Developing life-long readers is crucial for the continued success of our nation. Summer’s here and students have time to read for pleasure. It’s never too early for a child to start reading. Reading to infants and toddlers while they follow along shows that the parent values reading. It’s quality time spent together. Allowing young readers to read to others, as soon as they’re able, provides practice. We all know that practice makes perfect.

Allowing children to choose books they like, from a very young age, will expand their vocabulary and improve test scores. More importantly, it will open new worlds for them. While it’s true that students can explore the world virtually through the internet now, reading about the world encourages imagination and allows the mind to develop mental “pictures.” Reading Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder for example, exposes children to a different period in history and a part of the country they may not have seen. When students are then able to travel and see for themselves, the stories become more real to them.

A recent British study showed that people who read a lot exhibit more sociable behaviors and are more empathetic. Interestingly enough, the study also showed that those who watched more television displayed more anti-social behaviors. We need more adults who are empathetic and able to work with others.

Developing the love of reading, not just good reading skills, must start early. Those who struggle can become avid readers with support. Reading specialists at all grades in schools are critical to this effort. Without assistance, reading can be frustrating and children will give up. Contrary to the standardized tests, all children don’t learn to read at the same age. Some take longer than others to grasp concepts and develop skills. Support for those who struggle provides a foundation for academic success. The summer is a critical time for struggling readers. They can lose ground if they don’t continue to read and hone their skills.

Having those skills, a child can expand from pleasure reading to content reading to reading for research. Students need to be able to read a map, as a GPS isn’t always available. Students need to be able to read manuals—for vehicles, equipment, or how to assemble a product. Students need to read in order to drive and to prepare food.

Parents should make sure that their child spends more time with a book than an electronic device. The Culpeper Library has a summer reading program to encourage students to read while they are out of school. Across the nation, small “free” libraries are popping up where anyone can grab a book to enjoy.

According to the US Department of Education, 36 million adults can’t read well enough to succeed in the work world. Reading is critical for every job. Funding to assist adults who cannot read has decreased in recent years. The efforts to assist these adults usually are geared toward a General Education Diploma, which doesn’t encourage reading to develop critical thinking.

When children grow into illiterate adults, they are often victims to scams and can be easily misled. Reading develops independent, critical thinking. Well-read individuals are able to sift through the “chatter” to find the truth in advertising, political campaigns and biased news. One doesn’t have to go too far back in history to see that book burning led to a society that was easily manipulated and deceived. This summer, take the time to read with a young person. Discuss what you read and encourage them to read more. Our future depends on strong readers.

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Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County School Board member.