One child is raised in a bookless home by university-educated parents.
Another child is raised in a home with a 500-book library whose parents are barely literate.
Which child does better in school?
According to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, professor and director of the graduate program in sociology at the University of Nevada in Reno, both children perform equally well.
The study, “Books in home as important as parents’ education in determining children’s education level,” revealed that having a rich home library can propel a child a little more than three years further in education.
“That’s a tremendous difference. It could mean a bachelor’s degree or graduation from high school,” Evans said.
The effects on earning power can be tremendous, too.
According to 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, annual earnings for those without a high school diploma were $27,040, $37,024 for a high school graduate and $60,996 for a college graduate.
While the study used a benchmark of 500 books in the home, personal libraries need not be so abundant.
“Ten books matter. One book matters. One of the important things we discovered is that each additional book in a home of few is hugely important,” she said.
Book deserts are more common than ever in both neighborhoods and homes, especially for those who live in areas of concentrated poverty where the purchase of new books may lose priority when budgeting for rent, utilities, transportation, and food.
Some research has revealed such stark numbers as one book per 300 children, while children in middle-class homes had access to 13 books each.
A typical reaction is to point to libraries as a solution, but that’s not always easy.
“It’s hard to get the bits and pieces together that are needed,” Evans said. “A lot of parents don’t have the means, inclination or live close enough.”
Programs, like Reach out and Read that gift a book to a child with every doctor’s visit, are efficient at spawning age-appropriate home libraries early, but it would seem the surest way to get books in little ones’ laps is to place them at the top of gift lists.
What is especially heartening is that “a used book costs less than a pack of cigarettes. It’s a kind of investment that isn’t beyond reach,” she said.
Online reading comes with what she called, “too much ‘whiz-bang,’” and the light, colors, and buttons of devices are more likely to fragment a child’s focus.
Light from the screen has also been found to interrupt sleep patterns.
What is ideal is sticking with paper and ink, and what is most valuable is access and the process.
“I would rather have them reading with their parents. You can talk about what’s happening and ask questions along the way. Also, reading with your parents has a lot of positive emotional aura to it,” Evans said.
This story comes from a partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune, funded by The Patterson Foundation, to cover school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers and parent engagement. Read more stories at https://www.gradelevelreadingsuncoast.net/category/solutions-journalism-partnership/.