Reading to kids is overrated

So often, I read (or hear, this is especially big on NPR) that research shows the number of books a kid gets read to them (or the number of words they hear, period) is predictive of their later academic performance.

But I am willing to admit right now that my kids haven’t really been raised with a ton of that, especially from me. And neither was I, from what I can tell: my parents were a busy assistant professor and Ph.D. candidate when I was little, and it seems they plopped me in front of the TV, where I taught myself to read with the help of Sesame Street when I was two.

My own kids did not learn to read so young, but ended up advancing quickly once they were in school. My 14 year old son was one of those (like a lot of people here, I imagine) they invite to take the ACT early, in 7th grade; and my 5th grade daughter has been listed on her STAR reading printout as reading at a “12.9” grade level equivalent since last year.

I think it’s just that unlike me, most people who are passing on the smart genes to their kids also happen to *like *to read to them. (I like to spend time with my kids, just to be clear; but we are more TV watchers in this golden age of TV.) I highly doubt a targeted intervention to have more words read or said to disadvantaged kids is actually going to bring the results they imagine it will.

It’s not just “the smart gene”, it’s generally the kind of language children hear at home. It helps if you hand them that through reading books but there is plenty of opportunity in everyday life. The difference to children is if they have ever heard the word “percent” at home before it’s introduced at school, stuff like that.

I’ve worked on research projects testing language acquisition in children in primary schools. We didn’t actually look at parental background or how much they read to them, but to be honest that was a pretty big gap in our research. It was clear that it played a hugely important role. You can pick out the children with educated parents easily. You can also pick out the children who are intelligent but who aren’t exposed to richer and more varied language.

One of our tests had a theme of zoo animals. The children who did best were invariably the children who had been on safari in Africa. Which sucks for equality. The children who did worst were often the children whose parents had never taken them to the zoo. (Those were not the results of the project, just a pretty strong correlation I noticed while testing.)

All you have, SlackerInc, is anecdote.Actual research says reading to kids makes a difference.

Personally, I love reading to my kids, but I have friends who see it as a chore because they’re not, themselves, book readers (smart people, but usually in IT or film). They do it anyway because they believe in the benefits.

You sound smart enough to understand that anecdote is not data, and you sound like you should know enough to know that any properly designed study is going to control for the potential confounding factor you mention.

My mom liked to plop my younger sister & I in front of the TV all the time as kids. Our grandma took up the slack & read to us when we stayed at her house (weekends, summers & most holidays).

Grandma was also a 3rd grade teacher & brought out her wooden alphabet & taught us how to spell & pronounce things phonetically at an early age. She’s also read us lots of Bible stories or would bring home higher grade textbooks & read us interesting stories from those.

Sesame Street was boring to us because the spelling/pronunciation segments were way too slow:
FA… …RT. “It spells FART dammit! Why does it take 5 minutes for them to connect 'em!? click
I still hate muppets/puppets because of how tedious Sesame Street was to me back then. I’ve never been a fan of fake/puppet interaction segments; it’s just an irrational irritation. (Mr. Rogers was always our favorite show, especially the crayon factory episode!)

In 3rd grade I was bumped up to 4th grade (but put back in 3rd because the 4th grade teacher traumatized me. She liked to embarrass kids in front of the class if they forgot supplies, books, etc. The more nervous she made me, the more I forgot.) I was at a very high reading & comprehension level from very early on, but I was always 2 grades or so behind in math. I’ve never been good at math & I was a very stubborn kid so it took awhile for me to stop fighting people (years of bullying at school & at home) & learn it for myself.

I think people tend to have better results if they actually enjoy reading to their kids instead of treating it as another chore to check off before sending the kiddos to bed. It helped that my grandmother was a very responsible, patient, stable & calming influence. She helped bring us out of our shells & equipped us for handling the real world in a calm & gentle manner that was greatly needed.

Earlier this week on the fine Australian UK news site The Conversation I read this:

We’re not talking to our kids: are we causing speech delay?.

Coincidentally, the research project I mentioned earlier was on the use of gaming (on a mobile phone app) in second language acquisition. Or: The added value of a gaming context and intelligent adaptation for a mobile learning application for vocabulary learning. This was envisaged as adding exposure to the vocabulary in addition to exposure at school, and importantly in a fun way that engaged the students.

The results very clearly showed that the children learn the most from the lessons at school, but they do much better with the added gaming after school. In other words, it cannot replace lessons and human interaction, but it is a valuable addition. It only works as an addition, without the teacher’s lessons it doesn’t do that much.

We read to our daughter - not daily, but often. But one thing we never did was baby-talk to her. We never made up childish terms for things and we didn’t deliberately mispronounce words as if we were toddlers. I’m sure that’s why she always seemed to be articulate beyond her years and people didn’t have trouble understanding what she said, even at a young age.

