We’re all aware of the large gap between rich and poor in the US and beyond. Sadly, the statistics show this gap has only gotten wider over the last several decades. Which made us wonder (as most things do): what does this mean for literacy?
Consider these troubling stats:
- 61% of low-income families have no (that’s zero!) age-appropriate books in their homes.
- There is just 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods.
- Only 36% of young children in low-income families are read to on a daily basis.
- The average child growing up in a low-income family has been exposed to 25 hours of one-on-one reading at home, compared to 1,000–1,700 hours for middle income families.
And with 45 percent of children in the United States living in low-income households, these are some pretty grim findings. It’s because of statistics like these that we at Book Bears made the decision before launching our business that we wanted to give back in some way. So for every new subscriber to our service, we’re donating one picture book to benefit children in need. It’s a small thing, but as believers in the transformative power of reading we know that even one book can make an impact if it reaches the right child.
We are humbled by the work that some important charities are doing to help close the reading gap. First Book is one great example. They have distributed more than 135 million free and low-cost books through schools to thousands of children. Reach Out and Read distributes 6.5 million books per year through pediatric care facilities. Check out this article in Huffpost Parents, which rounds up 10 great organizations. Consider a donation to help fund this great work.
You probably already know that reading aloud to a child can help improve his or her language development and affect future success in school. Well, these benefits of reading are now starting to get some serious research chops behind them, and the results are fascinating. We’ve compiled some of the most up-to-date research on the benefits of picture books and reading to small children. We hope you’ll be inspired to start reading more with your own little bears!
- Stories literally light up a child’s brain.
Until now, we haven’t had a good understanding of what’s happening in a child’s brain when he or she hears a story. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics looked at just that. They monitored the brain activity in 3-to 5-year-old children as they were being read to. And for the children whose parents reported more reading at home and more books in the home, their brains showed significantly greater activation of areas in the left hemisphere, where multisensory integration, integrating sound, and visual stimulation occur. And even though the children in the study were just listening to the story and did not see any pictures, they also showed more brain activity in the areas that process visual association—which suggests that they were seeing the images in their imaginations. Who doesn’t want their little bear to have a more active brain and a healthy imagination?
- Picture books may use a bigger vocabulary than you do.
From our work editing picture books, we know that picture book creators spend countless hours choosing just the right words and images to complement and enhance their storytelling. But in case there are any doubters out there, it’s great to know that research has proven just how special picture books really are. A study from the journal Psychological Science looked at the language content of picture books. Choosing from a selection of teacher recommendations, Amazon bestsellers, and popular bedtime books, the researchers compared the language in the books to the language used by the parents when speaking to their children. It turns out that the picture books contained more “unique word types.” That means reading picture books to your little bears could expose them to a wider vocabulary.
- Picture books are not just for little bears.
Many educators are now using picture books to teach higher-level skills to older students. These teachers have noticed less resistance to new vocabulary when it’s presented in picture books (which ties in with our point #2 above). And of course, kids of all ages like to hear a good story. Picture books can also serve as a great introduction or a supplement to the larger topics that older kids are learning about (for example, reading a picture book biography about a black civil rights activist to tie in with Black History month). So just because your child progresses in reading skills doesn’t mean he or she should stop reading picture books altogether. That’s also why we at Book Bears advocate for reading time to be a family event. It’s our belief that family members of all ages can benefit from reading picture books together.
Looking to add more books to your home bookshelf but don’t have time to do the research? Consider a subscription to Book Bears. Book Bears read! Visit us at www.bookbears.com.
Want to hear more about the studies mentioned above? Check out this New York Times article. To learn more about how teachers are using picture books with older kids, check out this article from School Library Journal. We also love this list from the Nerdy Book Club.