Developmental Benefits of Reading Literature

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Many tweens enjoy picking up a book or a magazine every now and then. Some tweens are passionate about reading, and the stories they love. But reading literature — such as winners of the Newbery Medal — can aid your tween's development in various ways, including academically, cognitively, socially and emotionally. Below are a few reasons why you may want to encourage your tween to embrace reading, and help make reading fun for him or her.

Academic Benefits 

We tend to focus on the importance of reading instruction during the early to mid-childhood years. In reality, tweens continue to actively develop their ability to read. Many tweens may struggle with reading comprehension. In addition, they are still becoming familiar with common word patterns and meanings of words.

Since reading skills are vitally important for excelling in all other subjects — from history to science to math — tweens need to continue to be exposed to high-quality literature in order to develop their reading abilities.

Appropriately chosen literature offers enough words that a tween already knows to prevent frustration while introducing enough new words to stretch the particular tween's vocabulary. This means that literature is best chosen for an individual's reading level rather than for a group. Since most school readings are not individually assigned, be alert to signs of frustration or boredom in your tween. Either one is a signal that you may want to step in and supplement required school reading with literature more appropriate to your tween's skill level and interests. Doing so will help them develop to their highest academic potential and embrace reading literature.

Cognitive Benefits 

A key cognitive benefit of reading literature is the development of reasoning skills. Tweens typically believe that there is "one truth" in the world that is not affected by personal biases or perspectives. They accept information that is provided to them by experts — including parents and teachers — and that they themselves experience with their own senses. This type of reasoning is less advanced than that of older teens and twentysomethings, who realize that truth is relative and varies from person to person.

According to a paper published in The Reading Teacher, characters in Newbery Medal-winning books can help tweens progress in their ability to reason. These main characters face cognitive and/or moral dilemmas that surpass the types of dilemmas tweens typically experience. As a result of facing such serious dilemmas, the characters must actively move from lower-level to higher-level reasoning over the course of the book. This process models the development of reasoning skills for tween readers in a natural and engaging way. Being exposed to the characters' change in reasoning may in turn aid tweens' own ability to think and reason about the world.

Social and Emotional Benefits

Have you ever listened in on a conversation your child was having about a favorite book or book series with a friend? Reading literature also aids in social and emotional development. For one, characters in high-quality books often represent diverse backgrounds, including varying economic means, different races and ethnicities and unique regions of the country or the world. Diverse characters expose readers to worlds that a typical American tween never gets to experience firsthand.

Exposure to diversity can aid in tweens' empathy for others, tolerance for difference and development of emotional sensitivity.

Being exposed to varying backgrounds and perspectives may also help tweens move beyond adolescent egocentrism, which in turn benefits their interactions with peers, teachers, and parents.

Finally, reading literature can expand a tween's emotional range. Quality literature naturally extracts a variety of strong emotions from readers — including rage, heartache, and loss. Some of these emotions may never have been previously experienced by the tween. Therefore, reading literature gives tweens an opportunity to grapple with and process strong emotions in a safe setting without feeling overwhelmed by the emotions. This helps to prepare them for future real-world situations — like the death of a grandparent or serious illness in a friend — that will elicit similar strong reactions.

1 Source
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  1. Ivey, G., & Broaddus, K. (2000). Tailoring the Fit: Reading Instruction and Middle School Readers. The Reading Teacher, 54 (1), 68-78.

By Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Rebecca Fraser-Thill holds a Master's Degree in developmental psychology and writes about child development and tween parenting.