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Education and Reading and Parenting: "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words"

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Historically, paintings and photographs have been used to transmit political and religious messages in ways that were powerful and emotional. Even today, art in the hands of dictators, is used for propaganda.

Prior to World War II, Hitler ordered the burning of books throughout Nazi Germany. It was expected that the citizens of the Third Reich would learn through pictures rather than books and words.

The former Soviet Union used poster art to demonstrate the proletariat struggle to defeat the West and build, what in their minds, was a perfect communist world.

Today, militant, radical Muslims insist on Muslims reading the Koran and censoring other types of literature except those that extoll Islam.

During the Middle Ages, most people could not read or write. The Church, the only unifying institution in a chaotic European world, prohibited people from reading scripture. Behind this was the deeply held belief that only clergy could understand and teach the divine revelations that scripture held. Artisans of all kinds used paintings, sculpture and architecture to spread the word of Christianity.

If “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words,” then isn’t Reading Worth Thousands of Pictures?

After the invention of the printing press, the world changed. People could read the Bible and interpret its meanings for themselves. They could learn news from around the world, conveyed through pamphlets and newspapers. Bibles were available to people who could glean their own religious beliefs and ideas. Many rebelled against the Catholic Church because they saw Christ and Christianity in ways that were different from the teachings of the Pope and the Vatican. New Protestant churches arose throughout Europe and the world.

The Importance of Learning to Read:

What does this brief history mean for human psychology today? It means that today, reading is more important than ever before. Reading books, magazines, journals and newspapers stimulates the brain to form pictures in our minds. It is this capacity to use our brains to understand and form abstract concepts that makes us uniquely human. That is why it is vital that our children learn to read. After all, if books and reading are unimportant, why would so many dictatorships ban books?

What I find alarming is that our kids are more focused on images than words. Our political leaders are rightly concerned that youngsters move from one grade to the next without the ability to read and understand beyond an elementary school level and, sometimes, not even that.

While there is sufficient fault to go around for this awful fact, it is modern society’s intense focus on movies, computer games, and television that renders reading unimportant in the minds of many of our children. The consequence of this is that many of our children are not being taught, through reading, to think for themselves.

Reading stimulates imagination, critical and abstract thinking and,ultimately, creativity. All of these are essential for understanding the world we live in and learning to meet the challenges and decisions each of us faces.

What to Do?

It isn’t possible for each of us to solve the world’s problems. However, we can shape the ways in which our children grow and develop. So, here are some ideas:

1. Limit the amount of television time allowed for the kids.

2. Set conditional demands with regard to television and entertainment. For example, I know of many families who set rules for doing homework and for reading. Only after homework is done and a set amount of time is alloted for reading, is television allowed. Actually, reading time can be scheduled for after television, as long as everyone sticks to the schedule.

3. Parents are important role models and, therefore, it’s important that children see you reading. In fact, the whole family can read at the same time.

4. Dinner time and reading time are good for discussing books and what is liked and disliked about certain books.
 
5. Book shelves filled with lots of books are always a good idea. Children should never be prohibited from taking a book from a shelf.

6. As a family, regular trips to the public library are important. These visits can also be used for the youngsters to look up information needed to complete homework assignments.

8. At the very youngest age possible, even as early as 6 months, make age appropriate books available to your children. Read these aloud and allow the books to be played with and looked at.

8. Parents can never spend too much time reading to their kids. While reading to youngsters, allow for interruption, questions or anything else that they may bring up. Let them change the story if they wish. In other words, allow for imagination and creative thinking.

9.  My bottom line is that families must include reading as a major component of the central activities around which daily life revolves.


Most important, the idea is to make all of these activities fun and without criticism, correction or scolding. I always advise, “leave them wanting more.” If a child says, “Oh Mom or Dad, finish the story or read another story,” saying no is okay if there is a promise of more reading tomorrow. Of course, I’m assuming that reading to kids is a bedtime activity.

