Children who read for pleasure are likely to perform significantly better in the classroom than their peers who rarely read, according to a recent report published by the University of London's Institute of Education.
According to a story published by the institute, its research examined the childhood reading practices of 6000 teenagers from similar social backgrounds, comparing their test results at ages five, 10 and 16 in the areas of vocabulary, spelling and maths.
The researchers concluded that children whose parents regularly read to them performed better in all three tests at age 16.
It was also determined that children who read often at 10, and more than once a week at 16, also scored higher in the same tests than those who read less often.
Lead researcher Dr Alice Sullivan reported that although vocabulary development was found to be the most affected area, the impact on spelling and maths was still significant.
"It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children's maths scores, but it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects," Dr Sullivan said in the institute's report.
Jo Padgham, a school principal in the ACT and national vice-president of the Australian Literacy Educators' Association, says students who read a lot become learners who are risk-takers – who will have a go at learning. "Those who find reading easier at whatever age will read more and thus increase their vocabulary," she says. "Increased vocabulary is closely related to comprehension as children move through school."
The study also concluded that reading for pleasure was a more important factor in children's cognitive development between the ages of 10 and 16 than their parents' level of education.
"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," Ms Padgham says.
Children who read often for pleasure are exposed to more complex language structures and vocabulary than they are exposed to in oral situations alone, she says. "This building of a rich language and vocabulary from books from an early age is crucial to reading development," she says.
Teacher librarian Olivia Neilson has noted that young children appear to have a natural enthusiasm for reading and borrowing books. "As students move up the grades and become more independent readers, they usually voraciously devour whatever they can get their hands on, as they enjoy the feeling of reading to themselves."
Encouragement is crucial, however, particularly for reluctant readers. Ms Neilson says reading aloud from a variety of authors and genres, and offering children a range of reading materials including magazines and graphic novels, is critical in helping to meet their reading interests.
She explains that to support children in finding the success and positive self-esteem that reading can set them up for, we need to live what we teach.
"As parents, teachers and the whole community, we have a job to demonstrate to young people that reading has value for them personally. Lectures and speeches about that won't do it for them, but modelling slow reading of great books and articles will."