I’ve just finished editing a book about linking families and schools. The focus of the book was on helping to create bonds between families who know their children intimately, and schools whose teachers know only what they see at school and what they can measure through academic assessments.
One of the great insights I got from this book was about how important reading is to a child’s development. I knew this intuitively, but it was interesting to read about this from a research point of view.
From the moment they were born, my children saw my husband and me reading, and as they grew, they were allowed to buy a book anytime we went to a bookstore. Our bookshelves are filled to brimming with books for all ages. This is a function of who we are, so it was natural for us to share our love of reading, but I had no idea how important books are to child development.
We read to the kids every night, and often during the day. Once my daughter could read, she read to her little brother all the time. He could read at age three. It appears that our love of books, and our willingness to read aloud to the kids and discuss what we read, helped to shape them as literate beings.
I had never thought about how a child becomes a reader. When we as adults read books to children, we are teaching them language and story. This becomes meaningful patterned behavior, and the more the behavior is repeated, the more likely the child will develop into a literate being. They can become part of what’s called the Literacy Club. Eventually, the child no longer needs to be read to, but can enjoy reading aloud to another child, or even to an adult.
Over time, they might find that they want to create their own stories, and thus a writer is born.
But it is even more important than that. Through reading, children learn about life. They encounter worlds of people who they might never meet in person, and learn about good people and bad people, about how to handle a crisis or temptation. They learn about places not seen, events and times not experienced, people they’ve never met. Their horizons are broadened immeasurably through books and the shared joy of reading.
These are facts that we, as parents, seem to be forgetting. How often do you take the time to sit and read with your child, and then discuss what you’ve read? By discuss, I don’t mean that you tell the child lessons to be learned, but that you allow the child to provide feedback to you, telling what they heard, and what thoughts and questions arise from the book. We plug kids into computers and other electronics, but these are isolating experiences. They provide no in-person feedback opportunities. And our children are the losers in these encounters.
This happens in classrooms as well, where reading is generally for assessment purposes, quantifying how much a child can read, not how much they learn from what they read, or what thoughts are provoked and actions initiated. Our children read now so that they can pass assessment goals, not for the pure joy of reading. My own son’s love of reading was siphoned out of him by a school system that piled more and more reading on his shoulders, requiring more and more mindless regurgitation of what he’d read, rather than opening the world of literature for him and letting him enjoy his explorations. He is not alone in that experience. Cookie-cutter public schools are doing this to children every day. Assessment is primary and learning and knowledge acquisition takes backseat to the ability to gauge learning quantifiably by filling in the bubbles.
As writers, we must keep in mind WHY literature is important in our world: expanding minds and horizons, developing thinkers who see beyond their own limited lives and experiences, and connecting the world one page at a time.
Books make connections among people of all colors and creeds, all nationalities and beliefs. Books bind us as human beings. We must never forget that.