It Comes Down To Reading

Children who were in my class many years ago are now making decisions on college acceptances.  They stay in touch, and I feel the worry and joy right along with them.  And guess what happens?  They are accepted into the school(s) of their choice.  And, I know why.  I do.

It’s not me.  Really.  It comes down to reading.  Hang onto your hat for these statistics, and one of the best stories about a kid from Russell, Kentucky.

Jim Trelease was spot on when he said “Reading is the heart of education.  The knowledge of almost every subject in school flows from reading.  One must be able to read the word problem in math to understand it.  If you cannot read the science or social studies chapter, how do you answer the questions at the end of the chapter?”

Parents tell me all the time about their child’s struggles in school, and it boils down to reading, whether it’s reading the homework assignment or a chapter in assigned reading.  When the parent has to step in to help with homework, it often is because of struggles with reading.  I think of how much more difficult the work must be in the classroom with the expectations of independent work.  I wish those children had been in my classroom when they were younger; I could have helped them and their parents.

Now, let’s back up from reading to reading aloud.  In order to read, and more importantly to want to read, it all starts with parents and family reading aloud to children, every day.

The statistics on reading aloud and its link to academic success in all areas is profound.  If reading is a pleasurable experience, then school work is by far easier.  Every child begins school wanting to learn to read.  In other words, we’ve got 100 percent of enthusiastic kindergarteners when they start school.  The National Report Card found that among fourth-graders, only 54 percent read for pleasure.  Among eighth graders, only 30 percent read for pleasure.  By twelfth grade, only 19 percent read anything for pleasure daily.  Yikes!  What happened?  The better question might be, what did not happen?

The seeds of not only learning to read but loving to read were not planted early.  Reading aloud to children for 30 minutes every day, starting at birth and continuing after they have learned to read, is the single best thing a parent can do to build a reader.  I know this.  When I read aloud in my classroom, it’s the time that children are totally absorbed.  Totally.  A good story, read aloud, is the best learning and pleasure experience I give to children.  It opens the door to questions and discovery.  Here is a great story from The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease that illustrates the power of reading aloud:

We start with the family of Susan and Tad Williams and their two sons, Christopher and David.  Of the four hundred thousand students taking the ACT exam with Christopher back in 2002, only fifty-seven had perfect scores– he was the fifty-eighth.  When word got out that this kid from Russell, Kentucky (population 3,645) had scored a perfect 36, the family was besieged with questions, the most common being “What prep course did he take?  Kaplan?  Princeton Review?”  It turned out to be a course his parents enrolled him in as an infant, a free program, unlike some of the private plans that now cost up to $250 an hour.

In responding to inquiries about Christopher’s prep courses, the Williamses simply told people–including the New York Times–that he hadn’t taken any, that he did no prep work.  That, of course, wasn’t completely true.  His mother and father had been giving him and his younger brother free prep classes all through their childhood, from infancy into adolescence: They read to them for thirty minutes a night, year after year, even after they learned how to read for themselves.

Theirs was a home brimming with books but no TV Guide, Game Cube, or Hooked on Phonics.  Even though Susan Williams was a fourth generation teacher, she offered no home instruction in reading before the boys reached school age.  She and Tad just read to them—sowed the sounds and syllables and endings and blendings of language into the love of books.  Each boy easily learned to read–and loved reading, gobbling books up voraciously.  Besides being a family bonding agent, reading aloud was used not as test prep as much as an “ensurance” policy–it ensured the boys would be ready for whatever came their way in school.

By 2011, David was a University of Louisville graduate working as an engineer and Christopher was pursuing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at Duke.  Sometimes Christopher’s early reading experiences surface even in the biochemistry department, like when he remarked to his lunch mates the day after a Duke basketball loss, “I guess there’s no joy in Mudville today.”  None of the other grad students grasped the reference to Ernest Thayer’s classic sports poem.

If that story doesn’t inspire parents and teachers to read, I don’t know what will!

Jim Trelease opens his book with this wonderful quote:

We must take care that the children’s early encounters with reading are painless enough so they will cheerfully return to the experience now and forever.  But if it’s repeatedly painful, we will end up creating a school-time reader instead of a lifetime reader.”

Beautifully said, and it hits the nail right on the head.

My classroom is brimming with books.  They aren’t stuffed into a basket, they’re on a front-facing shelf.  I read aloud to children twice a day and chapter read for thirty minutes every day.  Children choose to get books from our bookshelf.  They take great pleasure in looking at the pictures, turning the pages, and pointing to the words.  Looking at a book is also my classroom transitional activity.  Children leave my class with a genuine love of books and reading.  They often return to visit, and when I ask what they remember?  Reading, of course!

