents will be stressed and thus won’t engage in a Family Literacy Program.
This mindset only perpetuates the problem around reading. It supports the learned helplessness theory for parents. With children, we know to set the bar and they will rise to the expectation. Why not set the bar for parents, too? Piaget’s theory of learning is that there must be a disequilibrium in the environment for children to learn. For parents to realize that they might need to improve their reading abilities, we must give them “a bump in the road.” If they continue to encounter low-level reading material with their children, parents might not recognize their need to read or to want to improve their reading ability.
To help children become not only life-long readers but lovers of reading, parents reading aloud to children is a must. What parents do is what children value. The research is clear, when parents are involved in their child’s learning, they do better in school, they are more likely to graduate and receive some form of an advanced degree.
The evidence is clear that parents stay engaged and involved in a family reading program longer than if they are in an adult education program. Parents reading to children develop better parenting skills. Their own reading level, acquisition of vocabulary, and math skills improve. Family bonding improves and families that read together experience less stress and improved family relationships. Parents come to place a higher value on education and become moved involved in their children’s schooling.
For children, they benefit by:
- Their brains grow
- They develop better social and emotional skills
- Attendance at school improves
- Increased capacity to learn
- Increased curiosity
- Encourages use of their imagination
- Increased vocabulary
The access to vocabulary can’t be overlooked. Vocabulary is a primary predictor of success in all grades. It is a prime predictor of success in kindergarten. A child’s vocabulary determines how much more a child can learn. Reading aloud at home supports capacity for comprehension and increased vocabulary. As children hear more and more words, they develop better comprehension leading to more success in school and life.
Albert Einstein knew that the key to achievement is developing the capacity for imagination. He is reputed to have said, “If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairy stories.”
We say, if you want to raise a “kind, smart child,” read to them at home. Make it a priority. Read aloud every day for at least 15 minutes. Get it on the calendar. Don’t make excuses for not following through. Children model what parents value.
Parents and children use language to talk, play, and interact. Reading aloud to children is not old fashioned. It is a family habit that sets children up for lifelong success. Reading influences every area of the life of child. It’s the best investment made in the life of a child.