by Laura Milligan
Teaching children to prioritize their well-being is an essential part of an education, and is now more important than ever as children continue to process the traumas and stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare to return to in-person schooling. Wellness can take many shapes, and as a teacher I believe that reading is an essential act of self-care. When we read, we cultivate connection, a deeper sense of empathy, and peace within ourselves, which in turn emanates to those around us. Reading offers students and teachers alike space to reflect and reset after a year blanketed with bewilderment. Here are seven reasons to promote reading among your students.
Reading is an act of mindfulness. Because books require complete focus, they are an excellent way to quiet students’ anxieties. Reading both calms students’ minds in the moment and also stretches their ability to focus outside of reading.
Reading is quiet. The collective stress of the past year permeated most households, bombarding families with constant news cycles, social media updates, and Google classroom notifications. Books offer a refuge of quiet, allowing the mind to relax.
Reading promotes sleep. We know that children, especially teenagers, need sleep for better brain function and overall health and well-being. Reading a few chapters before bed fosters a sleep routine, allowing your body ample time to relax and fall into an even deeper slumber. An added bonus? Reading before bed helps limit the use of brain-awakening technology before bed!
Reading improves communication. Without even realizing it, students improve their vocabularies when they read. Finding the words to express yourself can be difficult, especially for students, and even more so for students who are feeling confused or struggling to cope. Broad vocabularies create confident communicators; vocabulary learning has been shown to improve students’ interpersonal skills and overall school performance. Through reading, students are better able to identify and communicate their internal experiences.
Reading is an imaginative act. Books take students to new places and introduce them to new people. Immersed in the story, readers travel to places they may never go in person. Furthermore, reading requires students to “fill in the blanks”—imagining sights, sounds, and other sensations—and often leads to imagining what may happen next. Students stretch their imaginative muscles when they read.
Reading bolsters empathy. It’s no secret that reading cultivates our social and emotional well-being. Author David Foster Wallace once claimed that fiction is about what it means to be human. When we read, we are placing ourselves in the shoes of other people who may be very different from ourselves, and we experience communities, cultures, and worlds that may be completely unfamiliar. We grow to care for the characters and their lives. Reading illuminates the beauty of our differences and teaches us that everyone’s story matters.
Reading creates connections. Although reading is a mostly solitary practice, books are community builders! When we read, we discover connections to characters, settings, plots, authors, and other readers. Talking about books with other classmates, teachers, or friends builds relationships and broadens students’ understanding of the world and their place within it.
After a stressful and uncertain school year, we can use these last days before summer break to encourage our students to develop a habit of reading in order to recharge before returning to the classroom. As you reflect on the past year and look forward to the fall, I also encourage you to consider reading as an essential act of self-care! Reading both engages and relaxes us; it stimulates creativity and promotes rest. To inspire you, below is a list of some of my favorite books for upper elementary through high school students, as well as for teachers. In my mind, summer was made for reading!
For middle grade readers: Each of these middle-grade books depicts coming-of-age characters and themes.
- The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
- Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
- Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
- Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
For young adult readers: Each of the books on this list inspires conversations about issues of social justice and the high school experience.
- Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
- Bear Town by Fredrik Backman
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi
For teachers: Wonderful tales that offer insight into different aspects of work, education, and the human condition, the books on this list are sure to give teachers some much-needed respite and inspiration.
- Educated by Tara Westover
- Book of Delights by Ross Gay
- Wintering by Katherine May
- The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Before founding ReadWriteStart, a tutoring and educational consulting company, Laura Milligan taught middle and high school English for twenty years. Most recently, she worked as a classroom teacher and dean at Choate Rosemary Hall, a school located in Connecticut. She is a Google Certified Educator and a graduate of Smith College (BA) and Wesleyan University (MALS). Currently, she is working on her first middle-grade novel.