The Long-Term Effects of Skipping Your Reading Homework

When elementary school students have math worksheets to fill out, spelling tests to study for, after school activities to participate in, and chores to finish, it’s no wonder that the standard daily reading homework assignment can fall to the wayside.  It may seem like a small concession necessary to prioritize a busy life. After all, parents may reason, their child can catch up on reading over the weekend, over the summer, or during a less hectic time. But the effects of regularly skipping that reading homework can have long-term effect on a child’s life.

Image from Flickr via KOMUnews

Image from Flickr via KOMUnews

Reading Really is Fundamental

No one is going to debate the importance of being able to read in order to learn and navigate through life. But reading provides many surprising and important additional benefits

Reading makes kids better at math. A British study found that students who frequently read for pleasure not only had better vocabulary and spelling—which is to be expected—but that those students were also more proficient at math. The theory is that reading exposes students to new ideas, which may make new math concepts easier to comprehend.

Reading fiction helps children be more empathetic. The University of Buffalo found that students who read novels could put themselves into other people’s situations more easily, and had increased compassion.

Reading can boost self-esteem and communication skills.  One education provider says that since students who read usually have an enhanced vocabulary, they can often find the words to express themselves and do not feel as frustrated and angry.

Reading changes the structure of the brain. In a six-month daily reading program, scientists found that the amount of white matter in the area of the brain associated with language actually increased. Another study found that reading helps the brain exercise cognitive function.

What Happens When Kids Skip Reading

This infographic, an oldie but goodie from Perry and Lecompton School District, quantifies the long-term difference between regular, periodic and infrequent reading. This is a great graphic to share with parents to help them get on board with your daily reading assignment.  It’s worth sharing with students, too. The graphic format really emphasizes how important reading is.


Ways to Make Reading an Enjoyable Habit for Students

With all of the lifetime upsides that come from reading, how can teachers and parents help kids develop a habit of daily reading?

Start with a mini habit. In his book “Mini Habits,” Stephen Guise suggested starting a new habit with a small change that can easily be accomplished. His example? Doing one pushup as the start of an exercise program. Once you’ve finished one pushup, you’re likely to do at least one more. Then the next day, knowing how easily you accomplished the task before, you’re more likely to do it again. With reading, perhaps set a limit at two or three minutes, then gradually adding a minute at a time. Longer periods of reading are obviously preferred, but reading consistently, over a period of time, is an effective way to create that habit.

Add variety to reading.  For reluctant readers, or even those who need a change, use different forms of reading sources, not just books. Magazines, newspapers, graphic novels, recipes, audio books and online reading can add a new dimension of skill and enjoyment.

Model reading. Share your love of reading with your class. Tell them about some of your favorite books when you were young and let them see what books you are currently reading. Keep in mind the benefits reading offers adults, such as providing stress relief, decreasing the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, and boosting analytical thinking.

Make reading assignments positive. Avoid making kids read as punishment. says that to foster a love of reading, let students see that reading isn’t a chore, a competition, or a test.

Read aloud to the class. No matter what the age of your students, give them the chance to form pictures in their heads as you read to them.

Have students read to others. Have students read to a parent, a younger sibling, a pet or a stuffed animal. Ask students to report back on how the listener reacted to the story (yes, even the inanimate ones).

Build reading time in your classroom every day. Help students develop the habit by consistently setting aside a few minutes a day for your class to relax with a book.  Once they realize you think reading is important, they’re more likely to think it’s important too.

What This Means for Teachers

Regular reading provides significant life-long benefits. Help your students reap these advantages by encouraging their love of words. Life can get hectic, even for our youngest students, but helping them form a daily reading habit really can make a huge difference.



  1. Tina McDermott

    April 28, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    This is a great article with excellent research, except that it misses a few important points about why reading does not happen in the home as it should.

    I have been a member of a task force to establish homework guidelines in the Burbank Unified School District, where we have worked hard to rein in the heavy loads of homework burdening our kids. We have talked about reading in our task force many times.

    Reading should be #1 priority for homework. However, it is not a tangible “deliverable.” Worksheets come first because they “prove” that homework got “done.” The child that read for an hour will get docked points if he doesn’t hand in his worksheets. But the child who hands in worksheets and doesn’t read does not get docked. Also, parents fall into the trap of deliverables. They want to see that homework get done!

    Reading should be pleasurable. Instead, teachers often make it one more chore to check off the list. In an effort to make it tangible, students have to turn in reading logs. This becomes a drudgery. As they get older, they have to answer questions, lots of questions. For 9th grade my son’s high school English department assigns The Odyssey with a “packet” of 10 questions per chapter. There are 24 chapters. That’s handwritten 240 responses. More time was spent writing the responses than reading the book.

    It’s no wonder reading has declined in this country. Until educators re-think the purpose of homework, reading will continue to take a back seat.

    • Leah Levy

      April 29, 2015 at 6:38 am

      Wow, really interesting points. Thanks for adding your perspective. The more we can make reading pleasurable, the better off we’ll be.

  2. Kelly Campbell

    July 8, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    My husband and I both love to read. We have read to our children from the time they were born. We both actively read in front of our kids. Despite the modeling, none of them seem to be developing a love for reading. They do not choose to sit down and read a book during downtime. I believe this is caused by the pressures to read at school. We live in NC where there are end of year tests and a read to achieve program. There is so much pressure for them to read and answer questions around what they have read that they rarely read for pleasure. It is very disappointing.