A new study shows that environment can have a huge impact on the growth of reading skills, although this sense of “environment” has less to do with where you read as much as how you read. In fact, encouraging reading in any setting is an important step in cultivating a reading culture among your children.
Parents who participate in literacy-enriching activities like reading aloud to their children can help their child overcome ability gaps and increase their literacy skills significantly. Being able to provide reading materials anytime, anyplace such as through an e-book reader app on your tablet could possibly help positively influence the reading environment and boost skills that affect academic achievement long into the future.
Nature Trumps Nurture When It Comes to Literacy Growth
A study led by professor Stephen Petrill of Ohio State University and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry made significant contributions to the question of how genetics and environment affect literacy. 314 research participants were selected from groups of twins in Ohio. Of the total number, 135 were identical twins, and 179 were same-sex fraternal twins.
Participants were tracked from kindergarten or first grade through their next two years. When the program began, an in-home assessment was given as a baseline, and then an annual in-home test was conducted every 12 months after. Reading ability test scores were calculated based on responses to a 90-minute battery of reading-based prompts that measured everything from word and letter identification and pronunciation skills to speed tests where a child was asked to name a series of letters in rapid succession.
Statistical analysis was applied to measure growth in abilities as well as correlations between both genetic and environmental factors. “Environment” was defined broadly as anything in the child’s experience, whether related to school instruction, parental care, their neighborhood, nutrition and the frequency in which they were read to by adults.
When processing the final results, the researchers determined that nature and nurture both came into play when evaluating the baseline skills. Speed tests had stronger genetic correlations, while word and letter identification was more impacted by environment. Genetics and environment had equal weight for vocabulary and sound awareness.
However, the longer the test went on, the more that environment affected how the participants’ abilities progressed. Awareness of sounds during reading, such as pronunciation and sentence cadence, was influenced around 80 percent by environment. Word and letter recognition was impacted by environment almost 100 percent. Speed tests were the only assessment criteria that still showed genetics as being a crucial element.
Save the Reading Environment
The results of this study show that children who lack inherent reading abilities can always pull ahead with the right mixture of environmental factors. Conversely, children who do have natural reading abilities can also fall behind without these positive environmental factors.
“Regardless of where children start as far as reading skills, and the impact that genetics and environment had on their initial skills, we found that their environment had an impact in how fast or how slowly those reading skills developed,” said head researcher Stephen Petrill. Parents that want to bring about these skills must take a proactive role in their child’s development and encourage reading no matter what skill level their child is at.
Starting early by reading simple stories aloud can get your child off on the right foot, and providing reading materials that allow them to go at their own pace can maintain their progress as their skills improve. Give your child the ability to read at any time by downloading one of our engaging and educational free children’s storybooks to your computer, tablet or mobile device. You just may be starting an important habit that will carry them into the later years of their education.