Why We Need to Read


It’s summer.  The local library has reading programs for toddlers, high schoolers and everyone in between.  We parents know our kids should practice their reading skills for  cognitive development, vocabulary expansion, and fluency .  But the people who, believe it or not, study, the benefits of reading have much more to say about why not just our kids, but also adults, should indulge in a good read.  Real Simple published an article in 2014 about this very topic, just in time for those summer reading programs.  Some of the details may surprise you:

1)  Ahhh, Oohhmm.  Reading for just six minutes a day can be a real stress reliever, according to a study conducted by Mindlab Intelligent Insights.  Have a case of the Mondays (on any day)?  Pick up a page turner.

2)  What’s the square root of 164?  Kids who read for fun do well in school.  No, not a news flash.  But the kicker is these kids not only do well in language arts but also in math.

3)  Going off the deep end.  Ever had a book you just can’t put down?  Deep reading is the more sophisticated version of “feeling” that engrossing novel.  For one, the process of deep reading can help us develop our own creative, original ideas.  Getting lost in a good read fuels empathy as well:  making personal connections to a narrative (especially with the reading of fictional literature) can elevate one’s ability to relate to others in real-life interactions.  In fact, deep reading can serve as good practice for this skill:   a study from the journal Psychological Science described the MRI results of people immersed in deep reading.  These persons were processing the literary events as if those events were happening in their real lives.  They weren’t simply reading storylines; they were living them.

Deep reading, much less developing a regular reading habit, seems like a daunting task, given our highly distracting world of electronics, kids and pets, to name a few.  But we and our kids can work up to it, with a few simple strategies:

1)  Build a library.  But don’t just keep books in that corner bookcase or on the nightstand.  Stash a stack in the living room, in a basket by the kitchen counter (where everyone seems to gravitate when dinner is being made)…”in sight, in mind,” so to speak.  If books are handy, we are more likely to peruse them.  In addition, a collection of books (even as few as 20) can make a positive impact in a child’s love for learning, according to a large international study published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

2)  Read what you want, dump what you hate.  If you prefer Sophie Kinsella to Jane Austen, don’t sweat it:  read it.  Also, don’t fret if your ten-year-old gravitates to Garfield comic compilations instead of Harry and Hermoine.  If lighter fare fuels your child’s (and your) interest in reading, go for it.  Develop the habit, then the reading list.  Also, don’t feel compelled to finish that book that sounded great but is a big disappointment:  if after 50 pages you aren’t into it…chuck it for something else.  It’s ok, really.  Reading should be fun, not a chore.

3)  Reading:  it’s not just for bedtime.  While great for sleep hygiene, reading regularly through the day nurtures good reading habits.  Have kids bring books on car trips, even on short rides to the store, or to keep handy while waiting in the doctor’s office.  And parents should do the same.  Because, even as a thousand written words can do wonders for creativity and empathy, the visual of a parent reading can do wonders for our kids desire to do the same.

And what if that summer reading program at the library doesn’t interest your kids?  For some kids (like mine) the prizes are disappointing.  Or say one of your kids wins a drawing for a cool team-logo pillow pet and another comes away empty-handed and there are hard feelings (again, my twins).  Those seem like small reasons to not read, but they are kids, after all.  So what did we do?  Devised our own reading program.  My son took charge and made up colorful “minutes sheets” that we (parents, too) could mark off as we kept reading.  We went shopping for small dollar-bin prizes to choose from when we met our reading goals and made the jackpot a book from the local library’s store.  So for very little time and expense we tailor-made a program that motivates our entire family.

Happy summer reading, and here’s to going off the deep (reading) end!

[Resource:  Robbins, Sarah J., “remember reading?” Real Simple magazine, June 2014]


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