Why we have a Fiction Reading Initiative at Solefield

Helen McClure, Headmistress

18th September 2020

At Solefield, as well as having many instances where older children read with younger ones, a wonderful Book Week, visiting authors, reading cinemas, competitions and our fabulous library, we encourage boys to read with their form teachers for a minimum of 6 minutes at start and end of every school day.

Why?

  1. Stress-busting The practice of using books, poetry and other written words as a form of therapy has helped humans for centuries. We all know that our brains can't operate at maximum capacity 24/7. We all need to disengage from the real world and to rest our cognitive capabilities to be able to get back to peak functionality. Research at the University of Sussex shows that reading is the most effective way to overcome stress, beating other methods like listening to music, yoga or taking a walk. Within 6 minutes of silent reading, participants' heart rates slow and tension in their muscles eases up to 68%. Psychologists believe reading works so well because the mind's concentration creates a distraction that eases the body's stress. For these reasons, fiction reading can also be very effective for creating a sleep ritual and disengaging the mind from the tasks and stresses of the day.
  2. Increased empathy Reading fiction helps you to put yourself in the shoes of others and increases your capacity for empathy. Multiple studies have shown that imagining how others are feeling helps activate the regions of your brain responsible for better understanding others and seeing the world from a new perspective. Researchers have also credited books with improving readers' ability to assume the perspective of marginalized groups. For example, young children understand that Harry Potter's support of "mudbloods" is an allegory towards bigotry in real-life society even if they can’t put this into words.
  3. Developed concentration span Reading enables pupils to develop their concentration span and to appreciate the importance of “stillness” in an ever-moving world of immediacy.
  4. Readers of fiction build more language The brains of readers show more activity in certain areas than those who don't read, especially the left temporal cortex, the part of the brain typically associated with understanding language. A recent online test of regular readers came to the unsurprising conclusion that reading builds a bigger vocabulary. However, what was less expected was that readers of fiction were found to have a significantly larger vocabulary.
  5. Developing imagination and creativity Reading fiction helps children to develop imagination and creativity; it transports them to magical lands far beyond the world of adults. Indeed, Nicholas Tucker argues in “The Child and the Book” that this world of make-believe is actually the essence of our childhood.
  6. Reading makes you happier The main reason that I read every single day is simply that I love it. It’s not just me - a survey of 1,500 adult readers in the UK found that 76% of them said reading improves their life and helps them to feel good. Other findings of the survey are that those who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile.

Parents often ask me how they can best help their children to prepare for senior school entrance tests – my answer is always READ for the reasons given above. Let them read for pleasure, read with them and be a good reading role model for them. As we all know, children copy what we do far more than they do as we say! Reading will help them with understanding, nuance, vocabulary and their own writing style as well as adding to their general knowledge and creativity and it will help them to manage stress. Encourage your son to try different types of literature until he finds one that “clicks”. Listening to audio books at the same time as following words can help less confident readers enormously. Fiction reading is a love, if nurtured, that many of our children will keep for life. It will bring enormous benefits for their educational, emotional and, perhaps even more importantly, their mental wellbeing in the future.

Helen McClure
Headmistress