In discussion with a student this week, I enjoyed a brief chat about the merits of a classic book from my youth (and yours) called Treasure Island. Written by Robert Louis Stevenson, it has been reprinted and produced on the stage and in film many times over and has become synonymous with pirates, buccaneers and buried treasure ever since its appearance in the 1880s. A traditional coming-of-age tale, Treasure Island’s setting on the high seas with treasure maps and castaway islands still evokes a sense of action and adventure. It is undeniable – many of the best books are written for young people and this title is no exception.
Even when I taught high school and middle school, I always shared books with my students. It didn’t seem to matter if they were 10- or 16- years old. A great story captures any mind that is truly engaged. Talking books on the road and expertly narrated stories like the amusing tales in Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café are all perfect examples of how “enjoying stories” is not just something for young children.
Experts confirm that reading with children from a very early age fosters all kinds of important skills that will set them in excellent stead for their entire lives. What is equally true is that readers beget readers, so our example as adults in promoting reading with our children has lasting impact. For young children, finding time to share books is crucial, especially in our “screen obsessed” lives. If you look around, you cannot deny that iPads and smartphones are increasingly to be found in nurseries, cradles and family cars – while books are taking a “back seat”.
Good old-fashioned books? What are the benefits? There are many. Sharing books with kids absolutely nurtures literacy skills and sends the message that quality time with them matters. It is certainly true that generations of children learned to read, not at school really, but in a “reading home”, wherein sharing books provided a sense of place, belonging, and imagination. In the words of author Emilie Buchwald: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
As wonderful as the internet is, there’s more to life than screens! Offering our children and students books as often as possible – instead of tablets or a smartphone – is an important choice.
While some might argue that kids like reading on digital devices, recent research tells us that kids actually prefer good ole books to reading on a screen.
There’s also data to suggest that kids are extra-inspired when they see others reading books. So, if we needed another excuse, science really wants us to bust out the books, as often as we can, and model excellent reading behaviour. Our ever-watching kids and students will notice and reap the rewards.
Ric Anderson, Head of School