It’s World Book Day today!
I have always loved books. My parents say I self-taught myself to read and by the time I started school I was reading fluently. I don’t remember the process, but I do remember how much I loved to read. In the breaks I would often sit at my desk absorbed in my book that I always carried with me, regardless of the number of textbooks that had to fit in the bag. I loved losing myself in the wonderful world of my book: it was magical, it was adventurous, it was exciting! It felt as if I was part of the story and my imagination was going wild in a foreign land. Nothing has ever given me the same feeling.
I’m convinced that all children love that feeling; but it will only come from a book that they really enjoy. A book that speaks to them, a book that touches something inside their soul. It might not be the most popular or trendy children’s book, and it’s unlikely to be a textbook. In my case it was a book about a journalist raising an orphaned lion in the Serengeti Park in Africa – hardly the obvious choice for a child’s first book to read. And yet, it established a life-long love of reading and learning.
Children should be encouraged to read for enjoyment. Let them pick the book for themselves (as long as it’s not adult content of course). Their taste might be different than what we think and they might not like a book that everyone praises, and they might think “oh well, reading is not really my thing”. It’s not until they discover something that truly captures them that they find joy in a book.
The reason I’m going on about reading? Because it’s good for you. And what exactly are the benefits? Here’s the top 10 list, compiled by Best Books For Kids:
- Reading exercises our brains: Reading is a much more complex task for the human brain than, say, watching TV is. Reading strengthens brain connections and actually builds new connections.
- Reading improves concentration: This is a bit of a no-brainer. Children have to sit still and quietly so they can focus on the story when they’re reading. If they read regularly, they develop the ability to do this for longer periods.
- Reading teaches children about the world around them: Through reading, children learn about people, places and events outside their own experience. They are exposed to ways of life, ideas and beliefs about the world which may be different from those which surround them. This learning is important for its own sake however it also builds a store of background knowledge which helps younger children learn to read confidently and well.
- Kids who read often get better at it: This is pretty much just common sense. After all, practice makes perfect in almost everything we humans do and reading is no different from anything else.
- Reading improves a child’s vocabulary and language skills: This is because children learn new words as they read but also because they unconsciously absorb information as they read about things like how to structure sentences and how to use words and language effectively.
- Children who read do better at school: And they don’t just do better at subjects like reading, English and history. They do better at all subjects and they do better all the way through school.
- Reading develops a child’s imagination: This is because when we read our brains translate the descriptions we read of people, places and things into pictures. When we’re engaged in a story, we’re also imagining how the characters are feeling. We use our own experiences to imagine how we would feel in the same situation.
- Reading helps kids develop empathy: This is something I’ve only recently realised but it makes sense. As my fifteen-year-old son said to me when we were discussing it, ‘Of course it does because you’re identifying with the character in the story so you’re feeling what he’s feeling.’
- Reading is a great form of entertainment: A paperback book or an e-reader like the Amazon Kindle doesn’t take up much space so you can take it anywhere and you’ll never be lonely or bored if you have a book in your bag. You can read while waiting in a queue, while waiting for a friend who’s running late or during a flight delay at an airport.
- Reading relaxes the body and calms the mind: This is an important point because these days we seem to have forgotten how to relax and especially how to be silent. The constant movement, flashing lights and noise which bombard our senses when we’re watching TV, looking at a computer or playing an electronic game are actually quite stressful for our brains. When we read, we read in silence and the black print on a white page is much less stressful for our eyes and brains.
Yes. Reading is a great thing, it’s fun, it’s liberating. And if you don’t quite believe us, you might believe Oprah Winfrey: “Books were my personal pass to freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi.“