For whatever reason, I have been receiving free copies of Parents magazine in the mail. I have been perusing the November 2010 issue and it has inspired reactions to several articles that I am going to share here. This is my first one.
I always find it annoying when statistics are presented in a way that misleads people, or only conveys half of the point. Case in point, there is a statistic being thrown at us that people who floss their teeth will live longer. Now this statement by itself implies that the existence of extra plaque will cause an early death. (Not true). What they don't tell you, (or what you have to read a million paragraphs into the study) is that people who floss their teeth are generally the same people who care enough about their health to be conscious of the choices that they make and actively pursue a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, these people ARE going to live longer, because they take care of themselves, not just because they floss their teeth. Make sense?
So anyway. There is a little paragraph titled "Bring on the Books" in this issue of Parents magazine that claims, "Keeping books around the house will up your kid's odds of snagging that college diploma later on," (45). It further claims that a collection of 25 books, either children's or adults', will add a year to their high school or college career, while a collection of 500* books will add an extra 3.2 years! The "article" (can one paragraph really be considered an article?) then goes on to suggest 9 books to add to a child's library. And, that's it.
See, my issue with this isn't the results of the study, but the information that Parents magazine failed to provide regarding the study, or the participants of the study. I looked it up here, and it turns out that over a 20 year period, Mariah Evans (who the magazine doesn't even give credit to), discovered that an environment with at least 25 books in it, regardless of a parent's level of education, will produce these results in children.
I think that it's safe to assume that regardless of their own education level, these parents who are providing their children with books are obviously concerned with their child's educational success. It's probably also safe to assume that these parents are actively involved in their child's education, and are encouraging reading for pleasure. It would have been nice to see this additional information provided in the Parents article. Otherwise, I can just see some clueless parent reading it and thinking that just by having these books in the house, without doing anything with them, will provide the same results. (Hey, I'm sure that there is someone out there who is just stupid enough to think this).
It would have been nice to see Parents expand on this and provide suggestions for actively engaging children in reading and tips to help ensure success. I am sure that there are many parents out there, especially those who did not enjoy their own educational experiences as children, who might not know exactly what they can do to help their child enjoy reading or become a more active reader. Allow me to offer a few of my own suggestions:
* Make reading fun, and active. Instead of just reading a story straight through from the first page to the last, discuss what is happening in the pictures. Many illustrators of children's books include little surprises, or jokes, "Easter Eggs", if you will, in their pictures. They are meant to be explored, examined, and discussed by parents and children alike. Quiz your children on what they have just read or seen in the pictures. Give them a few moments to study the pictures, then close the book and ask them questions. What color hair ribbon is the little girl wearing? How many birds are in the sky? Where is the mouse hiding? You get the idea.
* Establish a bedtime routine that includes at least one story. And be sure to provide a suitable environment for a bedtime story. Ideally, this would be at the end of the routine when the child is already bathed, dressed, and in bed. A child is more likely to pay attention to the story if there are no other distractions around them (such as the television, or older siblings etc.). A bedtime story will also help the child to switch from "active" mode to "rest" mode.
* Visit your local library. Books cost money, and can be quite expensive. Some families are not going to be able to afford to build a personal library at home for their children. This is one of the greatest benefits of a local library, hundreds of books for kids to read, for FREE. Most libraries also provide story hours and other activities for preschool children and school-age children. They usually also have at least a couple of computers for children to listen to stories or play (educational) games. This is also a great resource for families who do not have a computer at home. It just takes a little research to find out what services your local library provides.
Those are some of the ideas that I have right now. There are many more things that parents can do to help children enjoy reading. Just remember that it's one thing to have 25+ books in your house, but it's another to know how to use them. They are not there just to sit on a shelf and look pretty.
Anyone have more suggestions to share?
*I would really like to know who has a personal library of 500 books that participated in this study!