Reading to the mind = Exercise to the body?
Joseph Addison, an English author once said: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body”, but is that true?
According to the experts, being able to read and enjoy a wide range of books throughout our lifetime can be a life changing daily routine (Moody, 1984; Bennett, 1993; Narvaez, 2002; O’Sullivan, 2004; Duffy, 2005; Norfolk & Norfolk, 2006; Wang, 2012; Almerico, 2014; Baena, 2021). This may derive from the fact that reading is a thing that cannot really be separated from the worlds of fun, education, or lifelong learning. Reading is a complex activity which involves many things beyond processing and understanding the written format, also entailing visual activities, creative thinking, psycholinguistics, and metacognitive awareness (Kurniaman & Sismulyasih, 2019).
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In addition, reading activities can develop reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge, and contribute to language and literacy development (Wasik & Bond, 2001). However, getting started may not be easy, and it can take real work to get youngsters to the point that they truly love reading. In the early stages parents and teachers both have a vital role to show and pass on to the next generation the benefits and joys of reading (Almerico, 2014; Prior et al., 2012; Helterbran, 2009; Fitriyah et al., 2022; Rahmi, 2018).
So how and where to start?
From bedtime stories to world peace
Since ancient times good stories and storytelling have had a central function in human life. Today we can meet with nearly countless forms of storytellers especially thanks to the entertainment industry; from the early versions in written format like books or magazines to more digital reincarnations such as (video) games, videos, and films.
Man in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially is a story-telling animal … I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’ … the telling of stories has a key part in educating us into the virtues (Macintyre, 1981, p. 201)
To grow up to today’s challenging environment it has become increasingly important to find a way to integrate character education and learning into free time “home” activities as well, especially in the early life stages, during our most formative years when we are most open to new stimuli and learning which can serve as a base for later times (Crossan et al., 2016; Gunawan, 2017; Rahmi, 2018; Griszbacher et al., 2022). As also once Gandhi said: “If we are to reach real peace in this world . . . we shall have to begin with the children.”
A 'page' a day keeps the problems away?
Due to the rapid evolution of the ICT sector information is now available for nearly everyone for close to zero cost, making it difficult for fresh eyes to distinguish between good and true information (see also here) (Fitriyah et al., 2022). In contrast to digital sources, books offer a whole new experience where we become co-creators of the stories through the engagement of our imagination. Hence, literature serves as a basis for many discussions today – for example, we can recall how many people and what atmosphere welcomed the very last chapter of the Harry Potter book series by J. K. Rowling a few years ago. However, the overall picture is not so positive, as since the boom of the technological era we have experienced a strong decrease in fondness for reading among youngsters (which will negatively impact other generations as well), a phenomenon which is strongly connected to their personality and educational development (Segundo Marcos et al., 2020).
Instilling character values can be done in many forms and ways, one of which is through reading. Character basically refers to the set of cognitive knowledge, attitudes, motivations, and skills (read more here). At this point comes to the picture the stories (from others) which are powerful teaching tools as literary works frequently contain strong values of character education (a wise man learns from other people’s mistakes, right?). Regular reading time, a habit usually rooted at the early learning years (first the parent telling stories to children, then reading goodnight stories, finally youngsters finding their own favourites to read by themselves) can accelerate the development of a positive character by instilling character values little by little to children (Rahmi, 2018; Fitriyah et al., 2022), allocating time to read different genres of books gives virtue to the reader. For all of this to happen, it is important to introduce high quality children’s, adolescent, and young adult literature to the interested parties at a time which can provide “engaging, authentic examples of individuals who work, live, play, survive, and thrive in large part due to the values they possess” (Almerico, 2014, p. 4).
So how can books and reading boost my character?Read More
The magic of reading
Literature provides a vehicle for interweaving character education into everyday life to address everyday problems with the help of fictional examples. Through the art of storytelling, we can teach moral values and develop good characters because a good story can stir the imagination and affect various senses of the readers (O’Sullivan 2004; Norfolk & Norfolk, 2006; Baena, 2021). As also Aiden Chambers, British author of children’s and young-adult novels once mentioned:
It is through literature that we most intimately enter the hearts and minds and spirits of other people. And what we value in this is the difference as well as the human similarities of others (Chambers in Tomlinson, 1998, p. 3)
Books are a magical gateway that opens a whole universe in front of us. In general, there is no substitute for authentic human interactions and the development of relationships or concrete dialogues with others, although through the involvement of our imagination the impossible can easily become possible (something which may occasionally be dangerous). Reading can simulate these unique experiences – without us even leaving our comfort zone, from our house or even our beds (Noddings, 2005; Helterbran, 2009).
Reading? Hmm, so what’s in that really for me?
Beyond the primary function of obtaining information from the pages reading offers much more to the readers:
New information (Anggraini et al., 2018)
Freshly built conceptual networks and schemas (Narvaez, 2002)
A high level of freedom, a platform for communication (and to foster future discussions) as well as steps of self-discovery – all important parts of the creative learning process (Danesh & Nourdad, 2017)
Moral values & learning: Reading supports character development as it provides imagination and appreciate experience for a basis of moral learning (Narvaez, 2002; Munir & Hartono, 2016)
Creativity & imagination: Literary texts foster creating images in readers’ minds and the language empowers readers to engage with the written text and incorporate their own values and ideas (Munir & Hartono, 2016)
Extension of the reader’s vocabulary, their ability to express ideas, and their curiosity, as well as development of their imagination (Rahmi, 2018)
Enhanced language skills as well as both cognitive and creative skills (Wang, 2012)
Fondness for reading is strongly connected to intelligence, creativity, and learning achievement (Anggraini et al., 2018; Segundo Marcos et al., 2020)
Myths, legends, and fairy tales are ancient mediums of social values (Anggraini et al., 2018)
Also, reading books within groups helps to develop empathy as young (or even old) readers begin to understand and relate to different angles and emotions (Rahmi, 2018)
Summarising the benefits of reading with the help of Moody’s conclusions (1984), literary works have four essential functions, namely they: (1) improve language skills; (2) transfer knowledge about human life experiences such as customs, religion, culture etc.; (3) foster creativity and feelings; and (4) enhance character building.
Now the article is over, do you know what book you will start now?
If not, come back next week when we will bring you some tips!
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