I opened a book and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.
I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.
I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.
I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me – Julia Donaldson
For years, the government has been spearheading different educational programs to increase literacy. We place a huge amount of emphasis on reading. Why is it so important?
Reading is something we use every day. We read the ingredients on the cereal box in the grocery store, we read the manuals for our gadgets, we read the menus in restaurants and, look, you are reading this. On a professional level, we need to be fluent readers whether we are computer programmers, scientists, psychologists, or English teachers. Reading improves the quality of our lives.
Practice makes perfect. The more you read, the more fluent you become. When your fluency and comprehension improve, you are more likely to continue reading and learning.
Exercise your brain. Your brain needs to work in order to read. This exercise strengthens the connections between your neural pathways and even builds new ones. Reading helps you think more quickly and clearly in all areas.
Improve focus. Reading trains your brain to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time. That’s why it’s difficult for children with ADHD to learn to read (and these children often need modifications such as encouraging fidgeting while reading and visualization). Regardless, even for those with ADHD, continued reading lengthens the attention span, allowing you to sit still longer.
Adventure and knowledge. Reading allows you to explore and learn about the world around you in a safe and supported environment. This exposure not only helps children (and adults) become well-rounded citizens, it also gives background information that makes reading smoother in the future.
Feed your imagination. When you go on an adventure in a book, you are feeding your imagination situations that you might not otherwise have experienced. I’ve written a lot about creativity recently and books are another great way to get your creative juices flowing.
Strengthen empathy. Reading allows you to feel what the characters are feeling. Empathy, or the act of understanding what someone else is feeling, is an emotion that not everyone develops intuitively. In 2013, The Scientific American reported that people who read fiction developed empathy at a much higher level than those who read non-fiction.
Perform better in school. From a very young age, reading helps children do better in all subjects, not just English and History. In fact, children who are readers score higher in math classes.
Relax your body and mind. While we might feel that other forms of entertainment are more relaxing, research shows that reading in silence with black print on a white page allows our brains and bodies to relax in an otherwise stressful world.
And, as Pamela Paul and Maria Russo write in their book Raising a Reader, there are other reasons for gaining an appreciation for reading.
Children who read are likely to excel academically, but there’s much more to the picture. The latest research shows that children who read at home are also better at self-regulation and executive function – those life skills that make us happier and well adjusted: controlling impulses, paying attention, setting goals and figuring out how to achieve them. Think of this as “life readiness.” By being part of your child’s reading life – by setting out purposefully to raise a reader – you’re helping her become someone who controls her own destiny.
The authors continue by explaining the true benefits of being involved in your children’s reading lives:
School is where children learn that they have to read. Home is where kids learn to read because they want to. It’s where they learn to love to read. It’s always amazing to register the difference when a child freely chooses any activity. Somehow, her mood is lighter. A sense of purpose seems to emanate from a genuine, happy place. There’s a palpable eagerness rather than a foot-dragging reticence. So let’s think about the long-term project of raising a reader not as an obligation but as an opportunity to bring some wonderful things into your child’s and your family’s life. The parent’s part in encouraging a reader is in many ways more interesting, joyful, and open-ended than the school’s part in the project, which is focused on things like phonics, assessments, and benchmarks.
We all want our children to excel at school, to feel lighter, to have a sense of purpose, to set goals and be able to achieve them. And, if reading is the path to these amazing benefits, we could all stand to pick up a few more books!