When Children Read, It’s Not the ‘Educational Content’ That Counts

I’m still feeling irritable about a Q&A in the Arab Times with Dr Sajed Al-Abdali that I read last week.

It starts off promisingly enough (Arabs should read), but then he gets down to why: to “learn” different “content.” (And if the same content could be learned from films, video games, or the radio, then he would advocate that. After all, aren’t those things more fun than reading?)

I believe many parents also have this wrong-headed idea: Children should read (only) in order to learn “things.” Children should read (only) so that they can understand more math, science, politics, and history. Full stop.

I don’t object to children learning math, science, politics, or history. But the title of this NYTimes article, from their Health section, sums up the reading conundrum nicely: Summer Must-Read for Kids? Any Book. That’s because the process of reading a book promotes more activity in your child’s brain. Technorati notes that:

Carnegie Mellon scientists discovered that the volume of brain white matter in the language area of the brain increased after study participants followed a six-month daily reading program. The Carnegie Mellon study proved that the brain structure can be improved by training poor readers to become better readers. [Italics mine.]

The same benefits are gained by reading Twilight or Harry Potter as forcing your child to read Ahmed Zeweil. All right, I don’t think that “any book” will do. Surely, there are some horror novels and the like with content inappropriate for children. Surely, there are some racist and sexist works, and ones with other ugly values, that we’d rather our young children didn’t explore. But again from Technorati:

If your brain was a muscle, how would you flex it? Stimulation and challenge is the answer to this riddle. Reading stimulates brain activity. Reading a variety of books and periodicals challenges the brain to think in new directions and absorb new concepts and information.

So for goodness sakes, exercise your white matter today!

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3 Responses to When Children Read, It’s Not the ‘Educational Content’ That Counts

  1. Bodour says:

    I totally agree. Reading should be fun and enjoyable, and children have different interests. Parents should allow them to read whatever they enjoy, after all it is reading. Whether it’s reading stories online or comic books they all nurture and develop a child’s literacy skills.

  2. saara says:

    Hello and salaams:

    I am delighted to have just discovered your site!

    I agree that many parents (and sadly sometimes teachers too) view reading as an activity limited to the classroom and for getting assignments done. Rarely is reading seen or promoted in the home or school as a form of entertainment; a way to relax and have fun. I tend to believe (and research shows this too) that this happens when the essential connection or bonding with books were not formed in the early years.

    I always advocate that parents need to read to their children as early as possible in order to foster a connection with books and a love of reading. Parents need to read aloud on a daily basis with their children. In the classroom teachers need to do the same. Children must have a print-rich environment while growing up; books, magazines, comics and newspapers must be readily available to them. Parents must be reading role models; children must see them reading on a daily basis.

    As children grow older, books are not valued for their benefits other than study. Yet, reading opens windows to allow us to experience life and people in different cultures and times. Also, the stories and characters we meet when we read hold a mirror up to us. We can see ourselves reflected in the struggles and achievements of others while appreciating what others go through.

    I could on about the value of reading but I will stop here. I write about reading, literacy and libraries on my blog. I also provide book reviews and interviews with authors. My blog is: http//www.muslimkidsbooks.wordpress.com/

    Keep up the great work.

    • mlynxqualey says:


      Your website looks excellent (and very professional! I will enjoy reading it). Here, I’m trying to advocate Arabic-reading habits for kids, as I think English is over-emphasized. (Of course, it would be better if I wrote the whole blog in Arabic, but I would sound like a first grader. I look forward to when there are so many people blogging about Arabic children’s books that I quietly drop away….)

      For example: We stopped in an independent bookstore yesterday, one that looked very nice from the outside. They had a lovely (looking) children’s section, maybe half the store. But when I explored, I realized that all the good books were in foreign languages, and that the section for Arabic was tiny and dusty, and with none of the great new titles you can find on the market (from Dar el Shorouk, from Kalimat, from BQFP).

      While we were in the store, our whole family and three women were all crowded into this tiny Arabic-kids section. But when we picked up the books…well, they were very unappealing. (The women left without buying anything.) They were certainly not as nice as the English or French or Spanish (?!) books. This rankles me.

      We bought a أين إلسنفور؟ book that was…OK. I suppose just to underline the point that we were real customers who wanted *Arabic* books, not English (or French or Spanish).

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