There’s no substitute for the power of reading

Aug 16 2019

There’s no substitute for the power of reading

“Every reader has found charms by which to secure possession of a page that, by magic, becomes as if never read before, fresh and immaculate.”
–Alberto Manguel

Sometimes you hear about an idea, slap your forehead and say, “why didn’t we think of that before?” That was the feeling I experienced as I read the linked New York Times article called “Want Kids to Learn the Joys of Reading; Barbershops and Laundromats Can Help.” As an unabashed bibliophile, previous bookstore employee, and former board member of the St. Louis Public Library, I am a firm believer in the power and benefits of reading.

In a Lower School faculty meeting last week, we discussed how important reading still is, even in a world where so much information can be accessed in a variety of ways. Reading and writing well can cover for many other deficiencies in one’s education. The inverse is also true: if one has trouble reading and writing, everything else can seem difficult. In the words of a non-profit organization devoted to children’s literacy, Reading Is Fundamental.

So, how do we ensure that our children read? One way is to provide them with constant exposure to books and people reading. This might come in the form of books all over the house or in the car; yes, you might even consider a basket of books in the bathroom. Perhaps families can set aside a time where all technology is turned off and everyone is reading. Many years ago, a middle school teacher told me a story from the school where we worked. In her goal to have children read more, she established a period where everyone, including the teacher, read silently. The first time, the students stared at her while she read; she finally put the book down and asked her students why they were not also reading. These children, all of whom had professional parents, said that they never saw adults just sit and read a book. As important as it may be to read to our children, it may be just as crucial to read with our children.

In addition, it’s imperative that children choose what they read. While the book they grab for us to read to them may not be our first choice-you want me to read “Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom” or “The Hungry Caterpillar” again??!!’-they need to feel a sense of ownership. The fact that they are selecting a book themselves can be as important as the fact that they are reading or being read to. A few years back, close friends who were both university professors bemoaned that their high school daughter disliked reading. To their initial dismay, she fell in love with the “Twilight” series; however, and to their surprise, she became an avid reader after she completed that trilogy. She learned that a book could enthrall her, and she was hungry for more experiences like that.

Another way to encourage reading is to regularly visit a local bookstore or the public library. Just the act of being surrounded by books can lead to what a friend once referred to as the “fortuitous act of browsing.” Perhaps one of the most enjoyable trends over the last few decades is the combining of bookstores or libraries with coffee shops. There were many Saturdays where our older son and I would head to Borders (remember Borders?). We’d each build our own stack of books, and engage in our own particular form of parallel play where we would sip coffee or tea and check out what we had selected. Walking the aisles and pulling books off shelves allows children, and adults for that matter, the joy of discovery. Although we may find the novel for which we are searching, we could also stumble across the non-fiction story we never expected to love.

Ultimately, we want our children to read and to love reading. For that to happen, we need to envelop them in books and show them that reading is a life-long habit filled with surprises and adventure. With all the distractions in today’s world, a book may still be the best way for our children to learn new things, or one of the most effective ways for them to escape and imagine what can be.

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