Used by permission of the author, Jim Trelease, 2013, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin).


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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64 Responses to It Comes Down To Reading

  1. beetleypete says:

    Never were truer words spoken about the correct development of children. The evidence is also there, for all to see. My own parents didn’t read to me, in the 1950s. They both worked hard all day, and gave me as much time as they could, when they came home tired.
    But they encouraged me to read, limited TV watching time, and there were no electronic games to divert my attention back then. I lost myself in history books, picture books, maps, and encyclopedias.
    Now I still see the benefit, when my step-children ask me random questions about almost anything. I generally know the answer, and they always say “How did you know that?” I always reply with just one word.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      I love this, Pete. Your story is genuine and full of detail of how it really was in the 50’s. I wasn’t read to either, but I remember looking through books. I loved books with maps and pictures, and I remember a big “coffee table” type book of Norman Rockwell paintings. That was my favorite, as each one tells a story. I didn’t fully grasp the importance of reading aloud until I had children, and I began reading at school. I adore your one word answer to your step children! Best to you.

  2. Dan Antion says:

    I think I’ve mentioned it here before, I know I’ve written about it, but my father always told us: “if you can read, you can do anything.” We didn’t even have a library in the town we lived in, but my mother took us to the Bookmobile every time it was in town. And every time the Scholastic Book Club offer came home with me from school, she would let me pick several books. Our daughter was reading on her own, well before she started school, and she remains a voracious reader.

    • Jennie says:

      I love your story, Dan. Your father was right. I still do Scholastic Books at school. You can’t imagine how many different levels there are. It is big! Our children are big readers, like your daughter. It makes all the difference in the world.

  3. Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Jennie Fitzke has gifted us with an article about the benefits of reading aloud to young children that will prepare them for success in life. Please share.

  4. willedare says:

    Thanks for another great and inspiring post, Jennie! I recently sent my mom a thank you card for all the reading (including some books that might not be considered child-friendly like A Tale of Two Cities) she did at bedtime when I was a child. I certainly became a voracious reader. Very few things make me happier these days than settling into a new biography about a songwriter or performer (or re-reading some of my childhood favorites like Madeleine L’Engle’s various series or books by Lloyd Alexander or EB White or…. the list goes on and on and on…)

    • Jennie says:

      That is wonderful thing to do for your mom, Will. Who cares if it wasn’t child friendly? Hey, you were reading together good literature. And see what happened? The world opened to you. Madeline and E.B. White and biographies are pretty darn good. Thank you for sharing your terrific story! I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Will.

  5. Peter Klopp says:

    A very timely reminder of how important reading is as the springboard to all kinds of educational endeavours! This holds true even in our digital age. Thank you!

  6. ren says:

    Wonderful message, Jennie! I loved reading your Reader’s comments too! Thank you!

  7. My mother read to us at night. I became a reader; my two siblings not so much. However, I agree that we are more successful in life. My siblings went into medicine as adults: my sister as a CMA and my brother attending medical school.
    My children’s teachers comment on how much they love reading, almost in wonder. I’m not always consistent, but I read chapter books to them before bed. I do so from a love of books and reading, so I appreciated learning from your article of future successes.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Chelsea. I’m not surprised that you and your siblings became successful. Reading aloud really is the key. And, it must make you feel so good to hear from your children’s teachers how much they love reading. The chapter reading that you did before bedtime was huge, because their minds had to do all the work- without pictures. I’m so glad you enjoyed this post.

  8. Great article! 🙂 Sharing…

  9. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is another excellent post from Jennie, and this one is about the importance of reading for children, specifically learning the love of reading!

  10. YES! It begins at home and it begins when the kids are very young. It makes a huge difference. HUGE!

  11. I agree with you, Jennie. Reading is the base of all reading. I still read aloud to Michael most days and he reads to himself every day as well. We also listen to a lot of audio books which is great for all of us.

  12. Norah says:

    Jennie, of course I agree with every word. The message can’t be said more clearly or too often. A love of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. Reading is the key to opening life’s doors. It always saddens me to hear of children who have been turned off reading, or even worse, turned into disabled readers by poor classroom practices. I will applaud each time you put the message out there.

