"Reading for pleasure" is something I think and talk about a lot, as I know many of us on ABBA do. I believe there are major benefits to individuals and to society in people spending time reading for pleasure - by which I mean "reading intending to enjoy it".
It's important for at least two reasons:
- The logical one: young children need to spend vast numbers of hours practising reading if they are to become expert or even functionally literate, and young children especially just won't put in those hours if they don't enjoy it. So, it's got to be pleasurable for them to do it enough.
- The evidence-based one: research (for example the 2009 PISA report into the levels of and trends for reading for pleasure in 64 OECD countries) suggests that young people who read every day for pleasure do better at school. (On its own, this doesn't prove causation but the study alos considered socio/economic effects.)
There's another reason, though, and I was thinking about this the other day because I'm working on a book about teenage stress: reading for pleasure feels like a very good way to reduce stress.
I did a bit of digging and found this report on a study by Dr. David Lewis, cognitive neuropsychologist at the Uni of Sussex, showing that reading (even for a few minutes) had a greater effect on reducing heart-rate than the other methods tested, with a reduction of 68%. Dr. Lewis suggests an explanation: "By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book, you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world, and spend a while exploring the domain of the author's imagination."
I never believe a newspaper's interpretation of research so I went hunting for the actual paper. I couldn't find it, just eleventy-million press reports! But I did find this interesting critique, which alerted me to the fact that it was a very small study, on only 16 participants, so probably not really enough to get too excited about.
However, since I'm not a scientist and since anyone who is stressed doesn't have time to wait for scientists to prove properly that reading can relieve stress, I'm going to continue to believe that it does. Because I feel that it does and I bet lots of people agree. Frankly, that's quite enough for me. I don't need scientists to prove that reading is relaxing - though I'd eagerly read their research if I could find it.
Anyway, I've decided that the idea of Reading to Relax - Readaxation! - is going to be part of my work as Patron of Reading at Larbert High School. Here's what I plan to do:
- Commit myself to spending at least twenty minutes a day reading to relax. How can I ask pupils to do it if I don't?
- Aim to create a state of mind called narrative transportation during that reading time - in other words, not just skim-read but make sure I read something I'm enjoying so much that I become engrossed. I suspect this is important for the stress-relieving aspect.
- Ensure pupils understand the benefits to them of daily readaxation.
- Motivate keen readers to set aside that time and to value the pleasure, not just treat it as a treat.
- Motivate and help reluctant readers to find something they will genuinely enjoy reading. I'll use keen readers to help here, by recommending exciting reads. I have a fun plan for this - I will report back to you if it works!
- Show all pupils how to notice and record their feelings of stress before and after their daily pleasure-reading dose.
I'd love to know any other insights you might have into the idea of readaxation?