Want Your Kid to Go to Harvard? Buy a Big Bookshelf
In my last entry here, I indulged in much hand-wringing over the fact that my book-crazy husband and I were raising a reluctant reader. So it was with great relief that I recently came across a new study suggesting that simply growing up among teetering stacks of tomes on every flat surface just might be enrichment enough.
Published in the June issue of Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, a 20-year cross-cultural study found that kids growing up in homes filled with books attain on average 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes—a stat that held surprisingly true regardless of their parents’ education, occupation, and class. A 500-book home library offered the same educational advantage as did having university-educated compared to drop-out parents, the study found.
In other words, throw out “Baby Einstein” and just buy another bookshelf.
According to researcher Professor Mariah Evans of the University of Nevada, Reno, having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit. “You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’,” she says.
It sure makes me want to slip my kids an extra twenty for the book fair. But what is it about having books around that works this magic? I used the critical thinking and sense of inquiry I can now attribute to growing up in a house stuffed with first-edition Hemingways to email her and ask. She told me that, having clearly established that books have such a huge influence on educational attainment, answering such Whys is the next step in their research. “We are currently investigating questions about the timing of reading (we suspect that reading aloud with toddlers and young children is particularly important, but have not yet firmly demonstrated this), about role modeling effects (noticing that parents read, noticing that they “look things up” when questions of fact arise, etc), and about the content of the books [themselves.] “
The study looked at data collected over the past two decades, and I have to wonder if children will get the same benefit from growing up in homes whose parents store their libraries on one slim Kindle. Will the kids be tempted to curl up in the tree house with a box of saltines and an electronic reader in the same way? My hunch is there will always be something about the pleasing heft and comforting smells of actual books that remains most inviting. Living among them helps kids befriend them for life—even if it means there is never any spare room on the coffee table for an actual coffee cup.
Do you have so many books at your house you need call numbers? Did you grow up with books piles everywhere? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments section below.
Photo of Ethan by K. Morgan Photograhy
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