As I have interacted with parents and children from many different cultural backgrounds over the years, I have noticed one shared goal parents have for their children. Across various cultures, values and socioeconomic status, many families hold schooling in high regard and have the desire for their children to reach a high level of educational attainment.
One commonly held assumption is that the strongest predictor of educational success for children is having parents who are highly educated. However, researchers have uncovered a surprising correlation to success that is stronger than parents’ educational attainment.
What research says.
A large-scale study, conducted over 20 years, found that the number of books a child has in the home significantly increases a child’s eventual educational accomplishments regardless of the parents’ level of education.
According to lead researcher, Mariah Evans:
Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.
“You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’,” she said. “It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”
In some countries, such as China, having 500 or more books in the home propels children 6.6 years further in their education. In the United States, the effect is less, 2.4 years, than the 3.2-year average advantage experienced across all 27 countries in the study. But, Evans points out that 2.4 years is still a significant advantage in terms of educational attainment.
This is good news for parents, particularly parents who wish for their children to achieve higher levels of academic success. Accumulating books is both easier and better than investing in extra tutoring and study sessions when both time and money might be scarce.
What parents can do.
When building and maintaining a home library, keep the following tips in mind:
- Take advantage of your local library. Borrow books on a regular basis and make a habit of visiting the library along with your children. Get to know the children’s librarians and ask for book recommendations.
- Encourage your child to borrow books from the school library as well.
- Visit second hand stores, flee markets and library sales. Give additional life to gently used books. Many families have discovered great titles in unlikely locations.
- Take books off the shelves. Distribute books around the house, leaving them in places where they will be picked up and read by family members of all ages. A basket of books placed here and there, or a neat stack of books positioned in key locations can lead to spontaneous reading activity.
- Circulate books in and out of rotation in high traffic areas. Newly displayed books are more likely to be read as family members take notice of the change.
- Adjust your lens to regard books as valuable assets as opposed to clutter. Find the acceptable balance in your house between artfully displayed books and reading material haphazardly scattered about.
Buy books. Borrow books. Read books. Talk about books. Enjoy books. Your children will reap lasting benefits.