In recent posts we’ve been considering mindfulness and the value of this practice for children.
Think about what you’re doing.
Stay in the moment.
We’ve also been looking at the wealth and breadth of books that are available for our children and young people. There are so many books that offer both incredibly imaginative stories and a means to contemplate some of the more difficult issues in life.
We want to reiterate an important point. We often talk about the importance of reading and how we encourage reading for pleasure. Too frequently, our children and young people are presented with books as “texts” to learn and to learn from rather than as a source of enjoyment and tranquility.
Here’s a quote from a seventeen year old who is currently studying Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”.
“Shakespeare has been unfortunately reduced to a set of lines and words, metaphors and syllable patterns to be studied in English; a fate definitely not meant for his plays.”
We wonder whether Shakespeare would concur with these comments. We can’t imagine he wrote his plays merely to have them dissected and deliberated upon in a manner that prevents a “reader” from ever experiencing them in full. We believe that Shakespeare would have preferred young people in the 21st century to go along and see his plays and then contemplate their meaning as a whole entity. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the “metaphor and syllable patterns” of Shakespeare or any other great writer, but first and foremost, it should be seen as a complete work. Otherwise the sub-sections of sentences and prose within the play potentially lose their power and meaning.
When we recommend books, we do so with the absolute emphasis that the books should be read for enjoyment as the main purpose. The fact that talented writers can also take us into other realms and enable us to consider some of the problems of life and society is an additional benefit. The fact that we can dissect the books, find exciting words and phrases, identify themes and use these to plan activities for children is all well and good but it should never take away from the meaning and the enjoyment of the book as a whole.
This is where the National Literacy Strategy made a monumental mistake. Children were encouraged to read – but only sections of books. Simultaneously, the time constraints of implementing the National Curriculum meant that many schools chose to stop that all important time at the end of the school day when a book was shared with a whole class – together, meditatively listening and experiencing the wonderment of good literature.
We should always learn from our mistakes, and with today being “World Book Day UK” , we would like to start a campaign to reignite this pleasurable teaching experience of sharing a book with a group of children. We’d like to encourage the practice of reflective reading.
However we choose to do it, we need to capture the essence of reading – ensuring that our children get experience of reading a book from cover to cover, and to do so in a way that is meaningful to them.
We all know that children learn better when they are calm and stress-free. We know that children learn better when they are fully engaged with the content – when it has some resonance and meaning for them. We know that throughout an average day in many schools children and young people are asked just to pay attention to an adult and not to their own inner voices. “Listening” to their own minds through reading and quiet learning time isn’t afforded as much time as it deserves.
We know as adults that we enjoy reading when we are most relaxed, or when our minds are most free. We know that if we do manage to free our minds from everything else, concentrating on the reading alone, we have a greater sense of what a book is about and can empathise with the experiences of the characters – or real people in the case of newspaper articles. We also know that when we come to the end of a book we can sometimes feel a sense of bereavement that our adventure into another person’s imaginary world is over. So we sit for a while and think.
If we know all of these things, then we ought to encourage children to do the same. In order for this to happen, we should encourage them to free their minds, ready to engage in reading in a more meaningful and refreshed way. Then they would be more mindful of what they’re listening to or reading.
We also need to enable them to stay “in the moment” whilst they’re listening to a story or reading one for themselves.
We’re then ready to read.
When it’s time to stop, we can encourage reflection. How has the story affected them? How did they feel? Is there something from the story that is similar to their own lives? Do they need to change their behaviour or their attitudes as a consequence of what they’ve just read?
Each time we read we prepare ourselves for the moment of reading. We do this to maximise the potential enjoyment of reading or listening time. Eventually, once we are practiced at doing this, it becomes instinctual. Just as we set the key in the ignition of a car without thinking, so too we switch our minds to being ready to read. Just as we put our foot on the pedals, changing gear without thinking, so too should we plunge into a book without thinking of the world outside. Just as we instinctively check the mirrors and keep an eye on the other road users, so too should we allow ourselves time to keep a check on the reality of our own world, and the learning that we can attain from others (i.e. the characters in a book).
Enjoy time today – and other days – for reflective reading and encourage children to do the same.