Read this sentence.
Okay, now see that same sentence without reading it. That is, only see lines and curves and closed spaces. Hard, isn’t it? Maybe impossible. It’s far easier to read it. So much so, when you see the sentence “Read this sentence”, you can’t help but see it as something to be read, and automatically do so.
In fact, as you are reading this blog, it is likely that you are hardly noticing the individual letters as your brain — like with no longer seeing lines and curves and enclosed spaces unless specifically asked to do so — automatically perceives whole words (or more!) instead.
Stop and consider how bizarre yet wonderful that is. Once we learn how to read, and especially read well, it becomes so entrenched in our mental processing we scarcely notice this altogether extraordinary achievement.
And it is an achievement. It is something you didn’t possess at birth and had to be learned. A likely part of that learning involved folks reading to you and, if all went well, cultivating delight in the written word and all that it offers.
Today I had the pleasure of experiencing that early period of childhood development first hand. Starting my volunteering for Outreach at the Kellogg Hubbard Library, I went with its program veteran Ray to take books to All Together Now Community Arts Center for the preschool it operates.
The kids, mostly two- and three-years-olds, greeted our arrival with enthusiasm. We spread out the books we’d brought on the floor and they raced from book to book, looking for the one that appealed the most to them.
We adults — myself, Ray, and several staff — did not have to cajole the kids to engage them in this form of childhood learning. We simply sat on the floor or in chairs as the kids clustered around us with their prized findings and ongoing pleas of “can you read this next?”
The joy in reading and being read to was palpable, appreciated, and welcomed.
Yet far too often as we grow older, the want to of it metamorphoses into have to. ironically, this seems to happen as reading becomes so easy, so entrenched that it becomes a taken-for-granted feature. Perversely, it also seems to happen during the course of school years, where reading gets drained of its inherent wonder and becomes just another task; a chore.
How do we fix that?
Or, maybe a better question, is why do we let it break?