We all know that reading is good for the child's development. However, there are a few parents that treat reading like their gym membership - they rarely use it. However, there is a new compelling evidence to encourage your child to get out those books and start reading.
According to a report, reading does not just stimulate the imagination as expected. It goes beyond that. When a person reads, the parts of the brain that control the movements of the body get stimulated as well. And that explains why we tense up when the protagonist of the novel is in a particularly sticky situation and giggle when something hilarious happens in the script.
The human brain and reading
The brain is a complex organ. In fact, it is the most complex organ amongst all the animal species on this planet. It may not be the biggest organ, but it is the most powerful one for sure! The primary function of the brain is to coordinate the body. So, if you want to grab a pencil, it will generate the thought, make you pause whatever you are doing, (or not), make you straighten up by contracting your back muscles and simultaneously relaxing the abdominal ones, make you reach out for the pencil by controlling the muscles of your arm, forearm, fingers, shoulder, neck, and even feet, and this is how you grab a pencil.
No wonder such a powerful organ needs exercise for proper functioning. One of the ways to stimulate this coordination is actual physical work. Have you heard that the reflexes of an athlete are sharp? It is because they practice something over and over, day in, day out. This forms neuronal circuits in the brain. The more frequently something is repeated, the stronger the circuits become.
Reading, in a similar fashion, provides the brain with a mental workout. But it is not just the thinking that is strengthened by this. Reading stimulates the development of softer skill, like empathy, something only humans are capable of exhibiting properly. These qualities are dubbed as humanity - and reading indeed helps a child become a better human.
In addition, an engrossed reader finds himself in the shoes of one of the characters. He exhibits the emotions that the character might feel, display muscle tones that the character in that situation might display, and react to something during the day in a way that the character would have reacted! This is what simulations exercises used in training do! The brain makes it possible even without the person knowing about it.
Fiction or non-fiction
Reading anything is going to encourage a part of a brain, one way or another. That said, there is an age-appropriateness for reading everything. A prodigy might 'read' Macbeth, but he needs to reach a certain level of maturity to fully appreciate the masterpiece.
It is recommended that you should start early when it comes to reading to the children. As the child turns 7, she should be able to read independently. Till then, there is no shame in reading for your kids!
As a doctor, I would recommend starting off with songs and rhymes as early as 4 months. The baby is not going to understand a word, but when you prop her up on your lap, she is going to benefit from the activity in 2 ways. She is going to get some more bonding time with you. And secondly, she is going to start to understand the concept of a book. And this is important, so don't read off a device. Stick to a book.
After the child turns 3, you can gradually turn to nonfiction. Read to her about dinosaurs, or oceans, whatever she prefers. This is going to broaden her horizons and lead her to the most important outcome from this exercise - inquiry based thinking. The world they build in their heads is going to be heavily influenced by what they know from this point onwards. Encourage them to ask a million questions. They will develop a habit of logical thought and will gather information without assuming anything or miss out on something.
Why reading is better than watching documentaries
Documentaries are easily available and are much less of a headache. Many parents prefer to switch on the device, prop the child in front of it and enjoy the solitude for the length of the feature. I don't blame them. The documentaries are a good source of information, the kids end up sounding smarter because of the words they pick up, and parents get time to rewind.
That said, there are many disadvantages of adopting this method. To begin with, seeking information from one is a passive process. Secondly, the accent or words might be lost on the child. And lastly, revisiting information would mean rewinding it, and the link is lost.
In contrast, the books run at a pace that suits your child. He can read and re-read a sentence and can go back to it for more clarification in the future. Taking notes from a book is much easier, and quoting it is simpler than doing it from a documentary. In addition, nonfiction books might have more contributors, increasing the research and vetting process about what goes inside the book.
Tips for parents
It is not always easy to get the child interested in reading. At times, if the reading seems onerous to the child, she might develop a nervousness for that activity. This is not something you want. Instead of coercing them to read, you can just read to them about the topic they like.
Here are three things every parent must do in order to get the child interested in reading.
- Start early. If you start as early as 4 months, the chances of your child adopting the habit are high. However, this does not mean that you should start late. Start as soon as you can, and read and encourage them to read as much as they want to.
- Create a conducive environment. Reading in chaos is not everyone's cup of tea. Research suggests that the more engrossed a person is in reading, the better it is for her brain development. So create a reading corner in the house. Ensure that it is well illuminated, preferably with natural light. Next, ensure that the room is quiet, breezy, and pleasant. Gift your child a bookshelf to organise her books in an order that she pleases - be it the colour, theme, title, or author.
- Lead by example. If you are immersed in a phone every free second you get, your child is going to do the same. Research backs the need for your child to see you reading. So keep your phones away and take them out only after the children are asleep.
Mums and dads, it is time to improve the future of Singapore. And guess what, it is all in your hands now.