Use your words: reading, writing, and critical thinking linked

A budding fashionista watches mommy or sister dress up. A wanna-be mechanic hands over a wrench. A one-day chef learns to navigate the kitchen one utensil at a time. Ditto for words. Skill with using them requires seeing, hearing, and experiencing language modeled. That’s a big part of what reading early and often does. Yet reading for pleasure is on the decline among kids.

Educators are seeing the results, not just in early education but in higher education.

Debbie Morrison wrote “The Decline of Student Writing and What Instructors Can Do About It” for Online Learning Insights in 2012. She reported that “A significant number of newly admitted college students, more than one-third, begin college without the required skills in writing, reading and math needed to complete college level work. It has become a national concern, and is beginning to affect public policy decisions.”

She also notes that “In Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa include results from a study that followed 2,300 students at 24 universities. It appears that even after four years of course work, one-third of students surveyed showed minimal improvement in writing and critical thinking skills.”

Of course, the roots of success in higher education are planted years earlier, before kids ever walk through the doors of a classroom, and cultivated at every step and level along the way.

A year ago, an article in The Guardian by Alison Flood titled,“Sharp Decline in Children Reading for Pleasure, Survey Finds,” reported on a 2014 survey managed by YouGov for children’s publisher Scholastic. The survey of 2,558 US parents and children “found that only 51% of children said they love or like reading books for fun, compared to 58% in 2012, and 60% in 2010. According to the report, in 2014 37% of children said they like reading a little, and 12% said they did not like it at all.”

Reading with toddlers and preschoolers models language use and teaches them that words create adventures. The 3-level Start to Read! series, with its many offerings in both print and e-formats, spark imagination and let kids begin to hear the way words rhyme and go together. Older kids will enjoy a contemporary twist on classic tales such as Jack & The Beanstalk, Peter Pan, Treasure Island and more, in graphic novel format.

Activities that get kids reading, engaging in word play, and thinking critically will benefit them academically in so many ways. In addition to books of all kinds, kid-oriented riddles like those on the Fun English Games website challenge kids to think hard—and to share the challenge with friends, too.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences offers Kids’ Pages that include palindromes (words, phrases, or sentences that read the same backwards and forwards), word picture puzzles, and “puzzling proverbs.”

The Fun Brain website provides “Word games online for kids, teachers, and parents.” They include Word Confusion (identifying the difference between words), Paint by Idioms (i.e., “add color to your language,”) and Infoplease Word of the Day to expand vocabulary.

Sudoku puzzles and crossword puzzles such as My First Crosswords for ages 6-8 or Crosswords Challenges geared toward kids 8+ develop vocabulary, subject knowledge, and reading comprehension skills.

March is National Reading Month and a perfect opportunity to read to and with kids and to focus on words and wordplay as vehicles to “adventure destinations.” Like any skill, seeing it modeled and then practicing it frequently, can make all the difference.