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Breeding Bookworms: Twelve Surefire Strategies to Turn your Techno-Kid into a Bookworm!

December, 2013
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What do your kids do on a rainy day? Do they curl up with a good book? Or do they switch on their computers, cell phones, video games and MP3 players as fast as their young fingers can carry them? According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children and teens between the ages of eight and 18 were spending an average of seven hours and 38 minutes EVERY DAY playing video games, going online and watching TV – often at the same time as completing their homework! If that sounds like your kid, do you need to be concerned? After all, our modern world is based on technology, and books are …well, so old-fashioned.

kids-readingMy belief – and I am in the company of a growing army of psychologists and educational professionals – is a resounding YES, you should be concerned. Kids still need to be reading books – and lots of them – and today I’d like to tell you why. Then I’d like, over the next year, to offer you 12 sure-fire tips to turn your little techno-kid into an avid bookworm.

First, a confession. I’m neither a teacher, librarian nor psychologist. But as an author of children’s books, I’ve spoken with many concerned teachers, librarians and parents over recent years. I also have two daughters who share the same pull towards technology as their peers. I know what parents are up against. I’m also passionate about this subject and would like to share what I’ve learned.

There are five compelling reasons why reading books – and lots of them - is still essential to today’s child.

1. Reading books is the most effective way to develop a child’s imagination.

It is virtually impossible to read a book without using the imagination –  try it yourself. As we read, the text forms multiple images and associations in our brains. And kids who spend hours every week reading books are honing powerful imaginations.

Today we face unprecedented challenges – think climate change, resource depletion, over-population and global terrorism. Now more than ever, we need original minds to create radical new solutions. But original thoughts can only arise from fertile imaginations.

Now compare reading books to watching DVDs or TV, playing computer games or surfing online, or even reading inter-active e-books. Much, if not all, of the visual and aural information is already supplied. The imagination is, quite simply, out of a job. And what we don’t use, we lose.

2. Reading books is an effective way to develop empathy and compassion.

Closely associated with the development of the imagination is the development of compassion, a higher-order form of thinking that develops slowly via the slow drip-drip of “imaginative suffering” into the deep brain. As children read, they repeatedly put themselves into the fictional protagonist’s shoes, through all their pain, loss and unhappiness, as well as their joy and successes. The ability to empathize with others in fictional situations creates the ability to empathize with others in real life.

A recent study at the University of Michigan of over 13,000 students found that college students today are a staggering 40 per cent less empathetic to suffering than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago. Two of the main hypotheses cited for the difference? First, the rise of social media and social networking with their emphasis on narcissism and competition between peers, and second, the massive decline in reading books for pleasure and leisure.

3. Reading books develops a child’s ability to concentrate and to think deeply.

Reading a book demands deep concentration. But the ability to concentrate is not innate. It develops as the brain responds to the repeated stimulus of reading by wiring the synapses in a particular way. If children don’t read books over prolonged periods of time, with the peace and quiet that reading demands, their brains may simply never develop the capacity to concentrate or think deeply.

the-shallowsAs Nicholas Carr argues in his compelling book The Shallows, it was Gutenberg’s printing press, which brought book reading to the masses, which created the deep thinkers who in turn created the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. If we do not treasure books and insist on books at the heart of our children’s education, deep thinkers may soon no longer exist.

4. Reading is essential to good communication

Good communication is the basis for a successful life and a successful society. But the strength of our vocabulary depends not on the common 10,000 words found in conversation, but on how many “rare” words we understand. And these rare words are found most often in printed texts. Even a children’s book contains almost double the number of rare words than adult conversation. Compare this to a recent study amongst a group of British teenagers who spent all their time texting and in Internet chat rooms. Their average spoken lexicon was just 2,000 words. Sadly, they will probably be unemployable.  

5. Reading = a healthy, wealthy and happy life! 

Small wonder then that studies in the US carried out over decades have proven that people who read a lot as children get better grades, achieve higher qualifications, find better jobs, have happier family lives, enjoy better health and live longer than those who do not. And the same applies to their kids (Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th Edition, Penguin). So if you want to create a dynasty of healthy, wealthy and happy people, your child needs to read lots of books!

But how do your turn your little techno-junkies into bookworms?

Top Tip No. 1 – Never force your children to read.

It will turn them off completely! By the same token, never associate reading with punishment. The most critical aspect in encouraging reading is how your child feels about reading. So your job is to change your child’s mind-set. You must prove that READING = PLEASURE.

And over the next year, I hope to show you how. 

Sarah recommends you to read the following books:

the-catFor ages 4 to 6: The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss – I have to start with this enduring classic, as it was this book that sparked my love of rhyming verse and my desire to write too! Dr Seuss taught me, at a very young age, that you could actually PLAY with words! And it was so much fun!

little-house-on-the-prairieFor ages 7 to 9: The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – A beautifully-written autobiographical series for this age group with exceptional imagery, adventure, drama and pathos. A real thought-provoker for today’s cossetted kids with some wonderful vocabulary!

lightning-thiefFor ages 10 to 12: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians series) by Rick Riordan – The first in an inspired series that has allowed many pre-teens to rightfully claim more expertise about Greek mythology than their parents! A classic combination of education and entertainment that engages kids of both sexes.

For adults: The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember. Nicholas Carr, Atlantic, 2011. ISBN: 9781848872271

 

By Sarah Brennan

Sarah Brennan is the author of the best-selling Chinese Calendar Tales and Dirty Story series. Her latest book, The Tale of A Dark Horse, is now available online and in China from Blue Fountain Books. Visit Sarah’s website at www.sarah-brennan.com and blog at www.sarahbrennanblog.com. 

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