Magazine article Insight on the News

A Good Book Is the Best Friend: Books Open Pathways to New Worlds. Children Who Don't Read Perform More Poorly in School and Miss out on a Profound Source of Pleasure and Inspiration. (Books)

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Good Book Is the Best Friend: Books Open Pathways to New Worlds. Children Who Don't Read Perform More Poorly in School and Miss out on a Profound Source of Pleasure and Inspiration. (Books)

Article excerpt

Books are main characters in the Schenaker house. Every night -- and at any time of the day on weekends -- parents Debra and Michael curl up with their three children to lose themselves in the smooth pages. They sip hot chocolate, perhaps passing the book around, the adults and older children each reading a few pages aloud. Together they have read books that are worlds apart in style and content: Rudyard Kipling novels, Winnie--the-Pooh stories, C.S. Lewis fantasies, Jack London adventures.

"Books fire the imagination, unlike watching the screen, where it's someone else's imagination" Debra says. "When you're reading a book, you have to fill in all the blanks, and I think it does more for your synapses to fill in the blanks."

There is power in the written word, reading specialists and educators agree. Reading presents children with a wealth of ideas and experiences and can model expressive, elegant writing. It is a cornerstone of school success, a skill and passion worth nurturing and supervising.

In fact, reading ability accounts for 90 percent of success in content areas, says Reid Lyon, a National Institutes of Health research psychologist and an adviser to President George W. Bush on early-childhood development and education. After grades three or four, Lyon says, "children's vocabulary is much more reliant on written interchange rather than oral interchange, and most of your vocabulary on college tests comes from reading."

In addition, children who don't read "not only fail in school, but also drop out in substantially higher rates and tend to get in trouble with the law" Lyon adds. That dropout rate, emphasized in a 1993 National Longitudinal Transition Study conducted by SRI International in a granted program, was 38 percent for children with a learning disability but only 25 percent for children who experienced no compromise in reading skills.

"If, by the end of high school, children are not reading, then they are at much greater risk of not completing high school or of [not] graduating than their non-reading-disabled peers," says Sheldon Horowitz, director of professional services at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, a nonprofit education organization headquartered in New York.

Beyond the tangible benefits, reading is a profound source of pleasure that can be shared between parents and children, book advocates say. "Kids value what they see their parents valuing when they're little;' says Lee Galda, a University of Minnesota professor who specializes in children's literature and language arts. "If you really want to make sure your children value reading, you have to spend time on it. Read with them, not just to them. You're choosing to turn off the TV, not talking on the phone. You have a book, they have a book."

Reading takes priority in the home of Andy and Laurel Vogelsang of Arlington, Va. The couple both loved books in their childhoods. Now, she says, they are determined to share the pleasure and power of reading with their two boys, Bennett, 6, and Will, 5.

"I can legitimately say I love to read, so that, in turn, gets them excited about it" says Laurel, the development director for the Capital Children's Museum in Washington. "Reading is an escape, really; it's information-gathering:'

Every night -- as well as frequently during the daylight hours -- Laurel sits down with the boys to read. "It's a staunch routine" she says. "It's pajamas, brush teeth and books." They have tackled chapter books, including some of her childhood favorites, such as E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan and Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

The family also has cultivated several contemporary interests: Rosemary Wells, for example, who writes the Max and Ruby series, and Janell Cannon, author of Stellatuna. In addition, the couple have introduced their boys to the children's page of the newspaper. …

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