May 01

Our Extreme Reading challenge last term not only inspired the girls to document their love of reading, but also was the inspiration for Hilary Phillips’ article in the May edition of the Sherborne Times.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Dr Seuss

I love reading and always take lots of books on holiday with me, generally sourced from a charity shop. I read them, then leave them for the next reader, whoever that may be. It does make the suitcase heavy on the way out, but my theory is it will be lighter on the way home. For many reasons, this is rarely the case.

Imagine my excitement then when I first got a Kindle! Thousands of books in one slim tablet. No need to spend ages browsing in charity shops. No heavy suitcases. No desperate last couple of days with no book to read because I miscalculated. Heaven! However, nothing has changed; I missed real books.

E readers have become quite popular here at Hanford, but perhaps not as much as you might think. Given that the girls don’t have mobile phones and iPads at school, you might think that they would be madly keen to have any sort of tech available but no.  I sat down with the girls and asked them about why they thought this was.

For a start, one of them asked, why wouldn’t you want to come and spend time in the library? It’s comfy with sofas, Welsh wool blankets, deep window seats and toasty when the wood burner is lit. Another suggested that scrolling through titles and book covers on a screen just wasn’t the same as running their fingers along a shelf, pulling out a book and trying out the first couple of pages. There would usually be a friend nearby to give an opinion or make an alternative suggestion, so it was also a social activity. This led to wondering why different books were printed in different fonts and a lively discussion ensued about if fonts had a personality. The conversation then turned to how a book draws you in and suddenly we were discussing persuasive writing, advertising, graphics and the meaning of colour. Suddenly, a book wasn’t just a story.

We then talked about stories and so many comments were made showing just why reading is the most important thing in which a child should engage. Escapism, relaxation, ways to deal with what life flings at you, ways not to deal with what life flings at you. How to cope with the bully, the mean kids, the failures, the tragedies but also the victories and the triumphs. The girls said that it was great to see their lives mirrored in a book; it made them feel more able to cope. Reading frees us from a fixed way of thinking. It improves memory, empathy and creativity. Being lost in a book was agreed to be one of the best things ever and there is plenty of proof showing that reading, especially shared reading, helps a child progress right across the curriculum.

We have a strong culture of reading here at Hanford. Prep is often reading, either for work or just fun. The girls always have a book to hand; fiction, fact, poetry, whatever may attract them, and they can be found reading whilst waiting for lessons, sitting in a tree at breaktime, they take a book on trips and have developed the useful ability to be able to read and not get car sick.   The enthusiasm shown in our recent Extreme Reading Challenge, where we encouraged the girls to have photos taken of them reading in wild and exciting locations, illustrated the depth of feeling about reading here at Hanford!

All very interesting, but I asked why real books are more appealing than a screen, and the answers the girls gave are being backed up by good research. The girls felt that reading on a screen was good for short passages, but they couldn’t retain as much information as they could when reading from paper. There is research available that posits the idea that the need to scroll, scan and refocus distracts the brain from processing deeper understanding. The girls also said that when you hold a book, you can see where you are in the story, you can feel where you are in a story. This helps with prediction, with chronology, with expectation. Again, research suggests that perhaps the feel and physicality of paper gives a different cognitive and emotional experience.

There is so much we don’t know about the full impact of technology and so much we can lose by the wholehearted adoption of devices. Yes, they are amazing but here at Hanford we are not going to give up on the feel of a good, real book in our hands, the connection and empathy that reading fosters reinforced by the connection with the paper and card in our hands.

This article appeared in the May edition of The Sherborne Times.
















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