Image: PhotoWall

Image: PhotoWall

A lot of parents are concerned with their children spending too much time online, and how this might keep them away from more educational pastimes. This concern might be well founded. The digital age comes with scores of benefits. Access to education and information has never been so easy and complete. At the same time, distractions are numerous and the sheer media and digital information bombardments we experience on a daily basis can be very confusing. It can be difficult to focus on what’s important, and most of the time people – parents and kids likewise – choose to spend their time on less strainful intellectual activities. With this in mind, parents should first and foremost look at how they spend their own time at home and what example they give to their kids. Even the things they keep lying around the house can be extremely impactful on education.

As we cram more and more transistors inside a chip, western homes change face with the same pace. Bulky television sets make now room for slim HD displays, facebook and digital news feeds oust doorstep newspapers and magazines. One collateral victim, however, are bookshelves. Young Americans prefer to read books nowadays on a Kindle or some other ebook reader of choice. A consequence of this is that their bookshelves are now … just shelves. Some of course keep books around, but out of the aesthetic sense that a library emanates, rather than a veritable reader’s corner. That shouldn’t be a problem if people still read — after all, it matters little what medium you use if you still eat and breath those words, be them on ink or pixels.

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Home libraries: a gateway to discovery and life changing thoughts

Yet, most of us got in the habit of reading by shifting through our parent’s dusty libraries. Checking out titles, gently perusing chapters and having a great time staring at some of the most amazing book cover designs. A beautiful, quiet library fosters discovery and patience, which can be crucial for children’s education. One study published in 2014 looked at how exposure to books and high culture affects academic performance of 15 year olds from 42 nations. The researchers found “the number of books in the family home, exerts a strong influence on academic performance in ways consistent with the cognitive skill hypothesis, regardless of the nation’s ideology, political history, or level of development.”

After gross national product, the number of books in a home library was the greatest indicator of reading performance , even after controlling for well-known, potent family influences on educational performance—parents’ education, parents’ occupation, and family wealth. The great effect comes from libraries made of 100 books or so, whose exposure resulted in 1.5 extra years of grade-level reading performance. As more books are added to the library, the effects are less pronounced. A library of more than 500 books results in only 2.2 extra years of education.

Researchers conclude books have a strong impact across the whole broad spectrum of socioeconomic development, from poor nations to rich nations. Books especially benefit children from disadvantaged families. They enhance the academic performance of children from families at all educational and occupational levels, but the enhancement is greater for families with little education and low-status occupations.

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Digital books shouldn’t be demonized – far from it. Personally, I read 10 books on my Kindle for every paperback. I can read a lot faster, anywhere and without worrying I need to carry several pounds worth of reading material once I leave for my commute or trip outside the country. Historically, books have been a luxury item. It wasn’t until the 20th century that books became cheap enough and accessible to the masses. In the 21st century, ebooks have made it even more accessible still. Since Amazon rolled out its Kindle, for instance, people have been buying — and presumably reading — 30% more books than before.

books forecast
How book sales by medium (paper or ebook) are expected to change by 2018. While other countries are more reluctant to transition to ebooks, Americans are embracing it.

Yet we can reap benefits from both worlds. Nothings beast the excitement of exploring a well equipped library. It just can’t compare with swiping titles on a Kindle to look for something new to read. And the same, I bet, applies to old records and CDs versus your iTunes library.

If you haven’t already, now’s the time stock up that home library. Your children and nephews will thank you later in life.

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