How to make your kid smarter (and richer and better looking, too)

Toddler with Cowboy hat

We’ve come across some pretty creative kid raising experiments: The Kelloggs raising their son Donald alongside a chimpanzee named Gua. E and Yo. And one of our all time favorites — Andy Baio introducing his son, born in 2004, to video game history in chronological order.

But one of the most meaningful kid experiments we’ve ever seen comes from a single mom raising two young boys in the ghettos of Detroit in the 1950s. The boys struggled severely in school. And the young mother was stretched thin, working two to three jobs to try to make ends meet. One of those jobs was cleaning homes. Inspiration for her experiment struck one day while cleaning.

These homes all have libraries.

She realized that the homes she was cleaning had libraries. These people all read! Wasting no time, she began her experiment that very night. When she arrived home, she turned off the TV her boys were watching. She told them that from then on, they would be limited to watching three TV shows per week. In their free time, they would go to the library. And every week, they would read two books and give her a written report on each — this despite the fact that she herself could barely read.

But why would reading matter? While this mother based her hypothesis on a pattern of observations, myriad studies confirm the undeniable benefits of reading. Reading to young children is especially powerful. The results of these studies are so convincing, in fact, that the American Academy of Pediatrics announced its intent a year ago this month that doctors begin instructing parents to make reading to infants from birth a “daily fun family activity.”

Among the noteworthy benefits of reading to children are:

  • Reading to children literally turns on brain cells.
  • Reading to children expands their imaginations and their understanding of the world.
  • Reading to newborns not only increases their vocabulary but also improves their mathematical skills.
  • Reading to children before they begin preschool helps them perform better in all aspects of formal education.
  • Reading{target=”_blank”} to children helps them learn to be readers themselves.

Accomplished individuals and great thinkers have also understood the power of reading to children. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” The renowned astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan once stated, “One of the greatest gifts adults can give to their offspring and to their society is to read to children.” Last but not least, when asked by a young mother how to prepare her son for a successful career in science, Albert Einstein is famously quoted as answering,

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The value and impact reading to a child has on his or her intellectual growth and development is undeniable. But we weren’t just kidding about the richer part. A study also found that for every year you read with your child from infancy to preschool, average lifetime earnings for him or her increase by $50,000 per year. In other words, you could gift your kid a quarter of a million dollars by the time he or she is five by taking time to read together. Though we like Strickland Gillilan’s take on the riches that come from reading better:

You may have tangible wealth untold,

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be.

I had a Mother who read to me.

Old fashioned story time

Now, as for better looking, we’ll admit that was in part just to create a catchy headline. But the connection really isn’t too attenuated. Based on research from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a children’s education organization reported that “reading is the single most important skill necessary for a happy, productive and successful life. A child that is an excellent reader is a confident child… [and] has a high level of self esteem…” In short, reading brings confidence. And we all know confident people appear more attractive. So to draw out the equation:

Reading → Confidence → Better Looking

Apply a little transitive math magic, and

Reading → Better Looking

There you have it: a mathematical proof that reading to your child will make her or him better looking.

Despite these convincing reasons for taking time to read to children, the habit is not a very commonplace one. A study by the U.S. Department of Education from not that far back found that as infants, toddlers and preschoolers, only between one-third and one-half of children were read to daily by a family member.

As parents of young children ourselves (little roos, we call them), we want all children to have a better chance than that! We believe that reading truly is a gift. And that quality time reading together with a child you love makes up some of a day’s, and life’s, best and most precious moments.

Getting back to the young mother’s reading experiment: how did it go? The boys, understandably, initially resisted their mom’s new idea. But the mother was firm, and in less than a year, her experiment produced drastic results. Both sons’ academic performance improved. The youngest, Ben, was at the top of his class within a year. But he didn’t stop there. After graduating high school, he went on to attend Yale University. Then John Hopkins, where by age 33 he became its chief of pediatric neurosurgery and a world-renowned surgeon.

No doubt a smarter, richer, better looking surgeon.

(You can read more about Ben Carson and his amazing mom, Sonya, in his autobiography, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.)

If you know a little roo who needs to be read to, will you please share this?

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