The best Christmas gift of all ...

By Brenda Gurr

The best Christmas gift of all …

You don’t have to try too hard to discover the benefits of reading for adults—a simple Google search comes up with more than 100 million hits! Reading books regularly makes us superior human beings. We become more knowledgeable, focused and less stressed, we decrease our chances of developing dementia, we sleep more deeply and we even live longer. Makes you want to pick up a book straight away, doesn’t it?

When we look into the benefits of reading for young children, the list becomes even more jaw-droppingly amazing. Here are the top reasons why books should be number one, two and three on a child’s Christmas gift list this year.

• Books improve a child’s self-esteem and sense of hope

Award-winning novelist and screenwriter Tim Federle sums this up so well: ‘One thing that books teach us is that if your life sucks right now, you just haven’t got to the good part’. When a child reads a book, they identify with characters, become part of their failures and successes and learn how life can ebb and flow. The best children’s books contain a grain of hope, showing us that although the going can get tough, there are myriad ways of making the best of a situation. With depression rates on the rise in young teens and older children, this is perhaps one of the very best reasons to encourage a childhood reading habit.

• Books promote empathy and emotional intelligence

Reading widely as a child, or being read to by an adult, provides valuable opportunities to peek into different characters’ lives—and experience a range of points of view. Recent studies have shown that reading literary fiction has a particularly powerful effect on the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. What child hasn’t felt outraged at Hermione Granger being called a ‘mudblood’ or shed tears at Charlotte the spider’s devotion to an innocent pig?

• Books promote imagination and curiosity

When a child is involved in a good story, they are required to use their imaginations to make printed words or picture book illustrations into a world that becomes real in their heads. Video games, apps and movies can’t even compare here. In addition, both fiction and non-fiction books expose children to new ideas and make them ask ‘Why?’. Being imaginative and creative are qualities that can be transferred to every field of human endeavour, from music to science. Albert Einstein said it best: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ It’s hard to doubt the word of a genius.

• Books improve language skills

It seems obvious that reading would expand a child’s vocabulary, but it improves other areas of language too. Through reading, a child gains an understanding of language conventions like grammar, spelling and syntax. They understand how conversations flow and instinctively realise how stories are structured and crafted, which in turn helps them with their own writing. Reading aloud has the additional benefit of enhancing listening skills and concentration. All of this comes as no surprise to scientists: brain scan studies done on young children show that reading activates the areas of their brains that process visual imagery and language.

So, think books, books, books this Christmas for each and every child in your life! Can there be any better gift? There is but one final thought to leave you with:

A book is a gift you can open again and again. – Garrison Keillor


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