In orderly homes, where educated, middle-class mothers enforce regular meal and bed times, children read better. Emily Bazelon looks at “Order in the House!” a study of middle-class kindergartners and first-graders by Anna D. Johnson and Anne Martin of Columbia’s Teachers College. Researchers looked at mothers with average reading ability and those with above-average reading skills, controlling for socioeconomic status.
Both groups of mothers were asked about how often their children are read to—and also how often they amuse themselves with books. Then the mothers were asked a separate set of questions about order at home, designed to get at what researchers call “executive function.” A few sample responses: “It’s a real zoo in our home,” “The children have a regular bedtime routine,” and “We are usually able to stay on top of things.”
. . . Surprisingly, the amount of shared parent-child reading time did not matter, on average, for the reading skills of either group of kids. What mattered instead, for the kids of average-reader mothers, was how often a child amuses herself with books. What mattered for the kids of the high-reading moms was how orderly the family’s home was.
Johnson and Martin theorize that household order reflects “maternal industriousness, planning ability, or conscientiousness.”
Maybe order helps promote reading only among the children of the high-reading mothers because it’s what the authors call a “higher order element”—in other words, it matters only once you’ve got the basics down, which means reading to your kids pre-kindergarten and surrounding them with books.
As an excellent reader and an orderly mother, I approve this study. I wonder if there’s a link between order and reading for low-income and working-class kids.