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flyingbook-insideI can’t remember how old my son was when he stopped playing. One day he was spending hours creating worlds with his little PVC Pokemon figurines and then the next day he wasn’t but I can’t really remember when that was. But I remember that he was sad about it, when his play stopped working, and it made me think about when my big sister came home (at around 11 or 12) from her first babysitting job. She trudged into my room, watched me setting up my kitchen set to make dinner for my doll and then said, “You know, playing baby dolls isn’t as much fun once you’ve played with a real baby.”

It’s hard to grow up and it’s hard to lose the opportunity for play.

Fortunately when kids (and grownups) read — particularly fiction or non-fiction with the same kind of imaginative scope, the kind that sets you to wondering — works our brains the same way that play does. Unlike television, which is fun and can be playful, books ask us to supply the sights and sounds and to imagine the people who are speaking. It’s a form of pretending, which is one reason that it’s so important that kids (and grown ups) get time to read for pleasure.

Graphic novels count, so do books below grade level. Lots of kids like to revisit their favorite childhood books particularly during times of big growing because it’s comforting to spend time with the familiar when there are a lot of new challenges happening so don’t fret if your 10-year old comes back from the library with a pile of Henry & Mudge books instead of Harry Potter.

Finally audio books are a great way to “read” for the child who is a kinesthetic (i.e., physical) learner. If she can’t sit still long enough to read to herself, let her listen to books on CD while she colors, moves around or jumps on the trampoline. She’ll get many of the same benefits — training a longer attention span, building her vocabulary and that all important imaginative “play” time — without being frustrated.

I hear sometimes about parents who use books as punishment or consequences or bribes, for example, read for one hour tonight to earn an hour of computer time. That doesn’t build literacy; it builds kids who dread books. If you’ve got a book-friendly household (access to books either on your shelves of via regular trips to the library; adults who love to read; acceptance of everyone’s favorite genre regardless of it’s respectability or educational value) then you’ll have children who understand the value of reading whether or not they become bookworms.