Over the past few weeks, I have driven by a gaggle of white helmets bobbing on the heads of tiny football players in the open green space near my house. Other little kids looking like Charlie Brown in big T-shirts and baggy shorts have swarmed the soccer fields. Parents and grandparents have begun lugging folding chairs from their cars to the edge of practice fields. The season has begun for hundreds of children who participate in fall sports.

I, like many parents, spend my time on the sidelines wondering if my kid will be a star player, and I fantasize about the possibility of raising a scholarship athlete. To this end, many parents will dedicate several hours a week for practice and game time. Money is spent on fees, equipment and travel. Precious weeks of summer vacation are devoted to sports camps.

Youth sports are a great way for kids to make new friends, learn teamwork, gain coordination and skills, and, of course, get much-needed exercise. But is it a path to a free college education?

According to the NCAA, only about 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded athletic scholarships in college. The average annual scholarship is valued at about $10,000 — if you exclude football and basketball, the average drops to $8,700. Plus, an athletic scholarship it is not guaranteed for four years.

The chances of landing an athletic scholarship can increase for a student with good academic performance. While athletic skill is necessary to make the college team, coaches know that an athlete with good grades can boost the team’s grade-point average and graduation rate. And the best way to increase academic performance is to
read well.

If your student-athlete reads well, and often, he or she will experience the benefits of the Matthew Effect. This theory, developed by Canadian scientist and psychologist Keith Stanovich at the
University of Toronto, is based upon Matthew 25:29: “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

The Matthew Effect suggests that students with more reading skills gain more knowledge through more reading, which in turn helps them succeed in a variety of academic settings and will result in more reading. This theory also works in reverse — students with poor reading habits read less, creating
even bigger gaps between the haves and have-nots of reading.

Raising a child who reads is similar to raising a child who participates in sports. Young kids often are in sports-related activities because their parents encourage them, pay the fees, buy the equipment and take them to games and practices.

Parents should use the same approach with reading.

Just as you buy your child the equipment needed to participate in a sport, it is even more important to provide books. Make sure your child has plenty to read. Take them to the library regularly, and keep books and other reading materials in their reach. Second-hand stores and rummage sales are good places to buy inexpensive books. Ask for books as
presents for birthdays and Christmas.

When your student is picking out books, respect your child’s choices. Don’t worry if the book doesn’t seem like “literature.” If it keeps a young reader turning the
pages, it is a good book. Notice what interests your child, and then help find books about those things. Designate a bookcase, shelf or box where your children can keep their books and develop a home library.

Praise your child’s efforts. Even if your student is not a fluent reader, be very encouraging as they work through a book, just as you would encourage them during a game.

Children love to have adults read to them. It reminds them that even with a busy schedule, you value them and value reading. It also provides an enriched environment with vocabulary and plot lines that they cannot access without adult help. Continue reading aloud to older children even after they have learned to read by themselves.

Set aside some time for reading every day. Challenge your family to spend as much time reading in one week as you do at athletic practices and games. This might be hard to do, but most sports do not practice or play on Wednesday nights or Sundays. This would be a good time to get through several chapters of a “read-aloud” book. And remember, reading Twitter and Facebook should not count toward reading goals. Children need to read books to increase vocabulary and gain comprehension and fluency.

Be a reading role model. Let your children see you read, and share some interesting things with them that you have read in books, newspapers or magazines.

Yes, the season has begun for many children who participate in fall sports. And I will sit on the sidelines to cheer for my child — looking for signs of athletic potential. But after the game is over and we head home, I realize my goal as a parent is to raise a reader.

Shirley Taylor is director of the Hobson City Public Library. She has worked in public and school libraries for 16 years.

Source: Anniston Star – http://tinyurl.com/33g88og

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