by Cheryl Jackson Tuesday January 18, 2011

Last night I launched into my occasional lecture about watching too much tv and my daughter said, "What, have you just read a new study?"  That's the danger of the work I do - every time I try to impose my will, my kids think I've just heard some new revelation about parenting and am testing it on them.

They're right about that, sometimes, but most of the time I'd say it's just common sense, perhaps verified by someone I've spoken with or something I've read.

That's what happened yesterday. I'd just come home from my interview with Maryanne Wolf. She's one of the smartest, most likable people you'll ever meet, and she talked to me about the "reading brain."  Maryanne is a professor of child development at Tufts University and the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research. She's an expert on how the brain learns to read, and what happens to the brain when we read. It's fascinating and made me wish I read more, and that my kids read more.  And I don't mean reading online texts or emails - I mean novels, stories.

Maryanne says we are not born to read, that we have to enlist the help of other circuits and find connections in order to read. But what's most interesting to me is what she says happens when you read. She says, and you'll know this is true, that when you read, you enter an inner world where you form new connections, inferences, associations and insights. You relate what you read to what you know and come up with something new. In her book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of Reading, Maryanne writes, "reading is our best vehicle to a transformed mind, and, literally and figuratively to a changed brain."  If that doesn't make you want to read, I don't know what will.

In our discussion Maryanne talks about when and how kids learn to read, and what must happen when kids have trouble. She's absolutely convinced reading for pleasure and insight is the most beautiful thing we can help our children do.  She's so full of passion and conviction you will be utterly convinced. And then you, too, might insist your kids park themselves in front of a book rather than a screen.