The secret recipe for building a love of reading

children's books

How do you build a reader?


A recent study found two key ingredients in the recipe to build a love of reading into a child — access to books and the encouragement of an adult.


U.S. News and World Report wrote about the study. Their article is linked here.


“The study, published this week in the journal Urban Education and funded by JetBlue Airways, found children who had the highest adult support benefited the most from reading. Four low-income neighborhoods, three in Detroit and one in Washington, D.C., received book-dispensing vending machines supplied by JetBlue over two summer months, a time when children traditionally have less access to books.”

“The authors, Susan Neuman and Jillian Knapczyk, analyzed the effects of reading on children from birth to age 8 and posited that physical setting has great behavioral consequences for child learning. The vending machines were heavily used, distributing over 64,000 books over the eight-week period, 26,200 to unique, one-time users and 38,235 to return users. Often two or three books were selected in a single visit.”


In the study, JetBue primed the pump by paying for the book vending machines. Researchers then worked to study the impact.


“Designed to measure preschool children's early literacy skills, specifically print knowledge and phonological awareness – or the ability to recognize sounds as language – researchers conducted 10-minute assessments with 20-item multiple-choice tasks in which the individual child chooses one item out of four that best corresponds to a question. Additionally, interviews, parent questionnaires and title recognition assessments were conducted. Using pre- and post-test scores, researchers determined children's readiness for school.”

“Children who used the machines reported enjoying reading and said they appreciated the opportunity to have books more accessible in the community. Parents and grandparents were highly influential in encouraging children to select books. Those who did not select a book most often cited a lack of interest in reading. In other words, the physical proximity of books did not convert non-readers into readers, and changes in the environment alone may not be enough to motivate those who do not enjoy reading.”


This study made me think of a suggestion that came to Studer Community Institute from Margaret Melvin of Pensacola.

She wrote to us as a retired elementary school teacher. Her belief in the power of reading to build a child’s brain was a given. But she noted, there may be some mothers — fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles for that matter — who may not know how to make family reading time compelling.


Especially with a squirmy toddler.


Her advice is good advice or everyone, so I’d like to share it:


Make story time cozy. Sit with your child in your lap or right next to you, cuddle up together, look your kiddo in the eye, and make sure your little one is paying attention.

— Make it part of every day. Start with just 10 or 15 minutes a day. And then do it. Every. Day.

Start with small steps. Maybe just try reading a couple of pages of a story to start. Every little bit helps.

Talk about what you see. Talk about the pictures in the book, start to count things in the book, name things you see in the book, like animals or shapes.


I’d add this to Margaret’s advice: Have fun. Sure, reading is a seriously important thing for grown-ups to do with young children. But don’t treat it like homework. Have fun when you read together. Make up voices for the characters in the book or nursery rhyme. Sing songs, even if your singing voice isn’t Grammy-worthy.

What a child craves is your time and attention — and your voice. Use it often and with love, and you’ll be feeding that developing brain all the nutrition it needs to be healthy and ready to learn.


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