Reading to kids can set them on path to success
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Tuesday, November 22, 2011 12:03PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 6:38AM EDT
Did you read to your kids last night? If you have young children, you probably did, but if you have older school-aged kids, you likely didn't. And that's a shame, because reading to your kids can be a key to their success, suggests a new report.
The report from the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) finds that reading to kids may be a good indication of how involved parents are in their kids' learning -- which can translate into academic and personal success.
The finding was highlighted in Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times this weekend in a piece called "How About Better Parents?" In the column, Friedman highlights the newest findings of the OECD's PISA test, or Program for International Student Assessment.
PISA tests 15-year-old students in 70 OECD nations every three years, to evaluate the quality, equity and efficiency of education systems in those countries. Since 15-year-olds are coming to the end of their "compulsory education" in many countries, the test is meant to assess how well students have learned the "knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society."
Canada usually fares pretty well in the test, as do Finland, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong-China and Shanghai-China.
In 2009, around 470,000 15-year-olds wrote the test. But this year, the PISA team went one step further and interviewed the parents of about 5,000 of the students taking part in the test, asking them about how they raised their kids.
The study found that 15-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school "show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all."
"The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family's socioeconomic background," the report notes.
In fact, the children of parents who read a book to their children at least once or twice a week during the first year of elementary school, scored an average of 25 points higher on PISA testing. That reportedly works out to about an extra half-year of school.
Not just reading, but chatting
The study also found that having parents simply ask about a child's day at school can boost scores on the test.
"Students whose parents discuss political or social issues with them either weekly or daily score 28 points higher, on average, than those whose parents discuss these issues less often or not at all," PISA reports.
Other activities, such as talking about books, films or TV shows together, eating main meals together and "spending time just talking with one's children" were also associated with better reading performance in school, the report noted.
Parenting expert Alyson Schafer is not surprised by the findings. Schafer, the author of such parenting books as "Honey, I Wrecked the Kids," says while she loves to wag her finger with all that's wrong with Canada's education system, she knows that parents have a big role to play too.
"The point is we're all in this game together," Schafer told CTV News Channel Monday night. "And it turns out that our (parents') engagement is important."
Many parents have heard the message that it's important to read to our children, but many of us tend to stop doing so as our children grow more independent, Schafer says.
"A lot of us did the whole reading at bedtime when we were tucking our young kids in, but then as soon as they get to elementary school, a lot of parents stop reading to their kids. So now we know we have to continue with the reading," she says.
Get involved but don't hover
But she notes that parents don't actually have to read to their kids to engage them. She says the researchers found that those parents who continue to play a part in their kid's learning by talking about social events, the news, and who knew what their kids were studying in school also were doing their children an academic favour.
"Those parents who really showed a kind of caring and concern and engagement, those kids seem to do really well as well," Schafer said.
She says a parent's role is not to push them to learn but to encourage them to learn.
"We want to be there in a support role, we want to let them know we believe in them but we don't want to do at the cost of having a toxic relationship," she said.
"Kids will excel academically if they feel like they have home support," she added.
"So be helpful but if it starts to hurt the relationship, it's time to scale back."