Raising a New Generation of Readers

It's 2013, and reading has never been more important. Our world has become a fast-paced blur of information. Everywhere we go, we are presented with an overload of data that needs immediate attention and a quick response. Life is not slowing down, and more and more people are being left behind.

This was all I could think about as I sat in a busy airport last week reading the new study -- "Kids & Family Reading Report" -- just released by Scholastic and the Harrison Group. With my own hectic schedule in mind, I wondered what it would be like to navigate the world with limited, or no, reading ability.

I can't even imagine.

Unfortunately, there are millions of children across our country facing long, hard roads ahead of them because they are growing up without reading. If they don't catch up, they will likely struggle throughout school, and in life.

That needs to change. And the change needs to start at home.

According to the Kids & Family Reading Report, about half of parents (49 percent) feel their children do not spend enough time reading books for fun. This number has increased since 2010 across all age groups of children surveyed for the report.

A parent is a child's first and most important teacher. At Reach Out and Read, the organization I lead, our network of pediatricians and medical providers arms families with books and knowledge about the importance reading to children beginning in infancy. The research shows us that parents who engage their babies early with books and reading aloud in the home help create children who enter kindergarten with the basic literacy skills they need to read and succeed.

It's that simple. Read to your children every day, beginning at birth. If you do, there's a strong chance they'll become good readers and in turn, develop a love of reading that will carry them through school, work, and beyond.

At Reach Out and Read, we focus on serving families primarily living in low-income communities. We know that our families tend to face more hurdles in life, and in developing strong literacy skills. What was fascinating among Scholastic's findings is that income - while a critical factor in helping to shape a child's path in life - is not always the end all, be all.

Scholastic found that having reading role-model parents or a large book collection at home has more of an impact on children's reading frequency than does household income; and that building reading into children's schedules and regularly bringing additional books into the home had a positive impact on a child's reading frequency.

Those are not things that have to cost money. Those are things that take time, care, and effort.

What I also found interesting is that the report illustrated how reading doesn't always have to be done with a traditional book. What's more important is the act of reading -- either the special parent-child bonding time that happens when children are younger, or the magical escape into books that happens when children are older. For children over 2, using an e-reader is fine -- and may be ideal to get some children excited about reading.

The bottom line is that children and parents need to be reading.

While the year is still fresh, and our New Year's resolutions still in mind, make sure yours include reading -- and reading to the young people in your life. It is everyone's responsibility to help shape the next generation. The stakes are high.

Together, we can raise a new generation of readers.