• Mark Collier

Benefits of reading – SLACKS!

In an earlier blog post I addressed the question ‘How can I help my child with reading?’ Now I will explore the benefits of reading, which are much wider than simply enjoying a book and its illustrations.

All children have a keen desire to delve into books, even if they only skim through the pages and look at the pictures. This interested is fostered at school and needs to be extended at home because research shows that reading has a stronger influence on a child’s academic success than his or her social or economic background. But if we are to encourage our children to read it helps to have an understanding of its benefits, as it is easy to slip into the option of allowing children to entertain themselves through various forms of electronic games and TV.

SLACKS is a mnemonic to help remember the key benefits of reading; let’s look at them.

Social skills – reading allows a child to see things from the viewpoint of a range of characters: this helps the child to develop social awareness and respect for others. In addition to facilitating the development of social skills, seeing things through the eyes of others helps to give a child greater awareness of the world and extend his or her imagination.

Language – reading a range of books helps a child to extend his or her language skills by introducing new vocabulary and enabling the child to develop an understanding of the meaning of words when they are used within the context of sentences. Improved language skills will allow a child to communicate more effectively and it will provide the child with a broader vocabulary. A child with a wide vocabulary will be better equipped to handle many of the questions within the verbal reasoning and English elements of the 11+ test.

Analytical thinking – problem solving skills are a valuable asset across the curriculum and play an essential role in 11+ testing, including non-verbal reasoning, which, although not word-based, require an ability to see and solve problems. Reading builds analytical thinking skills by requiring the reader to think about what might happen next in a story, what might have been the cause of a problem, how a problem might be solved and what action a character might take in a certain situation.

Creativity (and Comprehension) – a bit of cheating here to fit in with the SLACKS mnemonic! Reading helps to develop a more creative imagination by exposing a child to a range of scenarios in fiction that take him or her to places beyond their normal everyday experiences. This creativity not only supports the child’s literacy skills by developing their story writing ability but it can be applied to many other areas such as art, technology and science, where a creative imagination can help to see a wider picture and provide the thought processes for investigation. Comprehension is all about understanding what you read (see my blog ‘Reading comprehension – Now, what was that all about?’) Through regular reading a child builds skills in interpreting texts and in developing a sense of meaning through texts. Understanding what a story or information book is all about is a vital skill if a child is to make the most of his or her ability in the 11+ test or any examination: it allows the child to understand what a question is asking, which clearly relates not just to English but all other subjects. Children with good comprehension skills will be able to interpret mathematical word problems much more quickly than those who find comprehension challenging.

Knowledge – reading, particularly non-fiction texts, benefits a child by building up his or her general knowledge and helping to develop skills in finding and applying information. The text does not have to be a book; it can be a magazine, leaflet or information sheet. One of the good things about non-fiction books is that they do not have to be read from beginning to end to find out what happens. Instead readers can simply choose the pages of interest and broaden their knowledge.

Success! – regular reading will benefit a child across all areas of the curriculum and give them many more opportunities to do well in tests and exams. The ability to read fluently and at a good pace, whilst understanding the content of the text, enables a child to approach written questions in an efficient and speedy way. For example, many word questions in mathematics involve relatively straightforward numerical calculations, but the challenge is often understanding the question. Also the quicker a child can read a section of text intended for a comprehension assessment, the more time he or she has to answer the questions.

SLACKS shows us that there are many benefits to reading, but to make the most of them the reader must be exposed to books frequently and over a long period of time. The earlier a child begins to look at and read books the greater will be the benefits.

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