February 3, 2014

I had an interesting conversation last week. A mom from school called me because she noticed that every day when as I drop off my Kindergartener, my daughter vaguely trails me with her nose in a book. Knowing my educational background, she said, “So, we don’t read that much. [Her son] doesn’t really seem interested. Is it really that important?” My immediate answer was YES! but I don’t know that I’ve ever taken the time to articulate to myself, or someone else, WHY. As moms, we have to be practical. Time, money, and energy run out faster than the day. Why should a parent spend precious resources to get that kid who gravitates toward numbers and puzzle-type activities into a book?

Reading gives us access to information:

Our world moves faster every day. Our kids will have to be able to keep up with changes that happen at light speed. The easier reading is for you, the easier the information will come. Reading well allows them to learn independently, without the aid of another person. We’ve seen it around the world and throughout time, those who can access knowledge succeed over those reliant on other means.

Reading teaches our brains how to organize information:

There’s a reason picture books for young readers use a lot of pictures. Their brains haven’t learned how to create their own pictures yet. No matter what you are reading, your brain has to take those words, analyze how they should be logically grouped, and then organize the information into an understandable format. As we read a novel, our minds draw the scene for us, word by word from the page, until we know how the characters look, where they live, what they do and say, and so on. We still create these kind of pictures for non-fiction but they are organized into our knowledge of the world. The skill of organizing a large amount of information into a logical format applies to every aspect of our lives, whether dealing with the written word, numbers, or people.

At the exact same time, reading makes us smarter:

It’s like the push-ups of the mental world. While our minds organize the words, some many other things are happening. Each new piece of information in our brains links to something we already knew, creating brain connections. These connections are what make us smarter. Also running in the background, the brain picks up new vocabulary by seeing in within already known words. Your kid is actually studying vocabulary as they read, without any conscious effort. Perhaps the most tangible skill they are practicing with a book is focus. Concentrating long enough to get all of this information requires focus and the more they use it, the more they have it.

Reading lets us experience different situations:

Life is complicated. Diving into a book that presents this complexity on the page gives kids a chance to stretch their emotional muscles. Kids can bounce all their ideals, fears, or doubts against the sounding board of fictional characters. This allows them to live in the shoes of someone very different from themselves. In the same vein, kids see other countries, other ways of life, and other times through the pages of a book. Unless you have piles of disposable income and time at your fingertips, you won’t be able to provide your child with those kinds of perspective building experiences in real life.

Let’s be honest, reading keeps them busy!

I love that all I have to do is tell my daughter to bring a book somewhere and she’ll be entertained. I can’t wait until my son can read well enough to dive in that way. Maybe I won’t end up with so many Hot Wheels in my purse all the time!

It is worth the value of your time and energy to encourage your child to pick up a book but don’t hear what I’m not saying. Your resistant reader is not doomed to life without these skills. Plenty of people succeed in the world without a love of books. And, despite my inability to imagine life without stories, they remain happy and well-adjusted!

Looking for book suggestions? Just because the holidays have passed, doesn’t mean The Perfect Books for the Holidays aren’t still great!