  13. I believe that this is 100% accurate. My mother read one book to me and I was hooked. A story about the dolls coming alive. We were living in Germany then and the book was in English. I was surprised at her ability to read it to me. I read to my children until the could read to me. I would read a page and then they would read a page. I taught my stepdaughter who managed to get through the sixth grade functionally illiterate to read that way. I read a page and helped her read a page. She became a voracious reader as well and passed that down to her children. Teachers need to be paid like football players and vice versa. Without the ability to read well, there is a limit to what you can do. If you can read well, there are only self limits.

    • Jennie says:

      Wonderful, Marlene! You did exactly what was the right and best thing to do. That’s why she loved reading and passed that along to her children. I love you thought of switching football player and teacher pay. Both of us are supposed to be role models, yet teachers are far superior in that category, without the pay. Certainly a labor of love! Best to you, Marlene.

  14. Courtney Butler says:

    Thank you Jennie! My mom just shared this with me. I have two babies (2 year old & a 6 month old) and at night sometimes I’m so exhausted from the day its hard, but after reading this post, I’m determined to fight through it and cultivate a love for reading. I’ve also just started a story time before dinner when I have a little more energy 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Courtney. I’m glad your mom shared this with you. You are absolutely doing the right thing! I promise!! I urge you to read “The Read-Aloud Handbook”. It changed my life and shaped all I did back then (and do now) with reading aloud. The first half of the book is all the reasons why with great ‘proof’ stories. The second half are book recommendations, and they are THE best. So, it’s a win-win book. Once your children are used to the read aloud routine and your reading, it will all come together. Best to you!

  15. Christy B says:

    Excellent share on the benefits of reading aloud to kids! It was a delight for me to attend storytelling sessions at the local library as a girl

  16. As Jennie knows so well, reading early is such an important learning tool for parents to read aloud to even their babies (I did and my daughter did to her two babies and they are both in gifted programs in high school now). Reading aloud encourages and fosters a love a reading and learning! Thank you Jennie!

  17. Yes, it was only a decade ago that I realized how important reading, riting and rithmetic were important to kids…. even a kindle would be fine, accepting the fact that technology has overtaken us these days…

  18. srbottch says:

    Reading aloud to our kids from age 6 months was the best contribution we made to their educational foundation and successes. I’m convinced of it. Every nap and bedtime. Telling make up stories was also a good habit for verbal skill development and just downright fun. Spit on, Jennie….again!

  19. Jennie says:

    Yes, yes, yes!!! I always enjoy hearing these stories, Steve. I am convinced of it, too. Thank you! 😀

  20. I agree 110%! Both of my children got so much out of school and out of life because of their love for reading. Some of my best memories include bringing home giant stacks of books from the library to share with them. I don’t know who was more excited to read them, me or my children!

  21. Well said, Jennie — and so true. Hugs

  22. truth! and beautifully said.

  23. Pingback: Sunday Post – 25th February, 2018 | Brainfluff

  24. reocochran says:

    Books are the windows to the world as it is often expressed in this or other ways! The library is free for all. No one has to purchase books in fact passing them on is a loving and caring gift that multiplies. The free library boxes around the world are open 24/7. Busy parents will never regret 1/2 hour of bedtime from birth thru junior high school. My kids remember saying they could read by themselves but now, also remember my insisting to close their eyes and relax, feel themselves transferred to Alaska with Jack London, riding a carpet with Sherezade. . . The Juggle Book brought new and foreign words, etc. Parents need to relax so they can then feel good they connected and helped their own children to dream! 💞

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, yes, YES! Beautifully and perfectly said, Robin. You speak about telling your children to close their eyes and relax. I think one of the reasons that my chapter reading works, is because it’s at rest time. Lights out, relaxed, and all those words make the pictures in their heads. Thank you!

  25. dgkaye says:

    Inspirational story Jennie. And correct, not enough reading going on with kids and I wonder how many parents are reading nightly to their children these days. Reading breeds readers like, like attracts like. I feel so blessed I had a burning desire to read as a teen. Nobody read me fairytales, in fact there wasn’t a book in our childhood home! 🙂

  26. Reading is the key to everything…distraction, adventure, problems and their resolutions, history and how we got here (and how to get out), science and how to invent, test, grow… how to talk with each other, how to navigate difficult situations….If you have any question in the world, reading will help you find the answers — even if you must create a new one! And best of all, reading tells you that you are never alone in this world!

  27. Fascinating read. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  28. Pingback: Read! – ESSENTIAL EDUCATION

  29. What a great post. You are 100% correct., all learning stems from the early love of being read to by a loving parent, grandparent and/or teacher.📚💕

  30. Pingback: Reading is the heart of education – Diane P. Proctor

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