No one knows what the world will look like in a ten or 20 years, but everyone is pretty sure it will look totally different from today. Most of today's jobs are likely to be obsolete by the time our kids enter the workforce, replaced by an unforeseeable mix of new opportunities.

How do you prepare your kids for a world you can barely imagine? Many look at the rising importance of tech (as well as the rising salaries of tech jobs) and insist we need to get way more kids interested in science and coding. Others stress the need to nurture our most human, least easily replaceable qualities -- like wisdom, love, and creativity.

There is probably something to be said for both these approaches, but a new study reported in Pacific Standard recently suggests a shockingly old-fashioned answer to this new-fangled problem. If you want to prepare your kids for our uncertain, tech-filled future, fill your house with lots and lots of books.

The benefits of home libraries are pretty miraculous.

The study, carried out by an international team was massive but simple. Round up adults from 31 countries and then ask them to estimate how many books they had in their home as children (as a guide, participants were told that a meter of shelving contains approximately 40 books). Participants were then asked to take a series of skills tests and provide demographic data.

The first and most significant finding was, drum roll please, that kids with lots of books at home grow up to be better readers, even controlling for the education level and wealth of their parents. But we hardly needed a huge, worldwide study to guess that.

The more interesting results came when the scientists looked at skills we generally think of as quite separate from literacy -- things like math and IT skills. You might think book-loving parents wouldn't make you any better at computers or algebra, but you'd be wrong.

The bigger the home library a kid was exposed to growing up, the better he or she tested when it came to adult numeracy and tech skills. And again the gains were more than you'd expect just from assuming households with more books are likely to contain wealthier and more educated parents.

The bottom line couldn't be clearer: the more books you have at home, the better it is for your kids in a wide array of areas, including the ones that crystal ball gazers often cite as critical for future success. In fact, the data showed that rising up to 350 volumes, more books translated to more skills for kids.

Or as lead researcher Joanna Sikora put it, "the beneficial effects of home libraries in adolescence are large and hold in many different societies, with no sign of diminution over time. Moreover, home library size is positively related to higher levels of digital literacy."

And that's on top of the general benefits of having a home library whether or not you have any kids around, including encouraging intellectual humility and nurturing empathy.

How about my giant e-book collection?

And how about if you've made the switch to digital and your giant library is in pixel rather than paper form? Will your kids benefit equally? No one knows, which is why the researchers are turning their attention to this question next.

For now though one thing is certain. The more paper books you have in your house, the smarter and more future-ready your kids are likely to turn out.

Published on: Oct 16, 2018