Why Reading Impacts School Success – Jennifer Oaten
‘Into the Magic Shop’, by Dr James Doty, is the most recent book I have read. An incredible true story of how an act of compassion changed the world for a disadvantaged young boy and how his way of thinking enabled him to become a neurosurgeon changing the lives of others. An extraordinary book that had a big impact on me and still has me thinking about how our heart is connected to our brain. My favourite line in the book is:
“I met a woman who taught me that anything is possible if only you believe in yourself and stop the voice in your head that tells you, you are who you were”.
What is your most recent read? Do you have a favourite book?
The benefits of reading
What exactly do human beings get from reading books? Is it just a matter of pleasure, or are there benefits beyond enjoyment? The joy of reading to your child and the joy they feel when snuggled up with a parent can never be underestimated. Reading with your children builds warm and happy associations with books, increasing the likelihood they will find reading enjoyable.
Reading ability has one of the biggest impacts on school success and is one of the factors that parents can significantly influence.
Studies have shown that reading has numerous cognitive benefits that increase the potential for academic success, particularly the ability to focus or concentrate on one task at a time rather than the usual multi-tasking that we do every day. Reading also improves memory retention as the brain is challenged to remember different characters, relationships and settings as we become involved in a story. Reading exposes young people to new vocabulary and promotes critical thinking skills, making connections and predicting storylines. MRI scans have shown that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. As your reading ability matures, those networks grow stronger and more sophisticated, leading to a greater capacity for thinking.
Reading is also known to keep your mind engaged and improve your cognitive ability as you get older. A study published by the American Academy of Neurology found that reading and other brain-stimulating activities reduced the rate of memory decline by 32 per cent.
Reading and comprehension skills are required in every subject at school and in every university course, so these skills, along with reading speed, will influence success in many aspects of life.
The joy of finishing a great book and desperately wanting to get started on the next one in the series is a great feeling for people of all ages, as is the feeling of never wanting a book to end.
Reading is a great way to calm the body and promote good sleep patterns. Setting your phone aside and picking up a book is a way of telling your brain that it is time to quiet down. For young people, quality of sleep is one of, if not the most significant protective factors against mental health issues. Reading helps you de-stress, calm your mind and improve the quality of sleep.
People who suffer from depression often feel isolated and may find escapism and comfort in the characters of a book. Reading fiction can allow you to temporarily escape your own world to become swept up in the imagined experiences of the characters. A recent study found that 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate and feelings of psychological distress just as effectively as yoga. By reading books about others who have overcome challenges, we may be encouraged to do the same and to stay positive.
With such an increase in mental health concerns among our young people and the strong connection with quality sleep, this is something worth pursuing to ensure the wellbeing of our youth. Positive wellbeing is a critical foundation for success at school and in life.
Books promote empathy and emotional intelligence. They teach us to relate to others by constantly presenting us with thoughts and scenarios outside of our perspective, enabling us to show a heightened ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others. This is important for young people who may be self-centred in their thinking and actions.
A recent article in The Conversation highlights how reading can improve social cohesion. By creating shared experiences, reading can help bring people together and encourage positive outcomes. There are many great outcomes for young readers who have conversations about the books they and their friends are reading, such as Harry Potter, a hugely popular book for young people. This is also true in families where conversations about books can be a great form of connection.
Many jobs require strong reading and comprehension skills, and reading can also enhance communication and analytical abilities. A survey by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education found that individuals who read regularly are more likely to earn higher wages and have better job opportunities.
Tips for making time to read in a distracted world
So, how can we counteract technology and make time for reading in a world that is constantly distracting us?
- Scheduling specific times for reading can help. Even if it is just 20 minutes a day, setting aside time to read helps reinforce the habit and ensures regular immersion in the book world.
- If you are not enjoying a book, don’t force yourself or your children to keep reading it. There are plenty of other books out there to try. Read the first 100 pages, then change if needed.
- I never thought I would engage with a Kindle or similar device, but the availability and choice of books at any hour or while on holidays is a great benefit. It also helps with being able to increase font or improve background lighting to increase ease of reading.
- For reluctant readers, listening to audiobooks and following along in a book is a great way to increase confidence.
- By carrying a book with us at all times or leaving books around the house in convenient places, we can make reading a more accessible and visible part of our daily lives.
- In our house, everyone takes a book on holidays, just in case they need it, and more often than not, it is read even when there is initial resistance. Holidays provide the time to start reading, especially if the whole family reads.
- Books for presents, especially ones researched and popular for the age group or from a favourite author, means they are readily available at home.
- Another approach is to encourage ourselves and young people to be more mindful of our media and entertainment consumption. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds, set limits on screen time.
Reading is an essential activity with numerous benefits for individuals and society as a whole. With the influence of technology, it is more important than ever to make time for reading. We can ensure that we continue to reap the academic, health, social and career benefits of reading in a world that is increasingly dominated by technology. So the next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, put down your phone and pick up a good book and encourage your children to do the same.
What will be your next book?