06 April 2007
Why Should Children Read?
by Jack Trelawny
In the Spring 2007 edition of The Author, (the Journal of The
Society of Authors), an article entitled 'Books Win', cites Dr Tanya Byron on the importance of books and
reading for children. The following figures and findings are taken from that article.
Word frequency: speech = 400, children's books = 625
Research has shown that, when we speak, we are likely to use a small set of frequently-ocurring
words. The average 'word frequency' in speech is about 400. However, in children's books, average word frequency
increases to over 625, 'with such books having over 50% more rare words in them than adult prime time
Other findings of the research included:
- reading increases vocabulary
- reading decreases the likelihood that misinformation will be absorbed
- reading keeps memory and reasoning abilities intact as we age
Reading Vs TV
Dr Byron cites research into levels of acquired knowledge, which has found that, 'when
tested, subjects who watched TV were more likely to get a general knowledge question wrong than those who read'.
This was found to be independent of general intellectual ability.
Reading and behaviour
Reading builds vocabulary, increases general knowledge, and helps the expression of ideas -
an important skill in facilitating social relationships.
Words and having the confidence to use them are 'closely related to behavioural
Dr Bryon states that her clinical experience of child and adolescent mental health
demonstrates that an inability to effectively express feelings leads to destructive behaviour. This lack of
verbal expression results in self-harm or doing harm to others.
Many children with behavioural problems grow up in home environments where TV sets dominate, in
the front room, the kitchen, the bedrooms.
'These children don't read or get read to - they barely get spoken to'.
This has huge implications for the child's ability to communicate but even more fundamentally for
how he or she grows up feeling about him- or herself.
Reading and self-esteem
There is a lot of research that links self-esteem to reading achievement:
And it's an upward or downward spiral because increases in self-esteem have been found to be
followed by increases in reading comprehension achievement and vice versa.
Almost 50% of pre-school children:
- have inadequate and underdeveloped communication skills
- have limited vocabularies
- have accompanying behavioural problems
'Environments that allow learning in a positive and reflective manner are essential to
the development of a positive sense of self - and fundamentally crucial to those environments are books and their
Reading facilitates 'the communication of ideas, creatively bringing sometimes
complex ideas alive to stimulate the mind and encourage and tempt us into a further and exciting process of
'Most fundamentally, an ability to read develops a positive
Dr TANYA BYRON
Dr TANYA BYRON was the resident expert psychologist on parenting shows
Little Angels and House of Tiny Tearaways. She has written two books on parenting
and writes a weekly column in The Times.
'ANYONE who has seen the clinical consultant psychologist Dr Tanya Byron in action will not need
reminding of her Mary Poppins-like ability to cope with even the most difficult child. No matter how recalcitrant,
disobedient and downright rude they may be, children under Tanya’s direction are transformed into the eponymous
Little Angels of her BBC series.' The Times
Some Dr Tanya Byron links:
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17th September 2007