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Can children benefit from reading during the Holidays?

By Ernest H. Johnson, Ph.D. and Mattie Perry-Johnson, M.L.S

With the Christmas season upon us, if you are not aware of it by now, let us make it clear to you: We have a reading epidemic in America! Learning to read is a challenge for more than 40 percent of children.

The solution to this problem will emerge when parents and teachers work together to get children hooked on books. As you will discover, there is time outside of school, during holidays and weekends, for children to read. However, some parents’ buy-into-the-idea that their children need time to reflect and have fun during the holidays and weekend rather than spending time reading. But this might just be the case where a child can have their cake and ice cream too--have time for fun and reading!

Home Many Hours a Day Does Your Child Read at Home?

The complaint from parents is that the school (teachers) should be responsible for teaching their child to read. Underneath this complaint is the belief that children don’t have time for reading when they get home from school. No matter how you look at a typical week, there will always be 168 hours (7 days x 24 hours = 168) and time for reading! But most parents don’t believe this is true. Here is a look at how a “typical” child might use those 168 hours.

* 40 hours at SCHOOL
* 56 hours SLEEPING (7 days x 8 hours a night)
* 21 hours EATING (7 days x 3 hours a day)
* 21 hours HAVING FUN (7 days x 3 hours a day)
* 21 hours doing HOMEWORK (7 days x 3 hours a day)
159 hours

A typical child is at school for 40 hours per week, but there are 128 hours they spend at home. If they sleep 8 hours a night (x 7 days = 56 hours), eat 3 hours a day (x 7 days = 21 hours), and have fun 3 hours a days (x7 days =21 hours), this only adds up to 98 hours. There is a whopping 30 (128 – 98 = 30) hours that remain. It is within these 30 hours, away from school, where that parents and teachers have to cultivate specific reading activities for children. If the child make a commitment to 3 hours of homework a day (x 7days=21), then they would have used 159 hours and there would be 9 hours a week for reading (a little over an hour each day). Will reading one-hour a day, away from school, have an impact on the academic development of a child?

Reading Fact: Reading one-hour per day in your chosen field will make a young-adult an international expert in 7 years! If this is true for a young adult, then having a child read for one-hour a day might open doors to college scholarships.

Unfortunately, the older a child is, the more difficult it is to teach him or her to develop the habit of reading for an hour a day. If a child can't read well by the end of third grade, odds are that he or she will never catch up. In some cases, the child will be retained (held-back) a year or required to attend a summer reading program to address his/or her deficits. In either case, the effects of falling behind and feeling like a failure can be devastating for years.

If a child does not enjoy reading, then they are more likely to:
- Have lower grades in all their subjects
- Experience more behavioral problems school and home
- Experiment using cigarettes and drugs
- Experience difficulties progressing through school and graduating from high-school on-time
- Not attend college
- Not be engaged in citizenship activities when they become adults – they don’t vote!
- Experience more health problems when they are adults
- Experience more marital problems as adults
- When they become parents, they have children who are also not good readers
- Have lower incomes and experience lower levels of happiness

Children may struggle with reading for a variety of reasons, including limited experience with books, speech and hearing problems, and poor phonemic awareness (the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in words). What is so troubling for some parents and teachers is that, even after deficits in phoneme awareness, phonics (the relationship between letters and sounds), and other skills have been addresses, some children continue to be disinterested in reading and have difficulties understanding what they read.
The good news is that with early help, most reading problems can be prevented. The bad news is that many parents (about 50% of all parents) who notice their child having trouble wait for a year or longer before seeking help. If you suspect a problem, don't hesitate and get your child assessed.

Despite the increased attention focused on literacy achievement across socioeconomic lines, proficient readers are improving while struggling readers are continuing to lose ground—and many (but not all) of those who are struggling are poor.

Nearly 60% of fourth-grade students eligible for free-lunch programs fell below basic reading proficiency levels. By contrast, close to 30% of fourth-grade students from higher income areas fell below basic proficiency levels.

Having money does not solve the reading problem!

Being in a family with a high income is no guarantee that a child will be a good reader. Perhaps, part of the reason for the reading epidemic is because parents (adults) are not modeling reading at home. Consequently, the long-term impact of not addressing the literacy epidemic is producing some surprising facts about books.

- 25% of people over age 16 have not read a book in the last year

- 34% of eighth grade students read at a proficient level

- 46% of adults score in the two lowest levels of literacy

- 61% of adults in the two lowest literacy levels live in poverty

- Reading frequency declines after age eight

- 71% of prison inmates sore in the two lowest literacy levels.

- Reading one hour per day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in 7 years.

Schools across the country are implementing every type of program you can imagine to improve the literacy development of students. Some programs are more successful than others are, but the overall impact has not produced significant improvements. Most efforts focus on reading while students are attending school and not during the summer months, weekends, or long holiday seasons—when children are away from “formal” reading programs.

