Reading makes children smarter. It’s logical since reading provides children access to information from an additional source beyond their peers, parents and teachers. But books are more than just an additional source of information. Regardless of whether your child reads fiction or non-fiction, books can teach a child a lot about the world around them. A good book of fiction can even help children develop empathy – an essential skill for life.
Now studies have linked reading to enhanced cognitive functioning. Children who read for fun do better in school, even in subjects like math. Surprisingly, researchers have also discovered that children who start reading from an early age perform better not only in verbal but also in non-verbal tests.
In a study of 1890 pairs of twins, researchers tested for reading and intelligence levels at age 7, 9, 10, 12 and 16. What’s unique about this study was that the subjects were twins which allowed the researchers to control variables such as genetics, socio-economic background, and environment.
‘You cannot get a better statistical control than identical twins. It means that the differences in intelligence tests cannot be down to genes, they cannot be down to socio-economic factors and they cannot be down to environmental differences. This technique meant we could accurately test to see if one twin was a little bit better than the other at reading, would that reading advantage impact their general intelligence? And the conclusion was yes it does.’ – Dr Stuart Ritchie, Psychologist from the University of Edinburgh
What they found: children who started reading earlier did better not only in verbal reasoning tests but also in non-verbal tests. They performed better in IQ tests such as abstract thinking, general cognition and pattern finding.
Study Source: Does Learning to Read Improve Intelligence? A Longitudinal Multivariate Analysis in Identical Twins From Age 7 to 16 – Child Development
In another study of 6000 young people, researchers recorded how often they read during childhood and their test results at ages 5, 10 and 16. The subjects were matched for socio-economic background and test performance at ages 5 and 10.
What they found: children who read often at age 10 and more than once a week at age 16 did better in maths, vocabulary and spelling tests at age 16.
Now that was surprising. Reading improves performance in math – a subject that is seemingly unrelated. Researchers theorised that this is likely because a strong reading ability helps children absorb and understand new information.
The other interesting finding was that reading was more significant than having a parent with higher education – a factor that has often been linked to higher performing children.
The combined effect on children’s progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree.
Study Source: Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading – Institute of Education, University of London
Reading Makes Children Smarter
Children who start reading early and those who read purely for enjoyment have better cognitive skills and do better at school. All the more reason why we should inculcate healthy reading habits from an early age and encourage our children to continue these habits into their teenage years.
What can we do to support our children’s reading?
- Start early
- Read regularly with your child
- Visit the library or book shop regularly
- Make the home a reading environment
- Model good reading habits – parents who read raise children who read (see: children don’t read books because parents don’t read books)
- Use audio books and read-along apps to increase reading exposure
- Introduce new books to your child
- Talk to your children about the books they read
- Include a variety of reading material – including non-fiction and magazines