By Maung Hlaing
THE title of this article, ‘Benefits of leisure reading from young’ comes from a news story of AFP that appeared in the Global New Light of Myanmar on 20 August 2023. The news reads as follows…
“Fewer and fewer young people read for pleasure. Yet this activity is extremely beneficial to them in cognitive, intellectual and behavioural terms, especially if they get into reading at an early age, a new study reveals. Researchers in Britain and China have investigated the multiple benefits of “leisure” reading by analyzing data from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development cohort, recruited as part of a longitudinal study of over, 10,000 young adolescents in North America. The scientists wanted to determine whether reading for pleasure in early childhood contributes to the cerebral and cognitive development of young people …”
The news reminded me of my childhood days when my grandparents were alive. Although our country regained independence in 1948, peace did not prevail across the nation. As a Myanmar saying goes, “A lance is struck deep in a low plain”, insurgencies dominated the rural areas where we were born and brought up.
To make matters worse, there were so many illiterates in our community. To be objective, we were in the dark about what the government was doing for people in those days.
My grandparents and parents were not educated as they were brought up under the colonial yoke. However, they were taught the three R’s (Reading, Writing and Reckoning) by learned monks who were well-versed in Buddhist literature including the treatises on Buddhist Philosophy. Thanks to the monks, they could read Jataka stories, or Buddha life’s stories (life stories of previous incarnations of Buddha), and take on religious texts.
As we had no electric light at night, Grandpa or Grandma told us tales or stories in the moonlight. As we had no school to go to, they used to read stories with us to give us a lasting love of books.
As a result, hundreds of times, we were transported to the Benares and saw King Bramahdat who is well acquainted with children. Although we had not read the Zinat-hta-pakar-thani, we were quite familiar with the life stories of the would-be-Buddha. And we used to hear the story of “Mae Htway Lay and the Serpent”, an original folktale of Myanmar. We had pity on Mae Htway Lay who was simple and honest. On the contrary, we had an antipathy for her cruel elders. The lesson I have gained is that in the guise of entertainment, stories are often the vehicles for conveying wholesome moral lessons or the habit of desirable knowledge to children.
In this way, I loved to listen to the tales our grandparents told when I was a toddler before I had even learned to read. From that time onwards, I have loved to immerse myself in the joys of reading.
According to the World Book Encyclopedia (C-ch), we come to know that a child is a person between about 18 months and 13 years of age. Childhood is the period between infancy and adolescence. Childhood can be divided into four stages based on periods of major psychological change. These stages are the toddler stage, the preschool years, the early school years, and the pre-teenage years.
Of the four stages, developing language skills is a major challenge for children during the toddler stage. It is for this reason that many parents use stories and pictures to help toddlers increase their vocabulary and build sentences. As for the preschool years which extend from three to five years of age, children should become accustomed to books without texts before they go to school. In most countries, whether they be developing or developed, people pay much attention to the production of preschool books which can be called the source of literature for children.
The early school years, which last from about the age of five to eight, mark a major turning point in a child’s development. As for this age group, books and reading habits come to play an important role.
The motto “Interest is the soil in which knowledge can grow” was vividly seen on the first page of the readers (textbooks) we read in our early school years. Young students could enjoy interesting stories such as ‘The King and the Gooseherd’, ‘Androcles and the Lion’ and so on.
The pre-teenage years which extended from about eight to thirteen can be said to be very important periods for a child because a wrong action may be permitted under some circumstances unless they are attracted by interesting reading materials.
After getting married, when I got a daughter, we could make her enjoy listening to bedtime stories. Whenever we had time, we used to read the ‘Shwe Thway’ Journal or other books for children to her before she had even learned to read. In other words, we were able to create reading for pleasure in her early childhood. As a result, we could instil a good hobby of reading into her and this hobby enabled her to have the ability to distinguish something good from something bad.
We, parents, should not be reluctant to leave an inheritance of ‘reading from an early age’ for our children to come. Researchers have shown that teenagers who had started reading for pleasure in childhood performed better than others not only at school but also on cognitive tests measuring verbal learning, memory and speech development.
To my opinion, parents should be encouraged to read stories with their children to give them a lasting love of books. Reading and lasting love of books is the only single way that can make the future of generation by generation brighter and smarter. Don’t forget the saying “One who reads is taller by a head than those who do not read”.
Regarding “When to start reading”, my opinion is that ‘The earlier, the better.’