Why should I bother to read with my kids?
In a world of accessible technology with an increasing fascination for speech activation you might be forgiven for wondering why it’s so important for children to learn to read. After all, by the time they enter the world of work, it’s unlikely that people will sit for hours typing letters onto a screen, nor is it likely that they will need to decipher an instruction manual. They are more likely to dictate or access step-by-step instructions using a device.
If we go back in history, people believed that the invention of pen and paper would reduce the brain’s ability to remember things. The calculator and the computer would reduce the brain’s ability to compute. In fact, these inventions simply extend the boundaries of what humans can achieve, and so it will be with voice technology.
How spoken and written words differ
Let’s then look at the difference between the spoken and the written word: A straightforward example is an argument – you’re angry with someone and you have a row, during the heat of the moment you say things that your emotional brain wants said. They may be a true reflection of how you’re feeling in that moment, but they aren’t necessarily a true reflection of what’s going on, as a result you may end up saying hurtful things that you regret.
If instead of arguing face to face, you are so angry that you’re compelled to write a letter, you may find yourself writing those very same feelings, purged of your anger as your words hit the page, but then you read it…
Upon reading your words, your logical brain clicks in. It questions your phrasing, your intent, the order and sometimes even the legality and before you know it, you’ve edited that letter (maybe more than once) to explain your feelings in a more succinct and meaningful manner.
N.B. This is sadly not the case for social media, which feeds a different aspect of the psyche, a subject we shall return to in future weeks.
A strong vocabulary helps you express yourself
Before children have a vocabulary to pull from, their feelings are often overwhelming and difficult to express and so they bite, punch, kick whoever or whatever is upsetting them. As they grow, particularly around puberty their feelings become more complex and being unable to articulate their feelings at this stage, when they’ve had time to learn the consequences of anti-social behaviour, can turn to self-harm or mutilation. Of course, there are many adults who still hit out in one way or another and the help that is most effective is: therapy, which at a really basic level, is talking to someone with a better vocabulary than you to help you articulate your feelings.
While most of us can read enough to engage with the world, too many of us struggle to communicate effectively and wonder why it is we keep making the same mistakes.
The crafted word
A traditionally published book has been crafted, each word chosen for its specific meaning or impact. It has been read and edited at least five times (in most cases more) by the time it reaches its reader and so it is likely to be an excellent example of communication.
Teaching your child to read is of course a necessary life skill and one that is taught in school; but encouraging your child to enjoy reading gives them so many more advantages in life:
Reading for pleasure is more important for a child’s cognitive development than their parent’s level of education.
Reading for pleasure is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background.
Children who are reading regularly for pleasure by age 10, gain higher results in vocabulary, spelling and maths tests by age 16.
Adults with proficient literary skills earn more, on average, than those who don’t.
Proficient readers report feeling less lonely, more relaxed, have better concentration, confidence, self-esteem and quality of life.
They find it easier to empathise with others allowing them to engage and understand with their wider community.
In short, engendering a love of reading from a young age will help your child to flourish.
How to encourage a love of reading
Have a selection of books in your home.
Create a reading nook somewhere cosy, preferably next to a bookshelf.
Ask family members to gift books for special birthdays i.e. three books you think they should read by the time they’re ten.
Take them to book shops to choose books that they think other people will like. This helps them to think about hobbies, interests, genre and even favourite authors.
Visit local libraries and bookshops, attend their story time events – which are mostly free and excellent fun.
Listen to audio books in the car when you’re travelling together or share earbuds while walking the dog.
Attend one of the incredible events organised by the Museum of Walking https://www.museumofwalking.org.uk/ where you literally walk through the action as it takes place.
Invite family members who are located far away or travelling for work to read the same book and arrange a book club style meet up, either virtually using the internet or in person.
Provide a book for hospital or dental appointments and read together to pass the time and help to focus their mind away from feelings of anxiety.
Recommended books for families:
There are of course some wonderful classics, but I’m sure you know all those, so here are a few recommendations that are less well known, but full of fun and adventure as well as providing plenty of things to talk about:
Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter