Despite the addictive array of technology at our fingertips, studies continue to prove the value of the written word when it comes to children’s cognitive development. The humble book though, is much more than just an educational necessity. For Finnish children’s author Timo Parvela, stories build walls of laughter, arm us with the power of words and bind us together in a divisive world.
Many of us know that reading a bedtime story is still one of the best things we can do for a child’s development. Reading for pleasure has been linked to children not only having broader vocabularies, but also greater cognitive and even mathematical prowess. Yet less primary-aged students are reading for pleasure, according to a UK study.
However, it’s not the intellectual value of reading books that tugs at our hearts when we think of bedtime stories losing their ritual power, says Finnish author Timo Parvela. It’s the thought of not having treasured memories of reading with loved ones, your own, dog-eared favourite, or fictional friends to make mischief with when real life lost its shine.
“Reading is giving children moments they will remember for their whole lives. It’s addictive. A good addiction. And it’s not just a nice hobby – it’s a skill,” he says.
Without words we’re unarmed
Parvela is the acclaimed author of over 80 children’s books, including the Ella series, which has been translated from Finnish into several languages. For him, reading and laughing out loud with his Uncle Reijo is one of his fondest childhood memories. He says these moments are the reason he’s still writing.
He’s also convinced of the power of words to shape perception in a world of populist politics and mass media.
“Without reading skills you’re unarmed,” he says. “You need to know how to compare different kinds of truths. Reading is the answer. Get children to read!”
Finding sanctuary in books
As manual jobs die out, reading is a life skill that’s only becoming more valuable for our children. However, for them it should be just fun, or sad, or exciting, says Parvela. They don’t need to know it’s educational.
“Every child should have a castle around them. And the castle should be built up by stories,” explains the writer. “As adults it’s our job to build those castles.”
The famous author points out that while e-books are now readily available for children, research in Finland shows that kids themselves actually prefer the look and feel of a book in hand. So for him, building castles is best done with a bit of (pleasurable) manual labour!
It seems that whichever way you do it, the simple act of sharing a book with a child lays foundations that will last a lifetime.
Benefits of reading:
- Reading books with a child from early infancy can boost vocabulary and reading skills up to four years later.
Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017 Link
- Children who read for pleasure are more likely to succeed in maths and English than those who rarely read in their free time.
Study by the Institute of Education, London University Link