Reading is extra-ordinarily powerful, particularly when one is young.
The act of reading, that process of converting words on a page into concepts and images in one’s head, along with any associated emotions, is both amazing and wonderful. This is virtual reality that you create for yourself without any need for ‘immersive’ technology. Watch any child reading a book that grabs them and you will see a clear demonstration of exactly what ‘immersive’ means !
Never mind, just for a moment, the learning of facts or information that comes from books, it is the process of reading fiction that quite literally expands a young person’s mind and imparts skills and capabilities that better equip them for life.
Simply stimulating their imagination is already a huge benefit. The fact that, prompted by two dimensional, monochrome words on a page, one can think of something that is not tangible, not actually there in front of you, means you are developing that ‘muscle’ of creativity. First, you realise that your mind is not bound by your physical situation, then you learn that you are not even bound by those words on that page; you yourself can imagine totally new situations, and things.
At a practical level as Jules Verne once said, “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real”. Thus, all new products, and technology, and services, and solutions to any problem rely, first, and above all, upon imagination. So, not a bad life skill to have of itself.
The act of imagining, literally putting oneself in another situation, offers so much more, though.
The emotions one feels when reading a story are no less real just because they are imagined. As children read they quite literally put themselves into the situation of the characters. They start to be able to understand, even if only at the most basic level; and, more important, relate to the thoughts, concerns, and feelings of somebody else. Yes, these may well be entirely fictitious figures but with the associated emotions comes something much more valuable – empathy.
If there is one trait the world could do with a lot more of, it is empathy. As personal technology gets ever more invasive, as well as immersive, what inevitably suffers is the human interactions. It is thus even more important that we help children develop empathy, so that, as they go through their lives, they can quickly and readily relate to others.
They also say: ‘life is not a rehearsal’. However, by reading a child can do exactly that; rehearse for life. Imagination means they can safely explore all kinds of scenarios, in the privacy, and hopefully comfort, of their own mind. At first that will be by reading others’ stories and reflecting on how they feel about the situations that arise there; situations that they themselves might not otherwise ever come across. Through reading they can stimulate and gauge their own emotional reactions, as well as effectively check out potential alternative responses, again some that may not otherwise have occurred to them. Quite literally playing with their emotions.
Then comes inspiration ! The ability to imagine brings with it infinite possibilities. Role models can spring off the page, and, suddenly, just maybe, anything is possible. This is a precious freedom that children can gain by reading.
Once inspired, many will go on to inspire others. The art of reading segueing into writing. That self-same imagination at play.
All this from encouraging children to read, and, what’s more, it’s not like getting them to eat their greens; they will almost certainly enjoy it !