Creating lifelong readers

Parents may worry about whether their children will be readers so when I read a recent interview by journalist Joe Pinsker with Dr Daniel Willingham*, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, he pointed to a number of factors within people’s control to attain the vital skill of reading.

He says that since so much of schooling is about reading, “it is almost tautological to observe that being a reader sets a child up for academic success.” 

Dr Willingham told Pinsker that – there are three variables influencing whether a child becomes a lifelong reader. Firstly, a child needs to be “a fluent decoder”, able to smoothly “go from print on the page to words in the mind” by mastering the challenge of identifying the “individual speech sounds” that make up a word.

The second variable, Willingham proposes, is that these fluent decoders benefit from having wide-ranging background knowledge about the world. “The main predictor of whether a child or an adult understands a text is how much they already know about the topic, Willingham noted.

So parental support, building incidental information about what the child is reading and understanding the world around them will help them interpret whatever they come across in print, as the child accesses decoding skills to create reading and writing fluency.

*published in The Atlantic

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