Part of me believes that kids should be able to read whatever they want during SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) Time, whether it’s magazines, manuals or comic books – as long as they’re reading something. But in today’s world of sound bites and 140 character messages, I’m concerned that many of us (even adults) are losing the reading stamina to sustain attention for a full-length book. And I’m concerned that many of our kids will never read an entire novel if they don’t have an opportunity in school. I’m not talking about class novel studies here; I mean the kind of reading that requires each individual to navigate print, draw inferences, watch characters grow and develop and hold details in our heads from beginning to end. A rather sad statistic is that 42% of college students will never read another book after they graduate.
Reading fiction actually makes us smarter. It builds the kinds of “Tier 2” vocabulary (rich words for familiar concepts) and background knowledge so important for further reading and learning. And, according to a 2014 study, becoming engrossed in a novel actually enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function! Not surprisingly, reading fiction was found to flex the imagination. But it also improved readers’ ability to feel compassion for others. (Read more about this research in Psychology Today.)
Fiction also helps us understand our world. As Thomas Erlich and Ernestine Fu say in their June 2015 article in Forbes Magazine, “we learn much about how best to live our lives in ways that can only be captured by fiction. In fact, we think “fiction” is a misnomer…“Fiction” means “untrue,” and the best stories and novels contain wisdom for living that cannot be captured in any other way.
Makes a pretty good case for making kids read novels during DEAR time, doesn’t it?