Fiction: food for growing minds and imaginations
PUBLISHED: 09:00 11 February 2014
Dauntsey’s School Head of English, Linzi Lloyd-Jukes, argues that reading for pleasure is crucial to our development as human beings.
Let’s begin with the imagination. Words on a page are a starting point, to be filled in and fleshed out. It’s an active, not a passive, process and one that continues well beyond
the time spent reading the book, as you recreate in your head the scenes and stories into which you have been drawn. The more you read, the more you enjoy reading and the more ambitious the books you can tackle. It’s a virtuous circle. Through fiction, you can live, intensely, in other worlds, other times, other identities.
There is great pleasure and excitement in this but it is also vital in fostering empathy for others – and the capacity for empathy is one of the central aspects of being human. It is partly through fostering empathy that books change the world: witness Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, Hard Times and so many more.
Reading is central to the development of langua
ge – and language is a key part of what makes us human. Our ability to communicate is crucial to our personal as well as our professional lives.
As a child reads, vocabulary grows, along with sensitivity to syntax and phrasing. Good readers make good writers. Unknowingly, they learn to sense the difference between a fluent, effective sentence and a clumsy sentence. They develop a vocabulary capable of expressing nuances of feeling and thought. Non-readers live in a linguistically impoverished world and a limited vocabulary limits what you can think, as well as what you can articulate.
The benefits of reading are enormous – but today children are reading less, partly because they are spending more time in front of a screen. There is perhaps an analogy to be
drawn between convenience food and the television and films that form such a significant
element of some children’s experience. In the excitement, colour, drama and impact of the screen lies instant gratification.
You just sit and enjoy – a bit like an instant meal. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this but it is unlikely to be as nourishing or satisfying as a good book (or home-cooked food). Over-exposure to the supercharged stimulation of some interactive games may well militate against reading; watching long hours of television clearly does.
Arguably, the way many children are brought up today actively inhibits reading. Some are never given the chance to learn to enjoy being quietly on their own with a story. Their every minute is organised and busy. No wonder we have so many stressed and over-tired children.
Ironically, children who are avid readers rarely encounter boredom. You can always keep a book in your pocket; thanks to e-readers, you can pocket a whole library. Keen readers have books that help take them through difficult times: there’s a great deal of solace in returning to a much-loved novel, or book of poems.
So let’s allow our children the time and space, the quiet and the calm, in which to
become readers. Switch off the computer and the television, tuck yourself up in a chair
with a good book – and let your child do the same. The love of reading is one of the
greatest gifts you can give.
This article appeared in the Spring issue of the A+ Education Guide South West. Click here to see the whole magazine.