There I sat, outside the classroom, in a red plastic chair. I was still small enough to swing my feet back and forth. The door was not closed completely but the voices inside were muffled. After about 15 minutes my mother came out and told me it was time to go. She looked mad. I was not that well-behaved, so I figured I was to blame for the irritable look she had on her face and her grouchy disposition. When we arrived home from the parent-teacher conferences, she told me to go play. I was totally confused. Just seconds ago, I had been betting on being punished. That night at dinner she told me that we would be reading together every night from now on. I loved my mom, but I hated reading. When I expressed my feelings regarding reading, she did not yell at me, but rather, asked me why I hated it so much. I bluntly told her that I sucked at sounding words out and all books were boring. She just shook her head and told me that I needed more practice. My teacher had made it known to her at the conference earlier that day, that I was more concerned with making friends and being silly than I ever would be with being a scholar. Fortunately for me, my mother knew that I was capable of far more than my teacher gave me credit for.
Even after I left the first grade, I still hated reading. I remember the first day of second grade. My teacher, Mrs. Winnie, had a glossy, white bob haircut, a deep love of A.A. Milne, and a cat named McCloskey that roamed the classroom. I adored her and I really wanted her to like me too, but I feared when she found out about my hatred of all things concerning literature, she would not. The first day we reached reading time, I was discouraged and sat with a blank stare and a closed book. She came to me, crouched down and asked me what I liked to read. I told her I did not like to read anything. She then asked me if I liked music, which I did. She walked over to her bookshelf and brought back a book of poems by Shel Silverstein. When I said, “But this isn’t music”, she replied, “poetry is just like music if you learn how to read it the right way.” I do not remember my entire journey to loving literature, but I know it started that day. It began with patience, encouragement, a mother that saw the value in reading, and a teacher that genuinely cared. I thank my lucky stars for Mrs. Winnie and on monumental moments in my life (graduating college, my first day teaching) I imagine she is there. I doubt she’ll ever know the impact she had on my life and the direction it took, but if I can be half the teacher, she was to me, I’ll feel like I made her proud.
It needs to be said that while Mrs. Winnie was responsible for opening the door to the idea that reading could be enjoyable, my mother made sure to perpetuate that concept at home. Almost every night, my mother and I would cuddle up in her bed and take turns reading aloud from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, as the soft amber light from her tiffany lamp washed over us. The books we read in school were so different from the silly stories my mother and I read. In school we had always read about characters with four letter names (Dick, Jane, Spot etc.) that had choppy sentences that did not require imagination. At home, I read about Cordelia and the magic spell Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle put on her to keep her from gossiping. By giving me the freedom to choose books outside of the school requisites, the two of them showed me that books were filled with relatable characters and places to escape to. Books exposed me to new worlds, new knowledge, and ended up lining the path I chose in life.
This blog is not just to celebrate the Mrs. Winnies of the world, but also to express the reasons it is so important to teach children to read and instill a love of literature in them. There are so many benefits that come from reading that stretch beyond the school walls and can help students become successful adults.
Broaden Your Imagination
I am notorious for saying the book was better than the movie. Most avid readers would agree with this sentiment. This mentality derives from the fact that reading allows you to create your own visuals and imagine the characters and scenes any way you want. When you become adept at painting your own mental pictures, books become an escape for the reader. There is something so enjoyable in being afforded the opportunity to make a story your own.
One of the activities I enjoy the most is reading a novel with my students and then watching the movie adaption and having my students discuss the differences in what they imagined as we read as opposed to what the movie depicted. This asks my students to call upon their ability to interpret stories on a personal level, thus creating deeper comprehension and connections to the text.
Language Development and Fluency
I will let you in on a little secret, I was not born with an extensive vocabulary, it developed from reading. When I was young and I came upon a word I did not know, my parents would tell me to look it up. It used to drive me nuts and I never understood why they would not just tell me what the words meant. As an adult I totally get it. When it was my responsibility to look unknown words up, it made them much more memorable. This habit of looking words up, has never left me, even as an adult.
It makes sense that reading exposes us to new words and saying them aloud increases our ability to pronounce them and improves our fluency. It is for this very reason, that I require my students to read our novels as a class. I will give a warning to other educators that some students are not and never will be comfortable reading aloud, and you must respect that. I usually ask for volunteers to read and give students the option to pass, but I still expect them to follow along in the text. The more articulate an individual is, the more likely they are to be understood. Having a large vocabulary and the means of expressing yourself will take you far in this world.
Concentration and Focus
Reading can be quite relaxing and a source of tranquility. When you become engrossed in a story, everything around you ceases to exist. It could be said that reading is a means of escape. When a child goes through a rough time (divorce, moving, etc.) they may need to utilize their ability to get lost in a story. Focusing on the characters and the world within the text helps them to forget about their own problems in the “real world”.
It should also be said that just as easily as a child can get lost in literature, reading can help a child to find their self too. For example, if a child is experiencing bullying, reading a story about another child being bullied could make them feel less alone and offer them plausible solutions to their problem.
Become a Better Writer
All the above-mentioned benefits of reading contribute to making you into a better writer. Writing takes imagination in order to make your stories come to life. A skill set I have seen quite often needed on standardized testing (yes, these tests are essential) is the ability to build upon a fictitious piece of writing that has already been started. Students who lack imagination really struggle when asked to do this.
The use of context to determine vocabulary words is also widely used in academia. Students who read quite often may not even need to use the context surrounding a word in order to figure out its meaning because thanks to a larger vocabulary they might already know it. It is much easier to write poetry and stories when you have an entire bank of words built up to create vivid images within your writing.
Staying on task and making sure your writing is cohesive requires the concentration and focus you gain from reading. Fluidity happens when the mind has developed the ability to shut out everything else and focus on the task at hand.
I cannot think of a single reason NOT to read. What disadvantage is there for immersing yourself in literature? With all the skill sets you gain; it seems silly to not try to find at least twenty minutes in your day to sit down with a book. What the world does not need is more children being told they are not capable of becoming readers and leaders. As educators and parents, it is up to us to set examples for our children, and perhaps when they see us making time to read, they will follow our lead. So, if you do not want to put a book in the hands of those around you, put one in yours. You might be surprised at the power of that one small act.
For more benefits of reading click the links below:
By Lacey Rose Lawson