As we get older, we begin to reminisce more often. Recently, I’ve been company to many discussions about childhood memories, specifically television programmes. This is made all the more interesting by my international group of friends, many of whom watched the same programme in various languages, always a source of amusement as we compare. Inevitably, I am much less knowledgable about toddler pop culture than my contemporaries and the reason is simple: as a child, my parents allowed me to watch between an hour and half an hour of television a day, usually before bed. This precious time was usually reserved for the favoured Disney film of the week, and later by The Parent Trap, which explains why my three sisters and I can quote the script from beginning to end, including musical interludes.
Whilst my friends were enjoying Nickelodeon, I was reading. A lot. This may or may not explain the fact that at the age of seven, I had a reading age of thirteen. As a family of avid readers, this may not have been a coincidence; my younger childhood memories are of my grandparents relying stories of their childhoods, and playing ‘Aladdin’ or ‘Cinderella’ with me, chasing me around the house swathed in old curtains while I shrieked and struggled to escape the ‘baddy’. They instilled in me a love of stories, and storytelling, wherein the natural next step was to discover more and more for myself when I was able to read them independently.
Once I’d struggled through the awkward stage of learning to read, where sentences feel clipped and nonsensical, I was truly in love. Going to the library was a weekly treat, I imagine for my mother as well, due to the ‘Silence’ rule, and I would spend hours reading, returning to my favourites every few months. As a result, my imagination was sharp and creative, I could amuse myself easily, and my vocabulary was extensive meaning that I was always comfortable in the company of adults, and never shy about talking to them.
Whilst every child may not become instantly enamoured with reading as I did – one of my sisters did not begin to enjoy it until age ten, where she discovered ‘The Sleepover Club’ series, and would only read from that particular franchise for the following two years – it’s damn well worth trying to encourage them. Particularly when easy entertainment now comes in the form of an iPad, as opposed to television, and technical devices are all children experience. Teachers are noticing a lack of imagination amongst children, due to the visual nature of current entertainment, which eliminates the need for them to picture things independently in their own heads. If this is not a reason to encourage reading, I don’t know what is; try picturing how a lack of creativity in the upcoming generations will influence the arts.
The advantages of reading do not hinge on children reading correctly, I for one read Hermione’s name in ‘Harry Potter’ as her-me-on-ee until the films came out, and I am certain made many more mistakes along the way. Rather, it is to introduce them to a world of imagination and allow them to unlock the stories for themselves. There is a rather recent initiative that has come to light in certain areas of the States, wherein dog shelters are inviting children to read aloud in front of the rescued animals. This serves both to sooth the animals and increase their computability with humans, and to encourage the children to read out of the educational class room environment, where they are constantly corrected. The results are far calmer animals AND children.
Reading should not, however, end in childhood. Studies have shown that engaging with electrical devices – be them phones or laptops – awakens the brain, and should therefore not be used in the half hour leading to sleep. That slot of time is perfect for picking up a book, the act is both soothing and entertaining and means that reading is not an activity solely reserved for once-a-year beachside holidays.
We can’t discuss reading without discussing the Kindle, often a contentious subject amongst die-hard readers like myself. I was initially vehemently against such devices, arguing that they would be the end of the book industry, yadda yadda yadda. That was, until I planned a three month backpacking trip to South America. In three months, in a holiday environment, I was anticipating reading at least 20 novels. The only practical solution was to go the Kindle route. Post-holiday, I enjoyed some unexpected perks of the electronic book: they did not make me nauseous when reading in the car and, I read much more! A skinny Kindle can be taken almost anywhere, and whipped out in times of need: when my lunch date was running late, when there was a long queue at the bank. In short, I rediscovered my love of literature through the Kindle, due to the sheer easiness of the device, and for that, I can’t fault it!