By Claudia Quigg
All sorts of magical things occur when parent and child curl up together with a good book. Diligent parents hope that reading aloud will contribute to their child’s academic success—and of course, they’re right. Borne out by research, there’s no question about the ways home reading supports language acquisition and school readiness.
But just as importantly, parents who read to their children promote development of the imagination as well.
Young children learn most of what they know through their senses. They’re instructed each day by what they touch and taste and see and hear. Sensory play (like building with blocks) is more instructive than symbolic play (like watching television). Such learning takes up most of their days and provides them a rich environment for development.
But reading is one activity for young children which exercises their imagination. Early books engage young children with sensory play through stiff cardboard pages to turn, flaps to lift and tabs to pull. Illustrated picture books engage children through the use of their eyes. But eventually, children are ready for listening to books with no flaps to touch or pictures to see.
As children make this transition, parents teach them to use their mind’s eye. They begin to build the capacity to conceive of a reality beyond what is physically present. They learn that something may really exist even if we can’t see or touch or taste it.
A disturbing yet significant fact from the days of slavery in America reveals the practice of slicing a slave’s ears to show that he could read. This would mark the slave as dangerous. If he could read, he might be able to imagine a world in which he would not be asked to give up his humanity.
So when we read to our children, we open that world for them, too. We teach them the possibility that a world exists beyond their own small experience. We give them wings to soar wherever their minds may take them. When parents read to their children, they equip their imaginations for the unseen miracles of life.