The Importance Of Reading
Do you think reading is probably not as important as it was in the past?
So much of our learning and entertainment is screen-based these days that it’s tempting to think reading doesn’t matter as much as it used to.
In fact, there is clear and very strong evidence that reading is fundamental to our children’s success at school and in their lives beyond school.
Here's a brief summary of what we know about kids and reading.
Reading is Fundamental to School Success
If you think about it, almost our entire education system is based on our children’s ability to understand, interpret and analyse written texts.
Even if the information they're reading is on the internet, they still need strong reading skills to be able to understand and analyse it.
They also need to be able to create written work that gets a particular message across in a coherent way and this requires the ability to read well.
Reading immerses kids in language, exposing them to new words and to ideas and experiences outside their own day-to-day lives.
Reading is about interpreting what the author has written, making meaning from what is said and from what is left unsaid and the more a child reads the better he gets at doing this.
In a nutshell, reading is the foundation stone of all education.
Reading Develops the Brain
The positive effects of reading on the development of the human brain have been recently confirmed by psychologists from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, who used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories.
The brain weaves these situations together with experiences from its own life and in doing this actually creates new neural pathways.
Just before the film version of The Hobbit was released, one of my favourite authors, Kate Forsyth, wrote a piece in the The Sydney Morning Herald about the differences between reading a book and watching a film.
This is part of what she wrote:
"When watching a film, the brain is basically inert and passive. While reading a book, the brain lights up like fireworks. Reading activates many different parts of the brain. When we read about the smell of a troll's larder our primary olfactory cortex lights up. When we read of a dwarf's leathery hands, our sensory cortex is roused. When a hobbit hero is jostled and jolted, the motor cortex, which co-ordinates the body's movements, whirrs into action."
"It’s very, very important we go on reading because there is a logic and a rationality to even the most fantastic story, and a complexity and an understanding of how people work things out, which doesn’t appear in film because it’s all visual.
Things might happen in a logical order in a film but you don’t get that rational explanation of why things happen.
If we want our future citizens to be able to reason and to see propaganda for what it is, for example, or work their way through people trying to persuade them to do something by appealing to their emotions, it’s important, in their childhood, that they’ve learnt about rational argument and I think that’s one thing books do."
Reading Promotes Empathy
Studies have also found that reading make us more empathetic. This is because reading immerses us in someone else's thoughts and experiences so that we effectively see the world through the eyes of another person.
Kate Forsyth put it this way:
"When you read a book, you experience the story from inside the hero's skin; you are privy to their innermost thoughts and feelings, leading to a much deeper emotional connection. Even if that hero is a hobbit with hairy feet."
In contrast, immersing ourselves in technology, at the expense of reading, seems to be behind a dramatic fall in empathy among teenagers in many countries.
So encouraging your child to read can actually make him or her a kinder person and so more likely to enjoy positive social relationships. How wonderful is that?
Ben Carson on the Importance of Reading
The best example of the importance of reading and how reading can transform lives is the story of Ben Carson, a little boy with all the odds stacked against him who went on to excel at school because his mother knew the importance of reading.
Ben Carson's story is told in the inspirational book
which is well worth getting hold of.
Here's what Ben has to say about the importance of reading. He begins by talking about Booker T. Washington, a man who was born a slave and risked severe punishment by learning to read:
Carr, N. (2012). Don't let technology stultify your brain - download a book. The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2012.
Rodda, E. (March, 2011). Retrieved from http://studentslearn.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/emily-rodda-literary-learning/
If you'd like to learn more about the importance of reading and how to encourage reading, you can't go past the two books below.