Whether your school calls it sustained silent reading, Drop Everything and Read, or has its own inventive acronym, independent reading has been a part of the public school curriculum for decades. While educators know that independent reading plays a pivotal role in early literacy and language development, many don’t consider the impact of independent reading on other aspects of a child’s education. In this blog, we’re looking at independent reading from the perspective of whole child development to explore the many ways that reading helps kids learn, grow, and achieve their best.
In 2007, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) launched an initiative to focus on the wellbeing of the “whole child,” rather than just academic achievement. Whole child development is now the norm for today’s educators, who work hard to support students academically, socially, emotionally, and physically. According to Vincent Costanza of Teaching Strategies, the goal of whole child development is to raise children who are “engaged and joyful learners who, as a result, grow up to become caring, creative, and resilient adults.”
How do teachers achieve the lofty goal of raising “engaged and joyful” learners? Most experts focus on five key elements of whole child development: literacy, cognition, social-emotional development, physical well-being, and learning approach (i.e., the mindset that students need to adopt to become active learners). Navigating all five of these domains—while also fulfilling additional state and national standards—can be tricky. Luckily, a single activity checks four of these five boxes: independent reading.
Independent reading boosts student literacy—but that’s not all it does. Let’s look at how independent reading supports each domain of whole child development:
It’s easy to see how independent reading supports literacy and language development; studies show that the more students read, the better their academic outcomes for fluency, vocabulary, and grammar. Much of this comes down to simple practice and exposure. Students who read for at least 30 minutes per day are exposed to nearly 14 million words between kindergarten and 12th grade. In contrast, their peers who read for less than 15 minutes per day are only exposed to 1.5 million words—a difference of nearly one million words per year.<
The cognition and general knowledge domain of whole child development focuses on acquiring the critical thinking skills, including math and science skills, that students need to succeed. Research shows that the basic cognitive skills we use to read are vital in all other kinds of learning. In one study by Peter Kline and Nancy Meyer-Brown, the authors break down the skills needed to read fluently, including identifying, organizing, processing, and interpreting information. When students read, they are practicing these skills, which will benefit them when they are analyzing scientific data, for example, or organizing the information they learn in history class. A similar study shows that reading supports critical thinking, knowledge-building, and abstract reasoning skills—all of which contributes to a child’s cognitive development.
For many decades, social-emotional development was overlooked in public education. But today’s teachers know that students need to learn emotional regulation and social skills to be happy and healthy. Over the years, dozens of studies have linked independent reading with fostering critical social-emotional skills, like cultivating empathy and understanding different perspectives. As students read about the struggles of characters in books, they begin to reflect on their own experiences, and the experiences of others.
Studies also show that reading is an easy way to support students’ mental health. A 2009 study by the University Sussex found that only six minutes of reading can reduce stress by more than 65%. In a world where 75% of high school students report feeling “often or always” stressed by their schoolwork, teaching students these relaxation techniques is more important than ever.
Finally, independent reading can support a healthy approach to learning by helping students build the skills and mindset that characterize engaged learners. Because reading has an impact on so many aspects of cognitive development, kids who become confident readers also feel more confident in other subjects, according to Merrimack University. The self-esteem boost kids get from becoming strong readers filters down to other aspects of their education, improving their overall mindset at school.
Independent reading isn’t just about developing strong literacy skills. It’s also a tool to support our students holistically—from their emotional well-being to how they feel about learning. Whether students use books as an outlet to relax after a stressful school day or to explore subjects that aren’t covered in their core classes, independent reading plays a critical role in their educational journey.
Want to encourage your students to read independently? The Beanstack app makes it easy to host fun, thematic reading challenges that will inspire kids to pick up a book.
Check out some of our new programs, like our upcoming reading fundraisers.
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