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How to Raise a Reader


Doctors say reading aloud to children is the best way to raise life-long readers. (Jack Plunkett/AP Images)

Doctors say reading aloud to children is the best way to raise life-long readers. (Jack Plunkett/AP Images)


From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

For some people, the warmest memories from childhood come from being read a great story. But reading to children does more than create warm memories. It develops children’s language skills and increases their ability to succeed in school and, later, work.

A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics says reading aloud is so important that parents should start as soon as their children are born. And they should continue to read aloud even after their children can read by themselves.

Doctors say parents should read books that are not too long and on the right age level so children will not lose interest. They say parents should also point to and talk about pictures in books for infants. For young children, parents should ask questions about the book.

The AAP report also suggests that doctors offer books in the waiting rooms of their offices. During regular checkups, doctors can then watch a child’s language and literacy development, as well as the parent-child relationship.

One mom in Washington, DC says she has seen the benefits of reading to her children.

“Why are children’s books so important?”

“Oh my gosh! We read books every day.”

Elizabeth Lyttleton has three daughters. They are ages 10, eight and two-and-a-half. Ms. Lyttleton says all her children learn from books – but in different ways.

“I watch the language in my two-and-a-half-year-old, who is now getting a big language explosion, so much of it comes from the books that she reads. So much of her capacity to identify the world around her comes from books that we read together. With my 8-year-old, it’s now the broadening horizons. The oldest now truly reads for pleasure and can get absolutely lost in young adult books.”

Do children still read for fun?

But children like Ms. Lyttleton’s daughters are becoming increasingly rare. Researchers find that the number of children who read for fun is dropping fast.

The company Scholastic is a major U.S. publisher of children’s books. Every two years, Scholastic publishes a report on American reading attitudes and habits. The 2015 report says only 31 percent of children in the U.S. read a book for fun almost every day. Four years ago that number was more than double.

Ways to raise readers

Scholastic also identifies some ways to develop a love of reading in a child. One is simply to have books in the home.

Elizabeth Lyttleton, the mother of three, was lucky. Her mother wrote and illustrated children’s books, so the family always had plenty to read.

“We had bookshelves full of, full of … full of kids' books. And they’re still there when we go to my mom’s house.”

Another way to develop a reading habit in children is to read to them. Researchers from the Scholastic company found that 80% of children surveyed -- of all ages -- say they love being read to. And children ages six to 11 whose parents do not read to them anymore say they miss it.

The Scholastic report also suggests permitting children to choose their own books. Of all the six to 17-year-olds in the Scholastic study, more than 90% said their favorite books are the ones they chose for themselves.

Funny is good

A book does not have to be serious to be good for kids.

Elizabeth Lyttleton says one of her children’s favorite books is called “Four Hens and a Rooster.” It is a big picture book about hens that must defend themselves against a bullying rooster who is trying to take over the farm.

Ms. Lyttleton says the story is awesome and empowering in a bizarre way.

“It is hilarious and awesome and in a really bizarre way super empowering to little girls. My oldest now will read it to the youngest. And … and … she gets it. She sees the adult humor in it but is also getting the power message in it.”

Amanda Ingram is a fifth grade teacher in Washington, D.C. She says the book “Holes” is popular with her students, many of whom are African-American. She says the book is funny but it also deals with big social issues.

“But the book that I’ve noticed has really made an impact on students is the book ’Holes’ by Lewis Sachar. The book is really funny but also very serious. It touches on race relations and economic struggles as well as environmental issues. And I’ve noticed that the students really connect with the character and really learn a lot from his experience.”

According to Scholastic, 70% of kids in the U.S. between ages six and 11 want to read books that are funny. The same study found that 54% of children want books that allow them to use their imaginations, and 41% want to read a book with a good mystery or problem to solve.

Not just for children

Of course, adults can enjoy children’s books, too. And many adults find that the books they read as children taught them lessons they still remember.

Amanda Ingram, the fifth grade teacher, says her favorite children’s book is “The Little Prince.” She says it introduced her to big philosophical ideas.

“And my favorite children’s book is ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This book has special meaning to me because my mother was a French teacher when I was growing up and so she read it to me in both English and French and it was the first time that I was exposed to these kinds of bigger ideas of philosophy. And I think that it just has these great world topics and lessons that kids can learn at a young age but they can also revisit the book at an older age.”

Vera Song is also a teacher in Washington, D.C. The book “Around the World in 80 Days” by Jules Verne left a deep mark on her. She says it taught her she needed to be brave and adventurous if she wanted to travel the world. She says she thought of this book often as she traveled from China to the United States to become a teacher.

“So, he decides, like, ‘I’m going to do it.” So, he travels a lot. And that just inspires me. Like, it’s time to take the challenge and be open-minded. The world is large. So, I think that is a meaningful book to me.”

Did you have a favorite children’s book when you were little?

If you have children in your life, what do they like to read? Please share in the comments section.

I’m Anna Matteo.

And I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

illustrated - v. to explain or decorate a story, book, etc., with pictures

pediatrician – n. a doctor who treats babies and children

awesome - adj. informal extremely good

bizarre - adj. very unusual or strange

empower - v. to give power to someone; empowering is the adjective.

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