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Books in the home key for children

14 June 2010

A major recent study led by Nevada University has showed that regular access to books in the home had a direct effect on children's long-term educational achievement. Involving 70,000 people in 27 countries, it showed that the effect of having 500 books in the home was to increase by three years the length of time that these children subsequently spent in education.

The former Children's Laureate in the UK, Michael Rosen, has said that many pupils now go all the way through their formative years at school without reading a single novel. It is feared that some teachers are being forced to dump books - and teach children using basic worksheets - to boost their performance in literacy tests, and that school libraries are not making available the wide range of novels that children need to develop an enjoyment of reading.

Rosen's Just Read series for the BBC showed how the children in an ordinary Cardiff primary school could be encouraged to read when reading of all kinds was put at the centre of the curriculum.

Another recent study by Michael Norris, an American publishing expert, published in Book Publishing Report, highlighted the importance of letting children choose the books they want to read. This means that their reading is guided by their own taste, rather than by what they think they should be reading, or their parents would want them to read, and enables them to develop that taste and to learn to enjoy books for their own sake.

The Nevada University study suggests that filling homes with a range of novels and reference books may be the difference between leaving school at 18 and going to university, which can be worth up to £200,000 ($291,000) more in lifetime earnings.

This effect can be observed regardless of the parents' own education, occupation and social class but the impact varied from two years in the US to six years in China. As few as 20 books would make a difference, meaning that this is one of the cheapest ways of investing in children's education across the world.