Although I will admit she stumped me once. She kept saying something about the “pink one” and it took several repetitions and a little context to realize she was saying “penguin.”

Oh, and her favorite book as a wee one was called “Doggies” - it was 10 cardboard pages of barking. Her dad read it the best - he cracked me up when he read it to her. :smiley:

Neither parent read to me. And I didn’t grow up to be an illiterate deliquent.

However, my mother did tell us stories all time. Stories she invented off the top of her head. And I swear they were a million times better than any story we could have read a book.

But if it weren’t for Reading Rainbow and Lamar Burton, the whole children’s literature thing would have flown right past me.

My non-expert opinion is that reading to ones kids not only teaches them to read, but it also fosters “soft” skills that help them in school. Like how to sit still, listen, wait their turn, and ask questions. And parents who read to their children probably also notice things about their kids that they wouldn’t notice otherwise, like attention problems or reading problems. I’m betting that for a whole lot of parents, reading to their kids benefits their parenting skills just as much as it benefits the kids’ academic skills.

Gosh, people can really manage to hate almost anything.

My 9 year old and I read together every night and have since she was old enough to pay attention. I don’t know if it’s improved her reading skills or if it just came naturally but she’s definitely above average in her scores. We read because it’s like taking little adventures together. It’s fun and it’s a good relaxing way to end the day.

I suspect it’s not just reading to kids that matter, it’s also that you’re giving them attention. I suspect that even if the OP didn’t read to his kids he talked/interacted with them in other ways.

Too many people seem to just park the kid in front of the TV or otherwise ignore them. That’s just not good for the kid. Kids need interactions with other people to develop properly, and that’s “other people” in real time, not as actors/puppets/lecturers on TV.

It’s almost like someone- a trained social scientist, maybe- ought to do a study. Control for some variables, and maybe get some peer review action going on?

Oh wait, that’s been done?

FWIW, I grew up an unlikely reader. My mother was very young and did not start college until I was older. My dad was definitely not an intellectual. But my mom made a conscious effort to read to me, and perhaps just as importantly, to model reading and fill our house with books. I give that full credit for my being a reader today.

I’ve done work on early childhood education in the developing world, and the difference even small efforts can make is huge. You absolutely can overcome humble origins with some attention. You don’t even really need to read (this comes up in places where adult literacy is low.) There is evidence that just picking up a book or other printed material (such as packaging or advertisements, if books are not around) and discussing the pictures has a beneficial effect.

For evidence, look at India or China. My students in China were largely the children of semi-literate farmers and factory workers. Thanks to new economic opportunities for educated people, their families made sure they had what it took to perform academically.

There is no reason why this can’t happen in the states. But the economic opportunity has to be there. People aren’t going to emphasize education if all it gets you is being a smart broke person.

I do think that book reading is good for kids but I don’t believe that there is something magical about books in particular. Like others in this thread I think it really comes down to interaction, affection, and the number of words a kid hears early in life. I don’t have my first cup of coffee finished yet so excuse my lack of internet research, but there’s something called “the million word gap” or something. By the time kids are two, ones in “enriched” households have heard a million more spoken words than ones in “deprived” households or something. That has got to play a major role in language development.

This is true - neither of my parents read to me, that I can remember, but they both read a lot - Judith Krantz-type shit for my mom, SF for my dad. So did my older siblings. I grew up thinking of reading as a worthwhile leisuretime activity, and our house was full of books and other stuff: the World Book encyclopedia and atlas may have been the best thing my parents ever bought. My dad, my brothers and I made regular trips to the book exchange (like a used book & comic store that takes tradeins)

We read to the Firebug right from the day we got him from the orphanage in Russia. I don’t know if it’s overrated in terms of enhancing a kid’s learning, but sure wasn’t overrated in terms of the sheer fun of it, especially once I found some of the good recent children’s authors like Julia Donaldson and Jeremy Tankard that I didn’t know about because they had started writing long after I’d grown up.

We still read to him at bedtime almost every night. Since he’s in first grade now, we’ll often do something like he’ll read the left-hand page, and I’ll read the right-hand page.

You 1% are always bragging. We didn’t have the luxury of Sesame Street. When I was two I had to teach my self to read by Street Signs.

Besides the advantage of attention and language, reading instills a love of books in kids, which will benefit them forever.
I both read and told stories to my kids. You can do both.

In a hilly foreign country. In winter.

Exposure to reading and words is probably more important, but I had reading modeled to me by my mother having lots of books and, maybe more importantly, I was the youngest of six and my oldest brother read to me every day. He would sit me on his lap at the dining room table and read a book out loud with his finger running under every word. This was my BIG BROTHER. I wanted to be like him! I think a role model like that is pretty important for a lot of kids.