Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Reading skills are important to children’s success in school, work and everyday life, Linda Inmon, Extension specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), said. Developing reading skills at an early age gives children an important head start, not only in terms of education, but also in terms of general life skills.
“Reading helps set the foundation for thought processes that include remembering, problem solving and decision making,” she said. “The skill influences how a person sees and thinks about his or her world through areas such as information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development and memory.
Inmon said children who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well when they start formal education. The more words children know, the stronger their language and communication skills will be in kindergarten.
“It’s very important that parents read to their children at an early age,” she said. “They will be better able to recognize and use the sounds of spoken language. Children whose parents read to them regularly out loud hear hundreds of thousands to over 1 million more words than their classmates who are not read to.”
Reading to children improves their cognitive development and ability to think and understand. Brain scans show that listening to stories strengthens the part of the brain associated with visual imagery, story comprehension and word meaning. Thousands of cells in the brain are “turned on” and existing neural connections are strengthened.
Reading aloud to children provides them with background knowledge of their world and helps them make sense of what they see, hear and read on a day-to-day basis, Inmon said. Many educators and researchers suggest that reading and listening to stories is so powerful because it allows children to bridge the contents of a story with their own lives.
“Of course, the more adults read aloud to their children, the larger the children’s vocabulary will be,” she said. “A developed vocabulary helps children achieve success both inside and outside of school. Higher reading proficiency means students are more likely to graduate from high school and pursue meaningful hobbies, interests and employment.”
Inmon said the five early reading skills that are essential for development are:
- Phonemic awareness – being able to hear, identify and play with individual sounds in spoken words.
- Phonics – being able to connect the letters of written language with the sounds of spoken language.
- Vocabulary – the words children need to know to communicate effectively.
- Reading comprehension – being able to understand and get meaning from what has been read.
- Fluency (oral reading) – being able to read text accurately and quickly.
“Children will encounter these skills once they enter school,” Inmon said. “But there are huge advantages to starting to read before preschool or kindergarten. Adults can help ensure children’s success as lifelong learners by instilling a love of reading that can last a lifetime.”
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