It’s National Book Week! All over Australia, parents of primary school children have been pulling together costumes for their kids. Some relished the opportunity to be creative; others were a bit dark at teachers for bringing this curse down upon them.

In high schools, English teachers and library staff created displays and activities designed to engage their students with reading. It is a task made difficult these days as our kids are so drawn to YouTube, live streaming, and social media.

So why bother?

We all know reading is the bee’s knees when it comes to education. It is great for:

  • Increasing vocabulary
  • Mastery of language
  • Increasing creativity
  • Developing imagination
  • Providing knowledge
  • Teaching grammar and spelling
  • Entertainment
  • Relaxation
  • Communication skills

That’s all obvious, but my favourite, less obvious reasons for reading are:

1. Reading creates empathy

When a child reads, they see through the eyes of others. They come to understand why people might think and behave differently to them. Humans in real life are often difficult to understand, books offer this opportunity.

There is no other medium where kids can spend hours immersed in another person’s thoughts, experiences, and emotions… learning empathy. Surely that makes the world a better place. If our children are empathetic, they are likely to be understanding, compassionate and caring adults.

2. Reading is great for wellbeing

Reading is very calming. If you are reading you are being still, but you are engaged. Your mind is soaring in another world, so there is less room for anxiety or dwelling on the past. If we create a routine where our kids read daily, they learn to settle quickly and immerse themselves in the stillness.

For some students, a book is a portable world they can take with them. It allows them to return to the familiar world of the narrative, even if there is chaos and change all around them.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Stephen King

3. Reading can help kids process emotion

In addressing the social-emotional component of the curriculum at school, our aim is to teach kids to recognise and understand their emotions. We want them to know that all emotions are normal, even the uncomfortable ones, and that no feeling lasts forever.

In literature, our young people vicariously experience other people’s emotions. They have ‘ah ha’ moments where they come to realise, they are not the only ones to feel the way they do. They also see how other people manage their feelings. This is powerful learning.

4. Reading teaches concentration and discipline

We live in a sound-bite world. Television and internet entertainment assumes you have the concentration of a gnat. We are fed all our information in tiny chunks. It is little wonder kids don’t develop an extended concentration span or discipline. Books, particularly novels, demand these skills.

5. You’re not alone when you read

When I was younger, I moved to a coastal town where I knew nobody. I met people, but it takes a long time to make real friends. I remember telling my brother I was lonely. He said, “Read. You are supposed to be alone when you read.” And he was right. It is great advice for our kids too. When you read you are alone, but not lonely.

6. Reading shows kids other ways of being a human

Kids come to an intimate understanding of the lives of others in books. They see the choices characters make, their mistakes and victories. It’s important that young people see many different versions of what it is to be an adult. Not everyone thinks and acts like their parents, there are other choices, not necessarily better or worse, just different. It is often an eye-opener for kids and quite liberating. They get to choose the life they want. 

7. Reading is for them alone

There is so much in life that kids share. They are so connected and interactive and communal. When they read, it is for them and them alone. They choose what they read, and they do it at their own pace. The images of characters and settings created in a child’s mind are drawn from their imaginations. Reading is utterly personal.

8. Reading can change the colour of your mind

Charlotte Bronte in Wuthering Heights says, “I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.”

It is the same with special books. They change the colour of the mind. The experience of a great book can move a reader so profoundly that their view of the world is ever so slightly, but forever, altered. That’s how we grow and gradually evolve.

Finally…

If you’re a parent who struggled with finding the exact right Harry Potter glasses, or you’re a teacher who created that super engaging activity… Thank you. All that effort is a testament to your support of a very noble cause.

Happy Book Week!