From my earliest days, I can remember finding companionship in a story when playmates were hard to find. This side of the millenium, though, young ones are seeking solace from a screen – and the decline of reading is not only a sad sign of the times, but an epidemic with pernicious effects.
To understand what happens when we don’t devote time to the written word, it’s easier to look at what happens when we do.
Regular reading – not just by rote but for pleasure – is more advantageous than the acquisition of an impressive vocabulary.
For one, breaking out the books makes kids better at maths.The theory is that reading exposes students to new ideas, which may make new mathematical concepts easier to comprehend.
Reading fiction helps children develop empathy – the glue that binds long-lasting relationships. It’s been discovered that students who read novels can put themselves into other people’s situations more easily, with increased compassion as the result.
Reading can also boost self-esteem and communication skills. An enhanced vocabulary doesn’t just mean perfect spelling scores, but a more extensive means of expression; being able to articulate emotions through words leads to less frustration and anger at being misunderstood.
Most incredibly, poring through the pages changes the very structure of the brain. In a six-month daily reading program, scientists found that the amount of white matter in the area of the brain associated with language, Broca’s area, actually increased.
For all these amazing benefits gifted us by books, the contents of many a library shelf continue to languish untouched.
Yet the seeming fate of our children – to never know that brand-new book smell, or the musty aroma of an ancient classic – is not sealed.
Fatherly.com gives a few invaluable pointers on how to raise lifelong readers:
• Ritualise a reading time 5-7 days per week. And stick to it.
• Alternate reading nights with your spouse to offer a new perspective and voice. And don’t shirk your turn.
• Get weird with the voices when you read.
• Read when your kid’s around. Parental example is most influential – so get off your iPhone.
• Visit the library regularly and let your kid select whatever they want (I know, I know.)
• An obvious corollary to the above; don’t ever criticise their book choices, or complain when they ask you to read the most inane one 500 times.
• Cherish storytime. You’ll turn that final page together sooner than you expect.