It has been well-documented that reading is academically beneficial for children in so many ways. It improves their vocabularies, verbal fluency, comprehension, spelling, general knowledge and so much more. But did you know that reading has benefits that extend beyond the purely academic? It allows children the time to quieten their mind and to unwind, soothing any stress or anxiety that may have been taking up space in their thoughts. This act of relaxing and focusing on a single task without background distractions is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a term that is often thrown around these days. Research has found that its practice has noticeable physical, psychological, and emotional benefits—from actually growing the areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotions—to boosting the immune system[i]. But what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is ‘about intentionally paying attention to each moment, being fully engaged in whatever is happening around you and within you. It involves bringing an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to whatever is experienced, rather than habitual patterns of judgment and criticism.’[ii]
In a world where there are so many distractions, be it from digital noise or otherwise, it can be challenging for children to simply sit down and concentrate on one task or thought. Practising mindfulness via the act of reading is one simple yet incredibly powerful way for children to help cultivate this ability to quieten their mind and learn how to focus their thoughts—and it appears that educators agree.
More and more, schools are teaching mindful reading techniques to their students. As a growing part of the school curriculum, this emerging mindfulness movement provides lessons and exercises that assist children in fine-tuning their key life skills, such as paying attention to detail, active listening and thinking before they act or speak. These techniques also help to help students focus on their work, better handle frustration, stave off stress, and even smooth out rocky social relationships[iii]. Research has proven that the benefits of mindfulness go hand-in-hand with the benefits that come from reading. In a 2015 literature review commissioned by The Reading Agency in the United Kingdom, it was found that reading for pleasure increases empathy, enriches social relationships, reduces symptoms of depression and instils an overall sense of wellbeing. It comes amid evidence that fewer children are reading for enjoyment, and that parents are not encouraging them to read enough[iv].
So how can you help your child benefit from mindful reading? The first step is to move away from passive reading. ‘Passive readers read words, but active readers read ideas. A passive reader's goal is to get finished.’ Instead of reading as a duty or as something to get out of the way, encourage your child to find a quiet space and pick up some reading material of their choice—be it a novel, comic book, magazine, newspaper or the television guide—and allow themselves to actively immerse themselves in the task without distraction. Encourage them to set aside time in their daily routine for reading that is purely for their own pleasure. Regularly immersing themselves in the written word allows children to gain a deeper understanding of both themselves and the world around them, not only helping with their cognitive development, but also inspiring self-reflection and positive change[v].
By encouraging your child to practise mindful reading each day, you’re helping them to excel in their academic life and their personal life—improving their cognitive abilities and, ultimately, their mental health and well-being.
Written by: Alesha Evans
[i] Mindfulness in Schools Research Project: Exploring Students’ Perspectives of Mindfulness, 2015, Scientific Research Publishing Inc.
[iii] Caballero, C, Scherer, E, West, Martin R, Mrazek, M D, Gabrieli, C F O, and Gabrieli, J D E (in press), Greater mindfulness is associated with better academic achievement in middle school. Mind, Brain, and Education.
[iv] The Reading Agency, Literature Review: The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, BOP Consulting, 2015.
[v] Teaching Children Mindful Awareness And Self-Love Through Stories, 2018, Your Body the Temple, The Mindful Panda