Learn to Read, Read to Learn
The Importance of Developing Reading Skills for Learning in School
Kids who learn to read early will go on to achieve greater academic success. Research has found that children who learn to read and develop foundational reading skills early on will continue to expand their reading abilities, while children who do not have foundation reading skills fall behind and it becomes harder and harder to catch up. By about grade 4, it becomes almost impossible for a child to catch up. This is consistent with what's known as the Mathew effect in reading - where good readers read more and become even better at reading, while poor readers fall behind, and never quite catch up.
This article is titled "Learn to Read Read to Learn", because in our early years, we must first learn to read, and by early elementary school, a child is then expected to learn and gain knowledge by reading. Here, I want discuss a little bit about the process of reading, and how reading skills can impact the reading comprehension skills of a child (or adult), which leads to spillover effects in all academic subjects. After all, almost all subject matters require you to read to gain an understanding.
How Reading Affects School Performance
Most children learn to read starting in kindergarten or grade one. Depending on various factors such as the teacher's expertise, teaching method employed, and the child's capabilities, children will learn to read at different rates. However, one thing that's certain is that the development of reading skills is better predicted by phonemic awareness and not IQ. This has been confirmed by a study done by Wimmer et al.  The reading skill and fluency of a child has a direct influence and impact on how well that child performs in all other school subjects. This much is pretty clear.
Let's take two similar children as an example, both are from similar backgrounds, similar educational and home environments, and of similar intelligence levels. The only difference is that one child learned to read early on, before entering pre-school. The other child, did not have this opportunity to learn to read early on, and is simply being taught to read in school. Who do you suppose will have better academic performance? My bet is on the child who learned to read early on. Why? Simply because developing reading skills early on helps automatize the reading and decoding process where very little brain power is needed for word recognition, and more brain power is available to process, understand, and think about what the child is reading.
Consider this, a child who is not a fluent and efficient reader, will spend considerably more attention, time, and brain power on reading the printed material. For example, let's say we have this simple math problem:
There were five passengers on a bus. When the bus stopped, two passengers got off, and twelve more got on. On the next stop, Five passengers got off, and three more got on. How many passengers are currently on the bus?
For a child who has reading difficulties, he or she will have a difficult time trying to solve a math problem such as above, simply because it gets a little involved with reading. Having a tough time reading leaves little room for the child to process and understand what it is that he or she is reading, and these difficulties spillover to other subject areas such as math, history, sciences, etc...
For a child who has mastered print, and is able to quickly read, decode, and comprehend printed text, they will have a much easier time to solve the above problem. The fact that fluent readers can almost instantly convert printed text to meaning, leaves them a lot of room to process and analyze what they are reading. For a fluent reader, they would have a much easier time to put the above math problem into numerical terms, which then to them looks like this:
5 - 2 + 12 - 5 + 3 = 13
Of course, this is a rather simplistic analysis of how a good reader differs from a poor reader. But the point I'm trying to convey here is that children who learn to read and develop fluent reading abilities early on has a huge advantage over their peers who did not have the opportunity to learn to read early. I think this is something that all parent should put to consideration seriously. After all, a simple 10 to 15 minute daily routine in learning reading can help children as young as two years old learn to read fluently.
1. Cognition. 1991 Sep;40(3):219-49.
The relationship of phonemic awareness to reading acquisition: more consequence than precondition but still important.
Wimmer H, Landerl K, Linortner R, Hummer P.
University of Salzburg, Austria.