Barrett: Reading books with an adult is a great way to build empathy and other social-emotional skills in kids

JThere are many reasons for families, educators, and community members to spend time reading with children, from improving students’ reading skills to improving academic and career success. For more than 20 years, Reading Partners has believed that pairing high-quality books with the mentorship of a caring, supportive adult is a key strategy to help close the reading achievement gap for low-income children and minorities. Now another compelling benefit of this model, documented by Child Trends in a independent study of California regions by Reading Partnersis that reading with children can have a positive impact on their social-emotional learning.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning as “the process by which children and adults understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. These skills have an impact on the success of children in all areas and are receive increased attention in educational settings.

Among Reading Partners students who participated in the Child Trends study, 83% improved their social-emotional learning skills by the end of the school year, significant gains in four out of five SEL skill domains: social competence, perseverance, self-control, and reading engagement.

CASEL documents the benefits of integrating SEL instruction with academic subjects, and one of the most natural ways to do this is to use books as tools for growing social and emotional learning in schools. The stories, whether fictional or real, serve as examples to help cement complex social and emotional concepts like perseverance, compassion, resilience, and integrity. In short, they take readers on a social and emotional journey.

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As Rosa learns how good it is to work for the good of others in A chair for my mother by Vera B. Williams, just like young readers. As Mira learns the power of an individual to foster connection and create community change in Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, young readers can begin to imagine their own ability to set and achieve goals.

Informative stories and titles featuring a variety of people and backgrounds enhance children’s capacity for empathy, especially their ability to connect to others’ experiences even if, at first glance, they seem quite different from their own. For exampleI am new here by Anne Sibley O’Brien chronicles the experiences of four new immigrants as they join an American elementary classroom. The book offers language and imagery to illuminate the emotional experience of finding one’s place in a new setting for students to internalize and apply elsewhere.

Of course, any book is most widely experienced when paired with the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher. Reading and discussing a book with an adult who can ask stimulating questions and model their own thoughts can help students learn about concepts they may have missed on their own. The simple daydream, “Do you think Rosa and her family ever felt discouraged?” after reading A chair for my mother opens children’s minds to the potential highs and lows of working towards a goal.

There’s also something special about turning the pages together – paper pages, that is. To research noted that readers absorb more from a printed version of a story than from a version read on a tablet. Having a good understanding of what is happening in a book allows students to consider and learn from the larger ideas it contains.

Printed books are visible conversation pieces; browsing the books on the shelf can be a social experience, and noticing what others are reading can spark a dialogue. Brief exchanges with others around books can, over time, foster interest in reading and draw attention to the perspectives of others – a key pillar of SEL.

Of course, digital reading can also be a powerful educational tool, and it certainly has a place in today’s world. But as with many things, balance is key. The chance for children to poring over books with an attentive mentor, flipping through the pages to discuss compelling social and emotional themes in the absence of that proverbial blue glow, is a valuable one that not only develops reading skills but also human relationships. .

When a child reads alongside an adult, that adult has many opportunities to model and support self-regulation (such as maintaining attention) and problem solving – key components of SEL. Whether the challenge is feeling restless or tired, not knowing what a word says or means, or not understanding a situation or fact presented in a story, an adult can show a student how to slow down and choose. an appropriate strategy for moving forward.

In the Child Trends study, warm and positive student-guardian relationships were favorably associated with the development of school perseverance and engagement in children. It’s logic. Every word of encouragement to persevere when reading becomes difficult, the gentle suggestion to be patient and thoughtful in one’s work, and the compliment for a job well done offered by an adult builds students’ confidence and emotional savvy.

When students receive individualized attention and nurturing support in reading, they can apply it to other areas of their lives. They may even offer it to others as friends and mentors themselves.

Lindsay Barrette is an educator, literacy consultant and freelance instructional writer. She is the old director of curriculum and instruction at Reading Partners.


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