By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association


A lot of us wish we had more time to read; what could be better than curling up with a good book and a cuppa, or stretching out on a sun lounger and diving into a different world? Reading has been proven to provide stress relief for adults, among other things, and the list of benefits for children is endless. Reading with little ones can facilitate their visual, social and linguistic development, and older children who enjoy reading consistently perform better at school across the board, helping them go on to lead happier, healthier lives.

But did you know that reading can complement the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects?

Eager to show this connection, the British Science Association has partnered with The Reading Agency to deliver an exciting new project, Reading Sparks, which hopes to “harness the proven power of reading to engage families with STEM … and bridge the gap in science capital (all the science-related knowledge, attitudes, resources and experiences a person gains in their lifetime) for families from lower socio-economic groups, teenage girls and Black and ethnic minority communities.” Launched this April in 11 pilot library services across England, Reading Sparks has already distributed STEM-themed book bags via the libraries, with fun science activities inspired by the books. Over the next year, young people all over the country will be reading, responding, creating and doing hands-on science in library spaces as they re-open, and making videos inspired by the science in the books they read through this summer’s library reading challenge.

In addition to Reading Sparks, The Reading Agency is also presenting this year’s World Book Night, an annual celebration which brings people of all backgrounds together to nurture a love of reading. To mark the event’s ten-year anniversary this year, we have gathered just some of the benefits of reading for children and how these link to success in STEM!

Critical thinking skills

Making predictions about what could happen in an experiment, analysing results and drawing conclusions are essential skills that help children to enjoy and perform well in STEM subjects – and they can all be developed through reading fiction! When engaging with stories, children consider what characters might do next and make inferences from their actions, thereby helping them to learn about cause and effect. These thought processes sharpen their minds and provide them with frameworks to think like scientists when investigating the world around them.

Taking a logical approach to distinguishing between truths and falsehoods is another critical thinking skill that comes into play whilst reading. Children’s books sometimes introduce their young readers to unreliable narrators and other untrustworthy characters, encouraging them to use evidence-based reasoning when presented with so-called facts. If that’s not scientific thought, I don’t know what is!

Deeper understanding of the world

Books have the power to transport children to other worlds and show them unfamiliar things and places, which could spark a desire to learn more through real-world, scientific interaction. If they’ve read a non-fiction book about Neil Armstrong and his experiences on the moon, or a fantasy novel set in space, a telescope could be a great gift to build on that interest. Books about planet Earth and our environment might encourage an interest in recycling and other eco-friendly behaviours. Passions like these, developed through reading at an early age, really can last a lifetime!

Cultivated curiosity

Children are naturally inquisitive. Any caregiver will be familiar with hearing “how”, “why” and “what” from their little ones, and books can provide the answers! A walk through the park, a trip to the garage or even a day in the kitchen can inspire scientific questions, and encouraging children to spend some time in the library can be a brilliant way to nurture their curiosity. Studies have found that children “show greater gains on measures of science understanding” when they learn through a combination of hands-on experience and reading.

Communication skills

The last step of every Star and SuperStar CREST Award activity is to “Ask the children to present their findings to the rest of the group”, and this is arguably the most important part of the process. Scientific knowledge and discoveries are of limited use if the scientist is unable to communicate them to others, and effective communication skills are linked to – you guessed it – reading! Reading has been proven to improve writing skills through expansion of vocabulary and increased confidence, among other things, so every aspiring scientist should have a full bookcase.

If you’re looking for STEM activities that young people can do to practice all their reading-based skills, look no further than the CREST resource library, and be sure to check out our latest news on Twitter and Facebook.

You can also follow World Book Night on Twitter, and find out more about Reading Sparks on The Reading Agency website.