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Want your children to be good learners? Read to them

By Archive

Studies show a strong correlation between children being read to during their early years and their academic success.

We've written about the importance of investing in early childhood education as a community development strategy, one documented and supported by some of the nation's leading economists.

However, it also pays to state the obvious as pointed out recently by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman asked in a November 19 commentary, "How About Better Parents?"

Friedman cites recent research that highlights the power of parents to influence their children's academic achievement by being engaged, invested and, first and foremost, by regularly reading to their children in the early and primary years.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, through the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), assessed the academic achievement of 15-year-olds in the leading industrialized nations. Unfortunately, the United States does not top the list. Students in Singapore, Finland and Shanghai do better.

PISA also analyzed the reasons for these differences in test results, including an assessment of parental involvement. The correlation was strong. The group of students whose parents often read to them during their early years scored higher than those whose parents read to them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage held true regardless of the family's socioeconomic background.

The quality of parental involvement also matters. Reading a book with a child, engaging in daily conversation, and telling stories are ways in which parents can set the stage for academic achievement. These styles and strategies don't cost anything but time, understanding and intentionality.

How can we better help parents take these simple steps to improve their children's academic success? It's a discussion worth the engagement of our political, business and educational communities.