As proponents of the Humanities, most of us are familiar with the pro-book, anti-tablet argument. Books are important to us adults, we’ve decided. But what about the kids? If books are important to us regular-sized humans, they must be important to the tiny-humans too, right?
I work in a preschool, and I can honestly say that reading to the kids is one of my least favorite activities. The kids demand the same books be read over and over again (we’re talking like, 10+ times a day, here) and always turn the page before I finish reading the text, leaving the story with an unfinished storyline at best and an un-rhymed sentence at worst. Yet every day, I read them the same books ten times in a row, and I let them turn the pages before I’ve finished my rhyming couplet. Deep down inside, past my desire to swat their chubby hands away and finish reading the story with the dramatic flair that I deem appropriate, I know that everything I can do to encourage these little ones to read, I should do.
Books provide young children with far more than most of us can imagine. At one year, though several years away from reading, a child can learn to hold a book correctly. Orienting a book correctly, as opposed to upside-down, gives the child a valuable skill; it shows them what letters look like. Though a child may not even begin to learn letters for years to come, the foundation for recognizing letters is set when a 12 month old picks up a book. When children point to pictures and turn pages they are developing fine motor skills; they are refining wrist and finger control- essential to writing, which will come years later. You can’t turn pages on a tablet. When being read to, listening to the different voices of characters in a book is some of the earliest socio-dramatic play in which children can participate. Recognizing emotions (which is easier when associated with pictures in a book) is essential to building empathy, one of the most defining human characteristics. Books are important, from the very beginning.
In the film version of Roald Dahl’s classic Matilda, the main character is a precocious six-year-old who takes home books from the library by the wagon-full. As it happens, most 6-year-olds aren’t that autonomous, so many young children are left without books. As students, there are things we can do. In Springfield there are volunteer opportunities abound in which one can read to kids or help them with reading homework (Boys and Girls Club, local elementary schools, tutoring programs). Drury hosts several book drives each year to collect books for children who may not have them otherwise. This is one of the greatest gifts- a book.
Many Humanities professors and students wonder how to keep and revive new student interest in the Humanities. To me, the answer is simple. Children are the future of the humanities! Children who are read to, children who have grown up loving books: these are the children who will grow into inquisitive learners with a passion for knowledge. How will children ever learn to read Wuthering Heights, The Canterbury Tales, or Great Expectations, if they don’t first read Good Night, Moon, Guess How Much I Love You and The Very Hungry Caterpillar? In a world where IPad games are increasingly more entertaining than Little Golden books, it won’t be an easy fight. But as the students of today, we are the future parents of tomorrow, and it is only by intentional recognizing that we value books that we can teach children to value books, as well. So the next time you’re at Barnes and Noble and they’re hosting a book drive for kids, spend the extra $7 and give a gift that will give back to the Humanities. The next time your niece or nephew or annoying next-door-neighbor asks you to read a book to him/her for the 5th time in a row, do it anyways. It’s for the kids, but it is for the Humanities, too.
Courtney Tay is co-president of the Drury Humanities Society, and is majoring in English, Spanish, and Math.