Cognitive Benefits of Reading on Children

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn more about how reading influences a child's cognitive development by improving vocabulary, increasing background knowledge, and contributing to critical thinking skills.

Cognitive Development

In addition to the obvious benefit of reading to improve fluency and comprehension, children gain additional cognitive skills from reading. Cognitive skills are skills related to gaining knowledge. Let's learn how reading benefits vocabulary development, content mastery, and reasoning skills.

Vocabulary Development

Listening to read-alouds is generally considered the most effective way to expand a child's vocabulary. Not only do students learn words that are explicitly taught through follow-up instruction, but they also learn implicitly by hearing uncommon words and phrases in context. Frequently, authors of children's literature will incorporate more complex vocabulary than students are exposed to in casual conversation. How can you get the most out of read-alouds for building vocabulary in your students? By choosing high quality texts and incorporating additional instruction on identified words, students benefit from increased vocabulary.

For example, in Maurice Sendak's, Where the Wild Things Are, Max says, 'Let the wild rumpus start!' Rumpus is not a word that students have probably ever heard, but within the context of this story, it is not hard for them to figure out its meaning.

Content Knowledge

Current trends in education lean towards a constructivist view of instruction. Constructivism advocates providing learning activities for students that allow them to make connections between prior knowledge and new information. Under this theory, children's literature plays a role both in providing prior knowledge and as a resource for students who wish to further research a topic of interest.

For example, a teacher may read A Visit to a Space Station by Claire Throp to provide a basis for comparing life in space to life on Earth. Students may not realize the differences in the way people eat, sleep, and even go to the bathroom. After reading this story, the teacher may fill the classroom library with a variety of books about space that students can explore to add personal meaning and enrichment to the space exploration unit. Some students may relate to the biography, Mae Jemison, who was the first African-American woman in space, while other students may be more interested in the reading about the technical aspects of how rockets work.

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