The primary joys of childhood stem from a natural unadulterated naïveté. As children, we believed in Santa Claus; we believed in magic; we believed in a pure and cosmic sense of wonder. These are all important developmental mindsets because they were nurtured by an essential and basic faith in the world. They were also nurtured by a profound human activity: reading for pleasure.
Reading for pleasure is especially critical for children. First and foremost, it is a source of learning. Beyond learning new vocabulary and the basics of grammar, children’s literature allows young people to experience an intense and complex portrayal of humanity and of the world. Children can learn about morality, friendship and love. Furthermore they are bestowed with a keen sense of right and wrong.
These are all heightened because of the active nature of reading. Rather than merely hearing or watching a story, a child truly engages with the text. The story thus becomes an interpretation, a version of a world that belongs completely to the child, and that is quite special.
Additionally, a key aspect of reading for pleasure is that the child continues the story by their own choice. Perhaps because they identify with the protagonist, are curious about the plot, or simply adore the world they have entered. All these possibilities display thoughtful absorption into a text. If a child decides not to continue a book, that is an important decision also. For example, If they do not identify with the protagonist, perhaps this reveals a subconscious and reflective choice about their individuality. Reading is a simple outlet for establishing likes and dislikes on a profound level.
In terms of tangible benefits, reading for pleasure is proven to contribute to a child’s success in school. Since it has become an enjoyable activity, children are more motivated to read educational texts. They are also more comfortable, competent and efficient readers. As they develop these skills, they acquire an innately positive association with reading in general. This becomes a continual benefit throughout their lives.
However, the intangible benefits of reading for pleasure are equally advantageous. In addition to developing as students, reading for pleasure allows children to develop as adventurers, dreamers, and philosophers. Reading grants them access to a variety of new and exciting worlds, the majority of which are entirely fantastical. Thus, children can develop a canon of vicarious experience wildly different from their everyday lives.
Perhaps most of all, reading for pleasure can be an escape. It can create a person that still hears the rain against his window and instinctively hopes it’s Peter Pan finally knocking. Or a person that feels the rear wood of a wardrobe, just to make sure it won’t offer passage into Narnia. These are the people that have truly experienced the emotions and realities of literature. These are the people who, despite leaving childhood, still see magic in the world. And perhaps by encouraging children to read for pleasure, we’ll allow them to maintain some of that magic as well.
Photo: Tim Pierce