Tag Archives: Theory of Mind

The Importance of Reading Stories to Your Child During the Pandemic

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Donna Burke Esgro

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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.

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The Way of the Reader

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©donnaesgro

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“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

 

We live in a distracting world, but we fool ourselves when we think that, by doing more than one thing at a time we are being efficient. To be mindful, fully present in the moments of our lives, sounds deceptively simple, but, especially in this electronic age, is a decided discipline.

Reading, because it slows one down and encourages uses of imagination and focus, can be a gentle bridge to serenity.

As more and more children abandon reading for electronics, neuroimaging research shows that excessive screen time damages the developing brain by creating structural and functional changes in the regions that control emotional processing and cognitive control.

Of particular concern are findings that show damage to areas of the brain that equate physical attributes, such as facial expressions and body language, with emotion. This kind of damage, combined with the rapidly growing trend to spend more time socializing online than face to face, are a cocktail that severely impacts healthy social emotional development.

Conversely, reading develops brain connectivity, particularly in the left temporal cortex, the area of the brain associated with language and in the the sensorimotor region, the region of the brain responsible for something called embodied cognition, the ability to empathize.

Studies show that daily reading also increases connections between the brain’s hemispheres.  These neural pathways aide in the growth of a multitude of complex cognitive functions.

Undoubtedly, reading makes you smart. But does it also make you wise?

When we read to our children we encourage them to be still in body and mind, to listen attentively, and to focus intently. We offer a refuge from the jangle of the modern world and give them our full attention in a joyful and quiet way.

Reading develops Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to understand that others have needs, desires, thoughts, and feelings that may be different than one’s own. These early stirrings of compassion are the foundation on which tolerance is built.
Reading, by its very nature, takes us outside ourselves. We become emotionally and intellectually sympathetic to characters who often are quite unlike us. This creates, in the child, an attitude of acceptance in which he or she is not threatened by foreign ideas…the seeds of a peaceful world.

Like a spiritual practice, reading offers a time to reflect, to ask questions and to examine one’s own life. It helps to foster what Albert Einstein called “holy curiosity.”
It makes us receptive, open to new concepts that inspire wonder, creativity and clarity…Deep reading allows us a singular meditation even in the midst of chaos and confusion.

In an often dark world, books illuminate.
Statistics show that, after their schooling is completed, almost half of the population of the United States never reads a book again.

So, if you ever find your children reading under the covers with a flashlight, quietly close the door and let them stay up late, their growing minds and hearts filled with vivid imagery and emotion as they follow their own singular bumpy twisty  roads to enlightenment.

 

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