Does Early Reading Make You Smarter?
How Reading Impacts a Child's Intellectual Development
We all know that reading has numerous benefits. Reading helps increase your vocabulary; it is the key exercise that serves to increase your reading comprehension abilities; and reading also helps increase your knowledge. But can reading really make you smarter? Will reading have a beneficial effect on one's IQ development such that it supports the growth and development of their cognitive abilities? This is, in fact, true. Reading not only makes you smarter, but it also helps to "compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability by building their vocabulary and general knowledge" (Cunningham, Stanovich - What Reading Does for the Mind).
Reading helps to improve the cognitive abilities of everyone.
The wonderful thing about reading - especially starting to read at an early age - is that it is correlated with a remarkable upward spiral advantage for avid readers. Unfortunately, the ugly side of it is that non-readers will experience a vicious downward spiral of unrewarding reading experience.
How is this so?
The implications of reading for children's cognitive development is often discussed in the "Matthew's effect", where the rich get richer and the poor becomes poorer. Here, instead of dealing with wealth, it is a reference to the reading abilities of children, where the good readers become better at reading and has a gaping advantage over poor readers. Children who learn to read early develop superb reading skills. Through this, they read more, and have a rewarding reading experience and enhanced cognitive development, leading to more reading, which continues the entire process in an upward spiral. For poor readers, they experience unpleasant and unrewarding reading experiences - they lack exposure to print, become uninterested in reading, misses out on the cognitive development benefits of reading, and continues in a downward spiral that is extremely difficult to overcome.
These upward and downward spirals have important implications in children's development and academic achievement. Poor readers who lack practice and exposure to reading will continue to struggle with reading and decoding speed, and as a result, their ability to "pull" the meaning from their reading is hindered. A good reader is quite the opposite. Their reading is fluent and decoding is efficient, and very little brain power and focus is needed for the process of reading (word-recognition). The process of reading becomes very automatized, and as a result of this, more focus and energy is devoted to reading comprehension instead of the word recognition process. Hence, another huge benefit of early reading is that fluent readers have far greater reading comprehension abilities than poor readers. All of this is quickly reflected in the academic performance of the respective children with excellent or poor reading abilities.
Does Reading Books Make You Smarter?
We got a bit off topic above with the matthew's effect discussion of upward and downward spirals. In any case, our goal here is to share with you some of the studies done which find that reading does in fact help make a person smarter, and it does so on several fronts.
First of all, the bulk of a person's vocabulary growth comes as a result of reading and reading volume, and not oral language. While the spoken language does contribute to vocabulary growth, the bulk of it comes from reading. This fact has been clearly demonstrated in research done by Hayes and Ahrens (1988). Their research found that even children's books contain far more rare words than prime-time television, more than cartoons, and more than conversation between college graduates. In fact, children's books has about 3 times as many occurrences of rare words than the adult conversation of college graduates!
In another study, Cunningham and Stanovich examined 3 standardized measures of grade 1 reading ability - decoding, word recognition, comprehension - and, found that all 3 measures highly predicted grade 11 reading volume. The researchers stated: "thus, this study showed us that an early start in reading is important in predicting a lifetime of literacy experience." Furthermore, this study shows that children who get off to a fast reading start will read more over the years, and that the "very act of reading can help children compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability by building their vocabulary and general knowledge."
Those who engage in a lot of reading will enhance their verbal intelligence. Reading does make you smarter; and reading does increase intelligence. It can even help compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability! I think that reading early goes beyond the many benefits that has been discussed here, and perhaps there are even various benefits of early reading that we may not be aware of yet. What is apparent - through our experience with our own children - is that reading has a profound impact on the intellectual development of the child.
Teaching very young children to read is not a simple process, but it doesn't have to be difficult either. With a simple step-by-step reading program, you too, can teach your child to read at an early age and help your child achieve superb reading skills.