Certain family cultures make the likelihood of success in school and beyond more accessible than others. The culture of which I speak is not about ethnicity, parental education, income or language, though. It’s about the prevalence and prominence of book reading in the families, regardless of any other cultural group to which they might belong.
Book reading is different from reading other things. Of course books vary in quality of subject matter, language and illustrations. However, families reading books, with their maximum depth of content and unparalleled richness of vocabulary and sentence complexity provide the most fertile context within which children can learn the culture of reading, along with improving their oral language, spelling, and writing.
A culture of book reading develops like the rest of a person’s culture. Children try to do what those they admire do. If a small child notices his parent doing something even as mundane as cleaning, it won’t be long before, using a tissue or a dirty sock, the little one will try wiping down the refrigerator. It’s how kids spend their day. Exploring things that they’ve seen others do and experimenting with how those things feel and work.
What gives children pleasure or gets attention gets repeated. What gets ignored or lacks positive results disappears. This is how culture is transmitted from families to their children. Children learn to fit precisely and comfortably into the culture into which they are born.
This Who Hasn’t Read a book… graphic illustrates the variety of book reading cultures into which a child might be born. Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults don’t read books. Remember that children learn from what families don’t do just like what they do.
Book reading evidently varies with race, age, income, education and community. However, it clearly doesn’t have to. These data leave us with the possibility that a lot of children aren’t likely to grow up as part of a book-reading, family culture.
I mention this because of the critical importance of bringing children up to comfortably and joyfully participate in a culture of book reading if they are to be successful in school and beyond.
Each family’s book reading culture impacts the larger community’s book reading culture. That broader culture, like all others is seemingly effortlessly learned by its members, just like the language they speak. They watch, listen, and engage around whatever culture is present in the home. That child’s culture is then either enhanced by a school’s book reading culture, or sometimes diminished at schools where a book reading culture is unavailable.
This country comparison, which ranks the United States as just 23rd among 30 developed countries in the amount of weekly reading we do, shows us another view. Regardless, it all starts at home. If parents in a family read books, that culture reaches across the community. Reading to children is a great experience for setting children up to read. Unavoidably, not reading books ourselves can be interpreted by our children as “reading is just for kids.” That’s the culture of book reading that no doubt contributes to our current status in the world as readers.