“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison
There is no question that regular exercise is beneficial to our overall health and well-being. The American Heart Association recommends, “thirty minutes a day, five times a week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity) to improve overall cardiovascular health.” Although the benefits of exercise are widely known, many of us, myself included, still struggle to find time to fit it into our daily schedules. Imagine a recommendation like this…“Giving children opportunities to read and engage vigorously with books everyday can improve their overall literacy health.” Independent reading is a form of exercise that when given time and support, has been shown to be the best predictor of children’s literacy success.
Research supports that children who spend more time reading are better readers. Growing strong, motivated readers involves giving children as many opportunities to read as much as possible. It means that children are spending time with real books in hand and with their eyes on the page. It means that they are interacting with print and illustrations in a meaningful context. It means that the youngest readers are building independent habits and practicing early behaviors even before formal reading has begun. These independent interactions with books don’t just magically happen. They have the highest effect on reading achievement when they are framed by instructional support. This support involves explicitly teaching and modeling the skills, strategies, and behaviors that will prepare readers for independence--how to handle books, how to choose a just right book, or how to choose the perfect spot for reading, to name a few.
Once we have taught and modeled the tools of reading through shared reading, guided reading, and read alouds, we have to move over and let them practice in the books that they choose. From sports to music to cooking, getting good at anything takes practice. The opportunity to “get in the game” and apply what has been taught is an important step to learning. Independent reading involves releasing children to take charge of their own reading process no matter where they are along the continuum. This is the only type of exercise that in its truest form is proven to build the stamina, the confidence, and the passion our children need to become healthy readers.