What if I told you there’s a secret key to unlock your child’s greatest intellectual growth? Improve test scores? Improve overall well-being and happiness?
The key is reading for pleasure.
First, what is reading for pleasure? According to Clark and Rumbold of the National Literacy Trust, reading for pleasure is not “literacy” – the ability to read and write. Reading for pleasure is:
- Reading done of our own free will purely for the satisfaction and enjoyment of it.
- Reading done that may have begun by request or requirement but continues because we are interested in it.
- A form of play that allows us as readers to interact and “role play” in our imaginations as we interact with the story.
- Reading done for intrinsic motivation, not for a prize or for external motivation.
- A “gateway to personal development, and to social, economic, and civic life” (Holden, 2004).
Second, let’s look at some data. Recently, I looked at class averages in English overall and on No Red Ink, our grammar program. Kids who said they read for pleasure at home had scores 3.5 to 4.8 percent higher on their English class averages, and 7 points higher on No Red Ink averages.
As a veteran teacher with years of experience, I intuitively knew that the kids carrying around those big “Harry Potter” novels were also the ones who excelled in English class. But I didn’t know that pleasure reading also helped them to excel in ALL academic areas. Formal research done by marketing’s Egmont / Nielsen’s Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer, 2018, shows that “the impact of reading for pleasure on progress in vocabulary, math, and spelling with 10- to 16-year olds is four times greater than if their parent has a degree.” If not for the grades and the higher test scores, consider this: pleasure reading is also positively correlated with mental well-being. The proven benefits of pleasure reading include “better resilience, happiness, empathy, communication skills, and relaxation” (Egmont).
Third, let’s creatively consider how to encourage, foster, and develop “reading for pleasure” both at home and at school. Kids need a reading routine and a choice of reading materials. Junior high and high school is the best time to form lifelong habits. Schools cannot say it is all for the parents to do and parents cannot rely on the schools – it must be a shared goal and responsibility.
How can parents help develop pleasure reading in their ‘tweens and teens? Go to the library at least once a month. Set aside one night a week that is “screen free” for reading. Listen to books on tape while riding in the family car. Read aloud to your kids – yes – aloud! Keep kids reading for pleasure. As our lives become more crowded with digital devices and activities, don’t let reading for pleasure disappear. As a teacher, I am committed to building lifelong learners who read for pleasure, and who see themselves as vital members of an educated interactive community of readers and writers. Now more than ever, our children need to build their literacy skills, and reading for pleasure is the key.