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.
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.
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.
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. Scholastic.com 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.
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.