Reading is a Form of Play


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.


Comments 6

  1. I love this post! My son too has mostly moved from playing with toys (though he still plays video games) but reading has become a crucial part of his life. He has always loved audio books and drags his Ipod and speakers with him from room to room and activity to activity (including the shower!). We also love audio books as a family activity during long drives. It’s been a great way to introduce our son to some of our favorite classics.

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      What are your favorite audio books, Andy? Both my kids love Stockard Channing reading Ramona (I’m less enamored) and we all love Tim Curry reading Lemony Snicket. We also got a lot of mileage (literally — a cross country trip!) on Charles Kuralt reading Winnie the Pooh.

  2. This is very encouraging for me! I feel like I’m not very good at playing with my child, but I certainly read a lot with him!

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      Ha, Helen, I was just shocking another therapist who does play therapy by admitting to her that I don’t like (and have never liked) playing with my kids. But playing with my kids and doing play therapy with OTHER people’s kids are totally different AND therapy sessions only last 50 minutes. 😉

  3. I’m another parent who doesn’t really enjoy playing with my three year old – or at least, not as much as he wants me to. Today I promised him I would play with his theatre with him for fifteen minutes, and scheduled it into the afternoon in a spot where I thought I would have enough energy for it. I surprised myself by enjoying it more than I thought I would, and we played for half an hour, and when I said it was time for me to stop he only whinged a small amount. Success.

    The farm it out concept you mentioned in your latest post is lovely, but sadly I find it a struggle. I am an introverted single mother with an introverted child, no family nearby, and our existing close friends live far away and our attempts to make friends near us have fallen a little flat – we make plenty of friendly acquaintances but people we can rely on or trust are not easy to find. If I can’t do it for/with him, my son mostly does without. I’m trying hard to concentrate on the things I am good at without feeling consumed by guilt about the things I’m not doing and the playmates I am not providing. Although I can ‘farm out’ my child’s TV consumption – we have a neighbour who is happy to have children’s TV on at any time, whereas it drives me crazy, so he escapes over there for TV consumption regularly!

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      Louise, I’m glad that the play was fun for both of you!!! My son was an only child for the first seven years of his life and he’s also introverted (as am I). I used to feel guilty about how few socializing opportunities he had until I realized that my son wasn’t doing without — he didn’t really need that the way an extroverted child would (and when our extorverted daughter arrived I really knew it). Introverts tend to be very good at playing by themselves and what looks like lonely to those of us socialized to think a child playing by himself is lonely may actually be a lovely, fulfilling, joyful time for an introvert. So your guilt, is he really “doing” without? Or is he thriving without? Is this a situation that nurtures him even if it’s not your ideal? I would encourage you to continue to look for opportunities for friendship because friendship is good; NOT because your child is suffering (because I don’t think he is). I also think it’s very nice that he has another adult to share his TV time with! 🙂

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