Possibilities open to children who learn to love reading: Column
By Sandy Zavala
Ahhhh. The scent of books. Crisp papers, new and old, with jagged edges offer words that inspire limitless possibilities. Other than the warm spices of holiday baking, fresh-brewed coffee and apple-smoked bacon, nothing else feels as nostalgic or as comforting as snuggling up with a good book. Some of my fondest formative memories are of reading all night under the covers, unwilling to stop, lest I miss one pivotal moment of the wondrous journey the pages were entrusting to my imagination.
Since my children were a mere twinkle in my eye, I’ve been loading our NCRL book queues with everything from childhood classics to biographies about provocative thinkers and events that have changed the world. When my oldest comes home from school and expresses how mystified he is about fellow 4th graders that “hate to read,” I shudder. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the reading comprehension level of 4th graders whose parents actively read and discussed books with their children is 28 points above the national reading average. Where parental involvement is low, the average classroom reading score is 46 points below the national average. In a culture where screen-time is becoming more and more pervasive, American literacy is suffering.
Nordic countries like Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland have overtaken the American mantle of being the most literate country in the world with the United States trailing behind at number seven. Dr. John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University asserts that literacy presents “a complex and nuanced portrait of a nation’s cultural vitality, and what the rankings strongly suggest, and world literacy demonstrates is that these kinds of literate behaviors are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economics that define our global future.” The repercussions of this downturn in literacy are staggering.
As expected, kids who don’t read are headed toward less successful, more tumultuous, and ultimately less-satisfied adulthoods. Studies demonstrate that 21 percent of teenage girls with below-average literacy scores were more likely to become pregnant in high school. More than two-thirds of 4th graders who struggle with reading will eventually break the law. Seventy percent of adult prison inmates scored in the lowest literacy proficiency levels. Illiteracy leads to poverty, lost economic productivity with estimates reaching 225 billion, increased health care costs and an inevitable decline in American ingenuity. According to 2003 data (the most recent data provided) from the National Center for Educational Statistics, 22 percent of Grant County residents lack basic prose literacy skills. Since more recent data was not available, my hope is that literacy in our region has stopped falling and is on the upswing.
How can we as parents ensure that our children achieve prosperity and future generations continue to expand American exceptionalism? The answer is simple. Read. Demonstrate that you as an adult value reading. Whatever your prose of choice; newspapers, magazines, classics, biographies, or plain escapist fiction, spread them around the house. Let your children see you reading and read with them. Take them to the library. Sign them up for one of the many book clubs that the Quincy Public Library has to offer. My 4th grader loves meeting with Dottie once a month to chat about whatever book the reference librarian has recommended. If your child loves reading, ask him or her to talk to their friends about the books that have left the greatest impression. If your child is a reluctant reader, look for high-interest level books about characters and hobbies that they enjoy or are willing to explore. Get a copy for yourself and read together. Discuss what you liked, didn’t like and spend some time bonding with your child. Soon you will have a reader on your hands, and that is a beautiful thing.
Sandy Zavala is a former health care researcher, counselor and social worker. She lives in Quincy with her family.