Reading -- It's What We Do

My 8 and 10 year-old daughters are enrolled at Coram Deo, which places a heavy emphasis on the humanities. I am overwhelmed with the ideas they come home with. Over dinner they have discussed Van Gogh's painful life and inspiration for his art, corrected my errors in Roman and Greek mythology, and stated awe-inspiring thoughts like: "Mom, if a story has no evil characters, it is probably evil itself, isn't it?"

....I am often speechless.
Excuse me, as I take a deep breath and enjoy this moment, if I may! After all, it is not everyday the conversation isn't focused on Minecraft!

The school has been a great blessing, but the truth is my oldest daughter didn't always love reading. She always loved being read to and hearing oral stories, but she struggled with simply enjoying reading - picking a book off the shelf and curling up and enjoying words on a page.
I was not bothered by this in the least (she's bright, outgoing and fun); but she is also intensely creative and loves writing stories. I didn't waste any time worrying over her dread of reading time.
I am grateful though that God allowed the love of reading to enter her life through the influence of Coram Deo. The timeless stories they share at school have taken hold of her heart in such profound ways, that I have found she imagines and creates according to the narratives and plots she has been exposed to in class. I know that the dedication to extended amount of time immersing herself in Literature has birthed this new appreciation.
Recently, the students were challenged to read 140 minutes a day for a couple of weeks for the annual read-a-thon. So, I set my timer and the whole family would read for a couple of hours most weeknights.
The house was quiet.
Pages turned.
Soon, the alarm would buzz, and the evening rolled on as usual, but the more we followed this pattern, the more I thought about the skill my daughters, especially my oldest was investing in. 140 minutes is a long time to read in one sitting; in fact, it is a lengthy time even if cut up in half hour segments. As a parent, this got me very excited.
The skill of "linear reading" is described in the article, "Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain aren't the Same Thing" published by Public Radio International: basically, linear reading requires the reader to engage and focus for deeper understanding for an extended amount of time, while non-linear reading usually involves "skimming" and seems to be associated with distracted non-committal reading, the kind we do online, for example. 
Maryann Wolf has studied the "reading brain" for the past 15 years, and she wonders, as do I, if "whether an immersion in digitally dominated forms of reading will change the capacity to think deeply, reflectively and in an intellectually autonomous manner". In her article, "Our Deep-Reading Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions," she describes how the shift from book-based literacy to digital-literacy is akin to the ancient shift from oral culture to literacy-based culture. Surprisingly (to me), Socrates was open about his concerns about this shift, as he argued that print-based learning would possibly require less reflection, questioning and examination than in oral discussion, resulting in a loss of sincere analytical thought.
As the world moves on from Socrates' argument to the new issues of digital culture, Wolf reminds us that the brain benefits of reading are immense: "the reading circuit" or the connection that is established when reading even a single word begins with the brain identifying, classifying and associating the word formation on a printed page with our previous knowledge about that word and its associations. What happens next is the brain creates new circuits, new knowledge, reflecting on the knowledge it just obtained. Wolf argues that these circuits take practice and time; the reader must provide the brain time to reflect; but in a distracting setting like a webpage, the brain may shift from the task of reflection onto a fresh word, story, image, etc.
Relating Wolf's article and Socrates' wisdom to my daughters' reading practice, the "tell me about what you read" discussion and the imaginative reflections of the story that take place after the alarm rings is of utmost importance, regardless if they read online or in print.
I'm grateful that the school has placed a value in the simple act of quietly and patiently engaging with a book in the hurried world in which they are being raised. 

Works Cited
"Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain aren't the Same Thing". Public Radio International. 18 Sept. 2014.  Web. 16 Mar. 2016.  

Wolf, Maryanne. "Our Deep-Reading Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions". Nieman Reports. 29 June 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.

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