An early love of reading really pays off

Teachers stress the importance of nurturing lifelong readers, not just school-life readers.

26 Aug 2019 | 01:12

By Hanna Katherine Wickes

A fundamental skill is the one you’re doing right now, and it’s important that your children love it. For success in school and in life, all the studies agree, it is vital for children to read or be read to in their early years.

“Reading is the springboard for a child’s success,” said Jennifer Thompson, a former English teacher of 23 years at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School. “If a child can’t read, they will struggle in everything else.”

In fact, when students can’t read, they have trouble learning. The study “Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters” by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that most students who fail to master reading by the third grade either drop out or finish high school with poor income opportunities.

“I’ve found that if a child does not like reading, they do not like school,” said Renee Silverman, who taught English at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School for 22 years. “Reading makes a child actually want to think and learn, which helps children become better students.”

Reading can also build vocabulary in ways conversation cannot. In the 1987 study “Learning Word Meanings from Context During Normal Reading,” authors Nagy and Herman found that reading to a toddler is more important than just talking to one. Through reading, children learn more “rare” words, or words not usually used in conversation. The study concludes that a good children’s book is three times richer in vocabulary than conversation.

While reading is the core of the education system, the way it’s taught is constantly changing. Reading has become an important testing device through approaches like Common Core, where more pressure is put on schools to lean into a standardized testing approach. This has turned students from lifetime readers into school-life readers -- reading just enough to graduate.

Daniel Novak, the director of education at the West Milford School District, is determined to change students’ attitudes toward reading. The Reading and Writing Workshop, a program established at the West Milford School District in 2011, lets children choose which books to read.

“Instead of assigning a single book to each student for summer reading, we now give them a choice of between 20 to 30 books,” said Novak.

The workshop also encourages students to personalize their reading and writing journals. Students decorate the covers with pictures and drawings of subjects they are passionate about.

“It helps the students correlate what they love with reading,” said Sharon West, West Milford’s district supervisor of language arts.

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As important as it is for schools to promote reading among young children, it’s a child’s pre-school past that really helps them thrive. A child needs a good foundation before they get to the classroom.

Below are some tips from educators for parents to get their kids reading, and loving it:


Encourage reading everywhere. Make sure your child understands the importance of reading by having them read GPS directions or the ingredients on a cereal box.


Set an example. Make sure to tell your child when and what you are reading, especially when it’s on devices such as your phone or tablet.


Discover your child’s passion. Find books on subjects that your child is passionate about. For example, if your child loves superhero movies, find some comic books. As Novak puts it, “Reading is reading!”


Make books accessible. Go to your local library with your child often, and make sure any books they need or might be interested in are available at home.


Read out loud to your child. This is by far the most important tip, as it has been scientifically proven that reading aloud to children every night helps their brains develop faster.