Read Any Good Books Lately?
by Colleen Coble
Books have always been a huge part of my life. My mother read to me when I was a child, and learning to read was the most exciting part of getting to go to school. A love of reading needs to begin at an early age. The middle grade years were when I found Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I read and reread Bambi’s Children by Felix Salten. Through that story, I learned about fear and evil, something Salten knew well since he wrote it in Switzerland after fleeing the Nazis in Germany. A Wrinkle in Time showed me how we can use the gifts we are given to fight evil.
The books I read when I was ten to fourteen formed much of who I am today. I root for the underdog and hate injustice. I fear a world where kids don’t read and don’t learn how to empathize with others. We can get too insular in our own little world.
Reading also has the benefits of promoting excellent scholastics. Good readers are curious about the world, and they eagerly grasp topics like sentence structure, history, and social concepts. They learn better communication skills too. Through the pages of books, I learned how to interact with people and how to get my point across without alienating others with a different point of view. I learned to think logically and how to analyze ways others might try to influence me.
A recent British Cohort Study tested 6,000 with a range of cognitive tests at age 16. The study discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less. So pleasure reading was associated with higher intellect and better vocabulary, spelling and math. This impact was around four times greater than that of having a parent with a post-secondary degree.
Excellent reading skills help us make sense of the world. We can research everything from health topics to the social structure in other countries and make sense of it. Reading is the best way to really understand our world. The news only gives us snippets of information, but reading widely gives us a better overall picture.
I used to hear about the death of reading, but with the advent of the Internet, reading is even more important. Everything is out there to learn if we only take the time to do it. And we all need critical thinking skills to decipher the written content out there. We can hear about the children on the streets of Cambodia and are moved to do something about it. We can understand people in other cultures, and with that understanding, there is hope for peace someday among all countries.
One benefit of reading I love is how it teaches children how to concentrate. We can enter the world of a book and block out all other stimuli. An earthquake could shake my house when I’m engrossed in the pages of a great book, and I wouldn’t notice. Reading exercises the brain and makes us smarter. It improves our vocabulary. This is a biggie for me. Have you ever noticed how vocabulary seems to be getting smaller? Kids need to be exposed to all the wonderful words out there. They need to learn to use them. I always felt even smarter when I used a word most other kids didn’t know.
New research shows fiction in particular teaches people empathy. There is something about getting inside another person’s head that helps us know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. We understand motive, love and pain so much better when we get outside ourselves. We can test new ideas and new ways of looking at events and people. We can try out new careers or ways of thinking. Reading opens up a world of possibilities. And isn’t that what we want for our kids—for them to know and believe they can accomplish anything?
It’s also relaxing. There’s something about sitting quietly with a book in hand that calms your mind and lets you ease into the notion of going to bed. Television and video games can do the opposite and stimulate kids.
So how do you foster reading in children? Here are 5 ways.
- Start early by reading to them.
- Then when they begin to read for themselves, provide things that are enjoyable to read. Make a trip to the library an event they look forward to. Learn what stories speak to them and buy books you think they’ll love as a habit. Discuss the stories with them and ask what they most enjoyed about the stories.
- Enroll them in summer reading programs. The competition can spark more books read than you can imagine!
- f you have a resistant reader, try starting with comic books. I loved them as a kid, and I bet you did too. Oh the adventures of Superman and Lois Lane! What kid can’t identify?
- If your kid is addicted to TV or video games, develop some incentives. Maybe even insist on book reading as a way of earning the right to watch television or play games.
This area is too important to ignore so start today. You can develop a great reader in your family!