Building vocabulary, increasing cultural awareness and learning the discipline for a marathon not a sprint – Ms Suzanne Triviere, curriculum group leader for Communications and Languages, explains the benefits to our young ones of ‘real’ reading
You might be surprised at how often we at Burgess Hill School are asked the question ‘why does reading matter?’ And in the age of technology, when information is available at the press of a button (we don’t even need to remember things anymore) and when the world revolves around all-singing, all-dancing multi-modal texts, the book does seem to be a bit of an anachronism.
To be fair, children are still reading – on laptops, computers and iPad’s – because words are everywhere. But I am talking about real READING – the kind we did before technology arrived, the kind that involved curling up with a book in the garden on a hot sunny afternoon, or in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night, or under the covers after lights out.
This is the kind of reading I remember from childhood, where I didn’t notice time passing and suddenly it was 1.00am and I knew the new school day was fast approaching. I did this recently with a wonderful novel by John Green called The Fault in our Stars (don’t let your children see the film coming out this summer until you have encouraged them to read the book!). I started at 10.00pm and finished at 4.00am and then lay in bed and thanked my lucky stars that it was the holidays and the next day’s damage would be minimal. Then I got to wondering how many of our children really read these days. And why does it matter? The favourite response is that children who read do better at school, even in Maths. They do. But did you know this?
A student who reads one minute a day builds an average vocabulary of 182,500 words; a student who reads twenty minutes a day acquires a whopping 3,650,000 words.
So reading builds vocabulary and helps students to understand their lessons better. That makes sense. It also helps them write; consistent exposure to challenging new vocabulary and sentence structures in well-written books helps them to express themselves more precisely and in imaginative and original ways.
Children’s cultural and general knowledge improves immeasurably if they have read stories from Africa or Australia or America, about people living now or a hundred years ago – like Sarah in The Little Princess, or four hundred years ago like Nathan who travelled back to Shakespeare’s time in The King of Shadows, or even six hundred years ago like Gabriel who becomes a travelling player in a Little Lower Than The Angels. There are thousands of great novels from which children can learn about our world.
So reading lets us travel in time and space. And the characters we meet teach us about people too, and when we understand people, we understand how relationships work. That’s a life skill that can’t be bettered. So far, so good.
But the most significant reason that reading a book is important is that it builds concentration. Most digital texts are bite-size, literal, factual and informative. They are written to be accessible to a wide audience and to communicate minimal detail. Vocabulary is limited. Sentences are straightforward. Paragraphs are short. Meaning is literal. In athletic terms – it’s a sprint, straight down the line.
In contrast, reading (real reading) is a marathon requiring discipline and commitment, patience and stamina, persistence and endurance; a story may be fascinating and exciting and thought-provoking but it might also be hard and it might be challenging, because the language is rich and complex and the ideas sophisticated and profound – essentially, all the richness of the world crystallised in a great book. Didn’t Harry Potter prove that? Reading builds the essential skills needed for success in all walks of life. It really is that important.