Your comments are always greatly appreciated.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Historically, paintings and photographs have been used to transmit political and religious messages in ways that were powerful and emotional. Even today, art in the hands of dictators, is used for propaganda.

Prior to World War II, Hitler ordered the burning of books throughout Nazi Germany. It was expected that the citizens of the Third Reich would learn through pictures rather than books and words.

The former Soviet Union used poster art to demonstrate the proletariat struggle to defeat the West and build, what in their minds, was a perfect communist world.

Today, militant, radical Muslims insist on Muslims reading the Koran and censoring other types of literature except those that extoll Islam.

During the Middle Ages, most people could not read or write. The Church, the only unifying institution in a chaotic European world, prohibited people from reading scripture. Behind this was the deeply held belief that only clergy could understand and teach the divine revelations that scripture held. Artisans of all kinds used paintings, sculpture and architecture to spread the word of Christianity.

If “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words,” then isn’t Reading Worth Thousands of Pictures?

After the invention of the printing press, the world changed. People could read the Bible and interpret its meanings for themselves. They could learn news from around the world, conveyed through pamphlets and newspapers. Bibles were available to people who could glean their own religious beliefs and ideas. Many rebelled against the Catholic Church because they saw Christ and Christianity in ways that were different from the teachings of the Pope and the Vatican. New Protestant churches arose throughout Europe and the world.

The Importance of Learning to Read:

What does this brief history mean for human psychology today? It means that today, reading is more important than ever before. Reading books, magazines, journals and newspapers stimulates the brain to form pictures in our minds. It is this capacity to use our brains to understand and form abstract concepts that makes us uniquely human. That is why it is vital that our children learn to read. After all, if books and reading are unimportant, why would so many dictatorships ban books?

What I find alarming is that our kids are more focused on images than words. Our political leaders are rightly concerned that youngsters move from one grade to the next without the ability to read and understand beyond an elementary school level and, sometimes, not even that.

While there is sufficient fault to go around for this awful fact, it is modern society’s intense focus on movies, computer games, and television that renders reading unimportant in the minds of many of our children. The consequence of this is that many of our children are not being taught, through reading, to think for themselves.

Reading stimulates imagination, critical and abstract thinking and,ultimately, creativity. All of these are essential for understanding the world we live in and learning to meet the challenges and decisions each of us faces.

What to Do?

It isn’t possible for each of us to solve the world’s problems. However, we can shape the ways in which our children grow and develop. So, here are some ideas:

1. Limit the amount of television time allowed for the kids.

2. Set conditional demands with regard to television and entertainment. For example, I know of many families who set rules for doing homework and for reading. Only after homework is done and a set amount of time is alloted for reading, is television allowed. Actually, reading time can be scheduled for after television, as long as everyone sticks to the schedule.

3. Parents are important role models and, therefore, it’s important that children see you reading. In fact, the whole family can read at the same time.

4. Dinner time and reading time are good for discussing books and what is liked and disliked about certain books.
 
5. Book shelves filled with lots of books are always a good idea. Children should never be prohibited from taking a book from a shelf.

6. As a family, regular trips to the public library are important. These visits can also be used for the youngsters to look up information needed to complete homework assignments.

8. At the very youngest age possible, even as early as 6 months, make age appropriate books available to your children. Read these aloud and allow the books to be played with and looked at.

8. Parents can never spend too much time reading to their kids. While reading to youngsters, allow for interruption, questions or anything else that they may bring up. Let them change the story if they wish. In other words, allow for imagination and creative thinking.

9.  My bottom line is that families must include reading as a major component of the central activities around which daily life revolves.


Most important, the idea is to make all of these activities fun and without criticism, correction or scolding. I always advise, “leave them wanting more.” If a child says, “Oh Mom or Dad, finish the story or read another story,” saying no is okay if there is a promise of more reading tomorrow. Of course, I’m assuming that reading to kids is a bedtime activity.

Your comments are always greatly appreciated.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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