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I recently read of a college that wants to make its students aware of whether they had a “privileged” upbringing. The most curious part of the exercise was some of the items indicating the presence of a silver spoon at your birth.

One indicator was being read to, aloud, by your parents, as a child. Somehow, your parents plopping you down in front of a book, and reading it to you, was the same as to a trip to Europe or being given a new car in your teens. I gained some comfort in learning that I had given my children the equivalent of keys to a red Mustang, or a grand tour of Europe by spending a few minutes reading bedtime stories to them each night, when they were young. It was certainly less expensive than popping for the car or the trip—which I could not have paid for, anyway. 

My parents had done the same with me and my brothers. In my teens, when I had places to go and people to see, I am not sure I believed being read to was equivalent to that new car. It took children of my own before I appreciated their wisdom.

Children who have access to books, whose parents read to them, whose parents pass on to them the importance of literacy are indeed, privileged. It does not matter whether they are brought up in a mansion in the Hamptons or a shack next to railroad tracks. A child who can read, who is comfortable reading, and eager to use books has a major advantage over peers who do not like reading. A child with a love of books can go anywhere in the world—or off it—without ever leaving their house. 

Keep the Advantage

As children who love to read mature into adults, they keep their advantage. They learn more quickly, and need less guidance. Their literacy allows them to explore independently. In an information age, knowledge is power. Those that can gain power from books will not long remain living in a hovel.

Reading to your children when they are young helps remove some of the mystery from reading. It familiarizes them with the concept of getting information from text. It demonstrates that you put an emphasis on reading—that you believe reading is worthwhile, and that it is worth spending time doing it each evening.

It also demonstrates that you think they are important. You would rather sit down with them and read than sit in front of the television and vegetate. It is quality time spent with them, time that costs you nothing more than a few minutes away from the television.

Children learn by example. Reading to them sets an example that they will emulate with your grandchildren. That makes it as much an investment in your future as in theirs.

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By Mark Lardas. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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