There are hundreds of statistics to reinforce the value of developing good reading habits at an early age. While every parent has probably heard the dire warnings, the development of reading skills is so important, it bears repeating again and again. Good readers have brighter futures than poor readers, and the die is cast as early as fourth grade. Children who are not reading at a proficient level by the fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

If there are parents who still doubt the importance of reading, here are some facts:

  • 82% of prison inmates are high school dropouts, and a high proportion of them cannot read.
  • More than one third of all juvenile offenders read below the fourth-grade level.
  • Among adults at the lowest level of literacy proficiency, 43% live in poverty. Among adults with strong literacy skills, only 4% live in poverty
  • An adult without a high school diploma earns 42% less than one with a diploma.
  • 40 million adults in the U.S. read and write at or below the fifth-grade level.
  • Low literacy costs $73 billion per year in terms of direct health care costs. This is equal to the amount Medicare pays for physician services, dental services, home health care, drugs, and nursing home care combined.
  • Those who cannot read at grade level by the start of fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

While it’s important to get an early start on reading and to stay at grade level every year, it’s easy to fall behind in proficiency; all it takes is a summer break. It has been well documented that, on average, students lose two months of reading skills over the summer. This phenomenon is known as “summer learning loss.” It’s estimated that, by the sixth grade, students who have experience summer learning loss over the years are an average of two years behind their peers.

Reading websites have hundreds of tips on how to get kids to love reading. Some of the suggestions that show up on every list are:

  • Read to your children, starting when they’re infants
  • Let your children see you read rather than see you watch TV, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.
  • Turn what your child is reading into a play by each family member acting out a part
  • Visit the library together often and make it a fun adventure rather than a chore
  • For a predetermined amount of time each day, you and your child should both abandon technology
  • If your child thinks reading is boring, let them write their own book on Storybird
  • Let your child choose what they want to read for pleasure, even if it’s a comic book or graphic novel

Discovering if a book is at the right reading level for your child is fairly easy. Take the book they’ve chosen, pick a page in the middle of the book, and have them count the number of words they can’t read or don’t understand. Five words or more, and your child needs to find a book that’s easier to read. Less than five words, and the book is just right.

If your child is uncertain what they’d like to read, Scholastic has a method parents can use to help children choose a book they’ll enjoy. All they have to do is remember P.I.C.K.:

P – Purpose: What is your child looking for in choosing a book? Are they reading for pleasure, or because they want to learn something?

I – Interest: Your child should find books that interest them. Find the topic they’d like to read about and expand that topic to include multiple facets they may not have considered.

C – Comprehension: Pick a random page for your child to read and then ask them questions to be certain the content is appropriate for their reading level. If they don’t understand or can’t remember what they’ve read, choose something easier.

K – Know the words: As discussed earlier, a book should challenge a reader by presenting two or three new words per page. If a child finds no unknown words, the book is too easy. Finding four or five unknown words means the book is too difficult.

Finally, there are many websites that offer a selection of books, both contemporary and classics, that are appropriate for each grade level. Many sites sell books and some are libraries; however, the books these sites have chosen are a good starting place for discovering titles and authors your child might enjoy.

Some of the most comprehensive lists are:

The Best Children’s Books – A bookseller, but if you want ideas of what to look for in the library, this is an excellent source, listing books by grade level, guided reading level, or developmental reading assessment.

Stanford Libraries – Offered by Stanford University, this list is sorted by guided reading level and is another good source for finding titles and authors.

The Children’s Book Review – From toddlers to teens, books are sorted by the reader’s age and reviewed so parents can preview the story, illustrations and recommendations.

Today – Sorted by age, from baby to 12, Today presents a manageable list that’s worth taking to the library or bookstore.

Time – The magazine lists its 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time. It’s a formidable title, and the books aren’t sorted by age, but you can read a brief summary of each book’s plot.

If a child is too young to read, parents should read to them even if they’re infants. When a child’s cognitive skills reach a point where they can begin reading, parents should encourage them and read with them. By the time children are in the fourth grade, they are no longer learning to read, but from now on are reading to learn. It’s at this point that many parents reduce their role in their child’s literary life, wrongly assuming that parental assistance is no longer necessary.

As was shown earlier, children can lose ground due to vacations or illness, and parents should continue to support their children’s reading habits until they graduate high school. Maintain a weekly reading time and schedule weekly trips to the library. Parents should regularly ask children what they’re reading and discuss literary points such as who is telling the story, what is the narrator’s purpose, what is the plot, who is the protagonist, and what are the main characters’ motives in the storyline?

And if all the facts and figures regarding early reading success and its relationship to later success in life don’t have you driving to the library right this minute, here’s a totally self-serving reason for parents to do everything possible to ensure their child is a good reader: being an above grade-level reader will almost guarantee a child gets into a good college, gets a good job, makes a good salary, and will be able to provide their parents with a comfortable life in their old age, which every parent so richly deserves. That a pretty compelling reason, isn’t it?

Now let’s get those kids reading!