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Effect of reading on young children – Part 1

14 Oct

Read in the Name of your Lord
By: Dr. Muhammad Abid Ali
(Published in Hiba April-June 2012 and was condensed from How Reading Effects Young
Children, a research article by the same author)

Why should our children read? What are the effects of reading on children? How do we choose the books for our children? These are some of the important questions to answer, before giving any book to kids. I believe reading may be one of the most significant activities in the personality and character development not only of our children but any educated human being.

With Destination in Mind

We have around seventy to eighty years of earthly sojourn before our eternal afterlife, which is determined by our performance in this life. Our performance depends on how we are prepared to perform by both the external interventions and self development. Talking of external interventions, the priority falls on the parents’ nurturing of their children. Abu Hurairah (rtam) has narrated that Allah’s Messenger (saw) said: “Every child is born on Al-Fitrah but his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian.” (Muslim, Bukhari, Al-Bayhaqi and Al-Tabarani – each with slight differences in wording)

Reading and the Process of Learning

If I am a Chinese, will anyone expect me to write like a Pakistani? Isn’t it an unreasonable expectation? Why does a Chinese write like a Chinese and a Pakistani like a Pakistani? This is because of the cultural overtone which is impossible to avoid. A western writing will depict western culture, underlying beliefs and core concepts of life. It is unavoidable, for we are very structured thinking beings, who make statements around our thinking, or what we call paradigms. No human being can be separated from this. Reading is a strong learning intervention; as such, reading will definitely expose the reader to the culture, underlying beliefs and core concepts of the writer’s life. For a grown-up it may not be as influential as for a child, who is at a very active mode of learning.

Green and Brock have shown through experiments that children exposed to egalitarian reading material show more egalitarian responses and in spite of time passage, despite some reduction, the effect persists. They further elaborate that the narratives are persuasive and the morals rooted in them affect children’s worldview. Mar and Oatley observe that reading influences the process of learning. They claim that reading fiction has more effect, as the reader un-intentionally emulates the characters of the fiction. Hakemulder researched fifty-four reliable and valid experimental studies, in which fictional narratives indicated substantial effect on moral development, norms, values, and self-concepts. Mar and Oatley observe that change in personality is mediated by the emotions experienced while reading. Any intellectual exercise will affect a child’s learning, and reading is considered to be one of the powerful learning tools.

Reading affects the learning process and, consequently, the personality of a child. Perception, or our worldview, is utterly affected by learning processes. Any event or knowledge that casts an impression on the human mind affects this worldview; as such, it is susceptible to modification. For the first few years of life, the changes are major, and as the mental maps become defined, the modifications become more subtle and selective. Muslim scholar Acigenc claims that all human conduct is ultimately traceable to a worldview; worldview is the “framework within which our mind operates”. Ibn Khaldun often compares it to a dye that lasts until the cloth, to which it has been applied, is destroyed. Whereas Stephen Covey claims that we see the world not as it is, but as we are – or as we are conditioned to see it. He further emphasizes that the lens, through which we see the world, shapes our interpretation of the world. And one of the major factors, which shape this lens, is an individual’s learning processes.

Furthermore, most Muslim and western intellectuals, such as Miskawyah, al-Farabi, Ghazali, Ibn Khaldun, Frued, Adler, Millard, Dollard, Montessori, and John Holt, agree that the initial years of an individual are crucial for active personality development; which is the period of active worldview development. The learning interventions, which disrupt Islamic identity and values, will accordingly affect this personality development. Covey calls it the farmhouse rule: you always reap what you sow.

With the logic constructed above, if we take reading as a learning process, which significantly influences a child’s worldview and shapes the personality, it is imperative to keep the above farmhouse rule in mind. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out”. Any harmful or useless concepts from the Islamic perspective are garbage for us; for example, the concept of world without a creator or the denial of the afterlife. These concepts are the main features of the western sciences and reflect in their literature as well. The dependency on western literature is a self-inflicted tragedy in the Muslim societies. The learning interventions develop a mental map or perception, which is based on western thoughts, quite contrary to the Islamic worldview. As a result, we try to find our way through to our destination with the wrong map, a serious folly on our part.

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