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Killing two Birds with one Stone

1 Aug

One of the perks of being a teacher is summer vacation.  I had a killer year, with a new full-time teaching job at a new school, five graduate classes, and single parenthood with teenage kids. Those people close to me know that I was pretty strung out by the time school got out.  Hence, I had two official goals for the summer: learn to relax and to read for pleasure again.

In order to learn to relax, I intended to get back to my yoga and practice meditation. I’ve tried meditating before and, frankly, I suck at it.  I have a brain that never stops jabbering to me. I twitch, I itch and before I even know it, I am composing my “To Do” list in my head. With practice, I’ve gotten better, but it still is a lot of work and doesn’t really feel like it’s helping me relax.  The yoga has been more successful than the meditation, but still, I get sore muscles, I get shaky, and my breathing is ragged. I am not giving up on the idea of yoga and meditation—I still hope to someday become a competent mediator—but by far the most successful of my goals has been the reading one.

Imagine my amusement when I ran onto this article: a few weeks ago.  Yeah, it is one of those “well, duh.” moments, but apparently, reading is a very good method of relaxing.  In a study commissioned by a chocolate company for an advertising campaign, just six minutes of reading lowered heart rate and muscle tension to levels lower than before the study began. Reading was more successful at helping subjects relax than listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea. According to Dr. David Lewis, who conducted the study cited in the article:

“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination. This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

Even without all the other benefits of reading, this makes reading a valuable activity for adults and for kids. Stress and anxiety disorders are a big problem for kids with disabilities and for some of them, slowing down is nearly impossible. Reading something interesting gives just enough mental stimulation to help those of us with active minds slow down and relax.

So there you have it, I killed two birds with one (unintentional) stone. Now pass the chocolate.


The Power of Books

24 Jul

I love books. I like seeing them lined up on my shelves. I like piles of them by my bedside, kitchen table, and toilet tank. I like the way they feel in my hands. I even like how they smell. I love the worlds they allow me to travel to and I love curling up with a good book and getting lost in it. I own a lot of books.

A few weeks ago, I came across this article about how the number of books a parent owns is directly correlated to a child’s academic achievement. It makes sense that if we place value on something, our children will as well. Many years ago, I read an article about a study of children with illiterate, but motivated parents. The parents spent time each day, holding a book and turning the pages in the presence of the children. The children’s reading skills improved dramatically.  I wish I had saved a copy of that study.

I know a young, single mother with three young children who is currently back in school trying to begin a career of her own. Money is tight and family support is short, but each month, when Maria shops at the thrift store for clothing and household needs, she allows her kids one very special treat each. At the end of the visit, each kid gets to pick out one book. She reports that her children are the only ones in her extended family who have not been identified for needing special education services.

It appears that placing value on books and the modeling of reading behaviors is very important to motivate and inspire a love of reading in kids. Reading to them and sharing a love of books adds another layer of incentive for students to become good readers.

This all got me wondering—and I do not know the answer—what effect will there be if (or when) we go to a completely digital library on individual reading devices? Will children even know that their parents own and value books? Will they be able to differentiate between reading, aimless surfing, playing video games or texting?  Will a child feel a sense of excitement and ownership at owning a special book? I understand the appeal of ebooks—many books, less space, less paper, portability, No  dusting and room to get out of my bed without tripping over the piles, to name a few advantages.  I wonder, though, what we will lose in the process?