Reading or Homework? You Decide.

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It’s March which means there’s much to celebrate! Like the spring equinox on the 20th, St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th and the beginning of the U.S. college men’s basketball showdown—March Madness—on the 14th (GO Cards!). March also provides an opportunity to celebrate reading, as it is Read Aloud Month. This recognition is promoted by Read Aloud 15 Minutes, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring every child is read to every day for at least a quarter of an hour, a perfectly reasonable target for little children.

play 6Reading to children is a solid anchor for literacy development, both in the early years and throughout schooling. It also creates a launch pad for relaxed conversations between children and adults regarding books’ content, and authors’ and illustrators’ artistry. It is those conversations that build the Family Scholarly Culture in households of any income level that can all but ensure children’s success in school and beyond.[i]

Reading with children for just 15 minutes each day is a simple investment in their growth and a solid choice about how to spend time—even if it means letting kids choose what they want to read over doing prescribed homework. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post wrote about the clear benefits accrued by eliminating homework for elementary school students. In her article, “What happened when one school banned homework—and asked kids to read and play instead?,she reports how one principal’s decision to nix homework gave children “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.” Parents said “…their kids now have time to pursue things other than math work sheets, and many report that students are reading more on their own than they used to.”

As this article suggests, research indicates that homework does little to extend learning in elementary school and perhaps even diminishes achievement for many children. Homework could be keeping kids from enjoying their childhood and, most importantly, from the perspective of most parents and educators, keeping them from reading self-selected books during their free play time.

play 4Homework can sideline literacy in other ways, too, because it can be a brain drain. Consider a child working on those math worksheets or building a dinosaur diorama or researching and memorizing spelling/vocabulary words and then finishing right before bath time. Afterwards, when given an option to share a book with dad, their already tired brains just want to do something mindless, like play video games or watch TV.

However, when time is allotted for a couple video games or a little TV and a chance to join dad in continuing with that book on dinosaurs, or reading and discussing the next chapter in an historical novel or planning together the design and proportions of a homemade kite, such invitations sound like nice wind-down options after a busy day.

Reading together offers a wonderful way to enhance the joyful activities of childhood and family bonds. Relaxed time spent with books helps children embrace and nestle into the culture of reading that stimulates vocabulary growth, comprehension depth and an expanding fund of knowledge about the world. Given these circumstances, kids could blow right past that 15 minute read aloud target and not even notice.

Now that’s something to celebrate!

[i] Evans, M.; Kelley, J.; Sikora, J. & Treiman, D. J. (2010), ‘Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations’, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 28 (2) , 171 – 197.


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