Students can use their summer breaks in any number of ways. They can step back from school, and risk forgetting a lot of what they learned; they can work ahead in certain subjects; they can participate in specialized camps that teach them things they wish they’d learn in school. However, one of the least often mentioned ways to stay academically active over summer, and the most effective, is reading for pleasure.
When students read for pleasure, they improve not only their English skills, but their overall academic performance. Reading for pleasure, simply because the student wants to instead of being forced to by school assignments, is a wonderful habit that will carry students on a lifetime of learning through school and into adulthood.
Reading, regardless of the genre, tremendously helps students’ mental growth by encouraging brain activity. Research shows that reading regularly not only improves vocabulary, but also increases one’s understanding of self, builds empathy, and improves decision-making skills. When someone reads something that they are engaged with, it engages their mirror neurons, which makes the brain react as if the events of the narrative are actually happening in real life. This teaches the reader lessons just as well as if they were experiencing those events (and learning those lessons) firsthand.
In our age of technology, many education experts are concerned about students’ attention spans shrinking. Reading is very effective at combatting this shrink, actually lengthening attention spans. Reading helps students better understand delayed gratification, as they get to witness the story slowly being laid out before them and feel the rewards of an exciting ride.
Our brains are wired for story, and we learn lessons the same way regardless of the story’s genre. Many students and young adults prefer reading fantasy and science fiction stories instead of contemporary fiction or nonfiction, which parents often see as a drawback.
As long as students are reading, they are learning. Sometimes, fantasy is able to teach moral lessons that students would be uncomfortable learning in a realistic setting. Commonly, fantasy and science fiction stories deal with large social issues and themes, like discrimination or death, more intricately than contemporary fiction is able to, because of the distance fantasy creates. That distance away from real life creates space for students to learn to analyze, make their own connections, and view difficult subjects through a comfortable lens.
The benefits of reading are increased when students are able to talk about what they are reading with others, including friends, parents, or other trusted adults. When students talk about their books, they are doing the same early analysis work they do in the classroom. This could be facilitated by parents reading the same book as their student and talking about it, or by tutors who can host book-club-like discussions with students. Tutors can also discuss several books with students, and help them break up an otherwise boring summer reading list into something students are excited to dive into.
Students should be encouraged to read these stories―or whatever genre they prefer―because they will read more and further expand their minds the more they are encouraged to read. Give us a call to learn more!