Reading: Exercise for the Mind
Sustained reading has long been a regular part of classroom literacy time, and schools will always endorse reading comprehension skills as an essential part of learning across all curriculum areas. But what about the importance of reading outside of school hours? With families leading busier lives and technology encroaching further into valuable spare time, once loved hobbies such as reading can soon be pushed aside.
There have been countless studies that highlight the long-term benefits to children’s learning when they are exposed to words and books from a young age. Children’s reading habits often begin at home. Studies have shown that when children are very young, parents and/or carers are more likely to sit and enjoy reading books aloud to children, however as they become older and more independent, shared reading at home is not given as much time. The Australian Kids and Family Reading Report by Scholastic shows that there is a significant decline in shared reading with children over the age of five. This may be due to a range of factors, including the start of school making children’s lives busier, children become more independent with their reading as they get older, and the amount of screen time children experience.
For eager readers who have a natural love for reading, the decrease in shared reading time may not impact the amount of reading they do and, in fact, they may read more when left to read on their own. However, for reluctant readers who struggle to find the motivation or joy in reading, the support and encouragement that comes with reading a book aloud with a parent or carer needs to be valued and recognised. After all, modelling healthy reading habits always starts in the home.
The focus of this article is around the school-aged reader who simply does not enjoy reading. As an upper primary teacher, parents often ask me for help in being able to motivate their child to read more. For those reluctant readers, I suggest books that contain fewer words and feature lots of pictures or comics to make reading fun and less tiring. Finding humorous books and story lines that they can connect with are also important. I find this helps the reader engage in the text more and helps generate discussion about characters and events in a story.
In the classroom, I ensure students engage in independent sustained reading time and shared reading time on a daily basis. For those students who are reluctant to read, the small group shared reading time is most beneficial as it encourages discussion about characters, plot development and unfamiliar vocabulary. Students discuss the connections they make between themselves and their experiences and those in the text, making the book more meaningful for them. As a small group, the students agree on a target page that they all need to reach before the next meeting, keeping them accountable to stay on top of their reading. It is the small reading goals and the follow-up discussions about the text that make the shared reading experience both engaging and enriching for all levels of reading.
In my view, it is just as important for young readers to share their reading experiences at home. Reading at home for at least 20 minutes each day not only generates positive reading habits outside of school but it can have significant long-term benefits on brain development. An article by Sadie Trombetta (2017) highlights five effects reading has on the brain, including:
- It heightens brain connectivity.
- Puts the reader in the characters’ shoes, encouraging emotional responses such as empathy and compassion.
- It can rewire the brain, creating more white matter and better communication within the brain.
- Increases the capacity of working memory, making reading a great exercise for the brain.
- Expands the reader’s attention span, particularly when following the narrative in a novel.
As a teacher, I am a firm believer that developing good reading habits is a key learning tool that plays a significant role in healthy cognitive development – so much learning can happen through books. They are rich in experiences and emotions and are the perfect daily exercise for the mind.