Academic development is stunned when children are not reading during the summer
If students are not engaged in reading during the summer, in a single academic year, the decline in reading is estimated to be three-months between the more advantaged and less advantaged students. Between grades 1 and 6, the potential cumulative impact of this achievement gap could compound to 1.5 years' worth of reading development lost in the summer months alone.

While all students are impacted by the summer reading loss, it is more persistent among students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who are already at risk for academic failure. If no interventions are made to halt the loss, then by the end of sixth grade the achievement gap between high- and low-income students could grow to approximately three grade-level years.

When children are involved in a summer reading program, the loss in academic development, including their reading ability, is less. In fact, some scholars have suggested that nearly 80% of the achievement difference between high-income and low-income students may be attributable to summer reading loss.

But, what about the lag in reading during the holidays (and weekends)? Does reading during holidays have an impact on the academic development of students? Is it important for parents, particularly those of young children, to create a holiday reading program?

Can children benefit from reading during the holidays (and weekends)?

Our answer is YES. Rather than wait for the researchers to show you the results, our suggestion is that teachers and parents use every opportunity available to help children develop the habit of reading.
Supporting reading development over the holidays (and weekends) can be done in ways that tap into children's own interests and imaginations. If you are a teacher, then you (and your school) can do much to set the stage for children's engagement in literacy over the holiday season.

It is important for teachers (and parents) to encourage children to check out books from the school library to read over the holidays (and weekends).

Before the start of a holiday season, teachers and schools can host workshops for parents where teachers share suggestions for keeping children engaged. In some cases, it is easier to get parents to attend holiday programs than workshops. Teachers and schools can use these opportunities to convince parents about the need to encourage their child to read at home.

To bridge the gap between school and home, teachers can provide homework packets and books for students to read while they are at home. Those tech savvy teachers can invite students and parents to be engaged with online reading programs, reading challenges, and reading games.

It is not enough to tell parents that it is important to read to their child. Advising parents to read with their child for 20-minutes a day is a good place to start. But parents need specific suggestions about how to cultivate a literacy program at home. They also need to be supported in their attempts to do so. Here are some specific tips for helping children to read during the holidays (and weekends). If you are a teacher, then share these with the parents of your students.

Tips for Helping Beginning Readers
- Load your home with books and reading materials that reflect the holiday.
- Point to the words as you read aloud to your child.
- Read short passages several times to your child until they can read it with you. Then encourage them to read the passage to you.
- Encourage older children to read with younger children.
- Encourage your child to read (or pretend read) to you. Applaud your child's efforts to read and don’t worry if your child does not read all of the words correctly.
- Point out print in the child's environment: on cereal boxes, food labels, toys, restaurants, and traffic signs.
- Let your child see you reading books, magazines, and newspapers.
- When watching television, have the captioning feature turned-on so that your child can view the words while hearing them performed aloud.

Tips for Helping Advanced Readers
- Talk to your child about what he or she is reading. Ask open-ended questions such as "What do you think about that story?" "What would you have done if you were that character?"
- Make reading and writing a regular part of your daily home activities.
- Let your child see you using reading and writing for real purposes.
- Visit the public library. Help your child to get his or her own library card.
- Encourage your child to select books that reflect the holiday.
- Read to your child regularly, even after your child is able to read some books independently.
- Listen to your child read and praise their efforts at reading.
- Use strategies to help your child with tricky words. For example, when your child comes to an unfamiliar word, you might say, "Skip it and read to the end of the sentence. Now try again – what makes sense and looks like the word that you see?"

Therefore, the essential question is:
Would children be better off today if parents required them to read at-home during the holidays and weekends?

What’s Your Take?

Make Your Voice Heard!

Please Share and Comment Below!

If you are a parent reading this post, then chances are good that your child has access to electronic devices and books they can read. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many children in our public schools. During the holiday season, please consider purchasing some books for a needy school. We are sure that you will receive much joy from blessing a school (and children) with some new books.

Peace and Blessings for a Great Holiday Season!
Ernest and Mattie

Just as your reading preferences are important to you, children also have preference about reading. Here is what we have learned about what children want to read and how they want to read.

What Do Children Want To Read?

Children Want Mysteries—Books with heightened suspense and excitement

Children Want Humor—They want to laugh

Children Want Nonfiction and Fantasy Books

Children Want Books Where The Covers Don’t Appear “DORKY”

Children Want to Listen to Audiobooks and Interact With Electronic Books

Children Want a Comfortable Place to Read

Children Want to Hear the Book Read Aloud—Children are social, and they enjoy rich interactions with people.

NCCAT has Literacy programs starting in January to help out. Click here to visit our calendar of programs!