Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

When You Can Read

When you can read, then you can go
from Kalamazoo to Idaho –
Or read directions that explain
just how to build a model plane –
Or bake a cake or cook a stew –
The words will tell you what to do!
When you can read, then you can play
a brand new game the proper way –
Or get a letter from a friend
and read it . . . to the very end
! – Bobbi Katz



For years, the government has been spearheading different educational programs – all for the same aim – to increase literacy. We place a huge emphasis on reading; why is it so important?

The most significant reason is because we need it every day. We read the ingredients on the cereal box in the grocery store, we read the directions for setting up our new alarm clocks, and we read the menus in restaurants (look, you are doing it right now!). On a professional level, we need to be fluent readers whether we are computer programmers, scientists, psychologists or English teachers. That said, aside from the ways we need reading there are also many ways that reading improves the quality of our lives.

            Practice makes perfect. The more you read, the more fluent you become. When your fluency and comprehension improves, 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 thus 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 for longer periods of time.

            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, but 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 even 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.

Trying to get your children to read? Here are some suggestions for children of all ages. Most of the books I have recommended are series because they allow children to get hooked on the characters and writing style, and continue seamlessly from one to another. Of course, please be aware that not all books will be appropriate for a child’s level or hashkafa, so feel free to discuss with a reading specialist who is familiar with your child.


First and second grade:

The Magic Treehouse series (Mary Pope Osbourne)
Who Was Biographies series (varied authors)
Nancy Clancy: The Super Sleuth series (Jane O’Connor)


Third and fourth grade:

The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (Jeff Kinney)
Ivy and Bean series (Annie Barrows)
13, 26, 39, and 52 Story Treehouse series (Andy Griffiths)


Fifth and sixth grade:

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (Rick Riordan)
Artemis Fowl series (Eoin Colfer)
A Series of Unfortunate Events series (Lemony Snicket)
Little House on the Prairie series (Laura Ingalls Wilder)


Seventh and eighth grade:

The Maze Runner series (James Dashner)
Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
Divergent series (Veronica Roth)


These books are for children who can read on their own, but it’s never too early to start reading to your children. You can read to your infants and you can certainly read to your toddlers. This reading time will create a sense of security and love of books, thereby inspiring your children to want to read as they get older. Even when your children learn to read, you can continue to read portions of books to them in order to enforce the idea that reading is an important family ritual and one that brings everyone together.

Go ahead – give it a try. Take a reading adventure that will improve your wit, emotions, and imagination!


Register now for a Social Thinking workshop by Michelle Garcia Winner on November 16. Call 718-382-5437 for more information.


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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at