Reading, thoughtful reading, is more important than ever for children during this time of social distancing and on-line learning.
Deep reading is the giving up of oneself to a story, falling into the character’s lives, sharing their hopes, fears, successes, and failures. Whether the characters are wizards, orphans, bullies, hedgehogs, or heroes, we experience their trials as universal.
Early childhood experts and social scientists agree that reading fiction (from picture books to classic novels) helps build Theory of Mind. TOM is the ability to understand the desires, intents, and beliefs of another. To be able to identify with another is a key cognitive skill that begins developing early in life.
Humans, as the current state of distancing has brought into sharp focus, are social beings. Social beings who, for the sake of themselves and others, are living now in a state of modified distancing for the near distant future. But just because we are physically in a bubble, our minds, hearts, and souls do not have to be.
As the brain reads it becomes very active. It literally sparks! Neurobiologists have discovered that the same regions of the brain are stimulated by reading about something as they are by experiencing it. While reading, hundreds of neural connections are made that include recognition, understanding, awareness, and acceptance of different points of view. New thoughts and feelings arise, as we read, that nurture our ability to feel empathy.
Reading, because it has the power to shift perspective and encourage one to think outside normal bounds, has the power to change society. In this binary time, when there is a tendency to believe that one is on one side or another, reading opens minds and develops the art of listening.
As we are well aware, most of the healing needed in our society will not be solved by a new vaccine. By reading often to our children and, as they grow, encouraging them to read, we can, in our own homes, be part of a process of building the necessary compassion for all people that is vital to our future.