In the midst of heated debates on education reform, Common Core, and school policy, it’s good to remember the importance of learning outside the classroom. A British Cohort Study, conducted with 17,000 people throughout the United Kingdom, demonstrated how much pleasure reading improves children’s brains. Study author Alice Sullivan reported her findings in the Guardian Monday:

Of the 17,000 members, 6,000 took a range of cognitive tests at age 16. We compared children from the same social backgrounds who achieved similar tested abilities at ages five and 10, and discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less. In other words, reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, both in vocabulary, spelling and mathematics. In fact, the impact was around four times greater than that of having a parent with a post-secondary degree.

Charles Murray’s recent book Coming Apart warned of an almost impenetrable learning barrier between America’s upper and lower classes, reinforced by parents with the aforementioned post-secondary degrees. Privileged academic elite, according to his studies, foster the greatest guarantee of student success. But what if there was a loophole in this exclusive cycle? If true, this study’s findings could help lessen the “education gap.” Students could transcend their expected learning ability simply by reading for fun.

This emphasizes the importance of introducing children to books at a young age. But what of the child who clearly dislikes reading? Here are some ideas for softening children’s distaste for the subject:

Read Aloud
Reading aloud is especially beneficial to children who struggle with the written word, and may be helpful when transitioning from picture books to more complex chapter books. Reading aloud dramatizes the experience, and also helps foster auditory learning.

Go to the Library
At a local library, children can peruse and pick out books at their leisure. It makes reading an exciting discovery experience. Help children look for books that may relate to movies they’ve seen, like A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Enter Summer Reading Programs
For the competitive child, a summer reading program may increase book interest. These programs and competitions turn reading into more of a sport. Students cultivate a feeling of success by tracking their progress. And it always helps when there’s a prize involved.

Start With Comics
For other children, comic books (perhaps Calvin and Hobbes?) may help awaken a love of reading. Good storytelling can happen on the funny pages as well as within the novel.

Develop Incentives
Some children may find it difficult to step away from the computer or TV to read. But parents have found inventive ways to transcend this barrier: I’ve met some who trade reading time for computer or TV time. The amount of technology time they’re allowed directly correlates to the amount of time they’ve read that day. While some children may just continue to view this as drudgery, others may come to love reading for its own sake.

Reading cultivates mental sharpness in a variety of academic areas, as the British Cohort Study demonstrates. But reading also enhances a child’s creativity and awareness of the world. To transcend boxes of virtual and personal experience, to encounter another mind and another world, is an experience worth the effort – regardless of math and literacy scores.