The Importance of Independent Reading in Elementary Schools

by Van Thompson

    Because reading can feel like second nature to adults, it's easy to forget how challenging it can be to learn this skill. Children typically take several years to fully master independent reading, according to the textbook "Educational Psychology." However, there is a strong correlation between independent reading and academic success, so many schools institute programs and incentives to push students toward independent reading.

    The phrase "independent reading" describes any reading a child does of her own free will. Reading any material -- books, magazines, newspapers -- that is not part of a school assignment is independent reading. In kindergarten and preschool, independent "reading" may consist of little more than looking at the pictures in a book. By elementary school, however, students can read books on their own, and many graduate to longer novels by second or third grade.

    According to the American Association of School Librarians, there is a strong correlation between independent reading and general academic achievement. Independent reading boosts vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal skills and achievement-test scores. Moreover, early independent reading can create a snowball effect that expands knowledge. A 2011 study published in "Child Development," for example, found that children with higher reading test scores tended to do more independent reading. Independent reading in and of itself boosts reading test scores, so it could be that reading begets more reading.

    Reading opens up a world of knowledge and can help children pursue their interests and hobbies. Students who read regularly have better research skills and are more effective writers, according to "Educational Psychology." The also have access to secondary sources of knowledge. If a teacher's style doesn't work well for a student, if he reads regularly and well, he can seek out a book to help him boost his knowledge.

    According to the American Association of School Librarians, students who begin a book in class are more likely to continue reading it on their own. Practices such as daily independent reading time can boost a student's interest in reading. Programs such as the Accelerated Reader program -- which encourages students to read books, take comprehension tests and try to meet school-wide goals for reading -- can also help to encourage independent reading.

    About the Author

    Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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