Kids and Reading: Keep Them Out of the Shallows

Monday July 19, 2010

What’s the shallows?

A friend directed me to this article the other day, and I found its discussion of the shallows to be fascinating. Nicolas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, believes the internet is changing the way we read and process information. The Shallows are where we find ourselves when we’re deep in internet reading.

The internet is a medium based on interruption – we read a snippet, check email, click on a link, Google and Bing – and Carr says it fosters a chronic state of distraction. It’s really not suited for deep reading and concentration, two elements often associated with acquiring wisdom.

And once our kids go to school and begin reading for content, what kind of reading do they need to do? Not the quick-click type. Carr feels that as we get better at hopping from page to page, we may lose our ability to use a “slower, more contemplative mode of thought.” He cites research that shows that as our ability to multitask improves, we may “become less creative in our thinking.”

I can attest to that last statement. I just returned from almost three weeks of vacation, and multitasking was not my mode. There was time to sleep, to think, to read, to talk…to dream, to enjoy God’s creation…and I came home with two new book ideas! I told someone last night that I had to come home – ideas were bouncing around in my head so much, I had to get started on them.

There is good news, however, and important news for parents.

Carr says that our brains are very malleable and they “adapt at the cellular level to whatever we happen to be doing.” That means we can foster both types of reading – the surfing, skimming and scanning glance and the deep, slow, contemplative perusal.

And we should. Our children need to be literate at both types of reading and, honestly, so do we. How can we foster that?

If your children are preschool age, surround them with books. Read to them and let them see you reading. Don’t park them in front of a screen instead of interacting with them, but introduce them slowly and wisely to the world of electronics.

If your kids are school age, do the same! Set limits on computer and phone time, and encourage quiet time for the whole household. Pick up books, magazines or a newspaper for everyone. To encourage thought that’s a little deeper, read a challenging book together or listen to an audio tape, stopping to discuss the story.

And balance your time in the shallows, too, Mom. Everyone needs a little contemplation once in a while. Pick up something challenging and stretch yourself. I know, you may be able to read only a page at a time before chaos ensues, but give it a try.

How do you feel about the shallows?

The internet can be inspiring, but what else inspires you and pulls you into deep thought?


Alexandra said...

You're so right. I saw a post this weekend that said, "read more books,not blogs."

I'm guilty. We've had 2 vacations back to back, and I didn't gt near a computer. I didnt' miss it, and I came back, and the world was still there.

Good post!!!!!!!!!!!

Kwana said...

This is great post. I believe in the shallows. It's so hard for kids and us moms to concentrate nowadays. It's takes me much longer than it used to to get through a novel and I think this is the reason. I use knitting to help my concentration now and other crafts for my teens.

Jean Wise said...

Great post and words so wisely shared. I know the more I skim in any type of reading, the less I comprehend. I think the speed of our culture influences that and we need to slow down to digest the words for more impact.

Christy said...

Great post!! We limit internet time to just a short amount of time about once or twice every couple of weeks, if that for my 9 yr old and my 6 yr old. We read books on the other hand daily! My 9 yr old LOVES reading and reads at least an hour a day if not more! I should say at night, as he loves to read in bed and it's summer so we're lenient on the time he actually falls asleep! So far this summer he's read 10 books!

Laura@OutnumberedMom said...

Love all your comments so far! Thanks for chiming in.

My kids found out pretty quickly I was a sucker for books. I'd let them stay up later if they were reading, and when I wouldn't buy a toy, I'd buy a book!

Victoria said...

Great post! Mine is still too young for computers completely (unless you count the picture slideshows I put up for her just because she likes seeing pictures of herself) but I agree that kids spend too much time on the computer and it affects their abilities to do much else.
I also liked your email newsletter this morning. It was very encouraging.

Karen said...

Laura, that is such a good post. Thanks!

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Great post.
I love a family reading hour. It has worked in the past and we've all enjoyed it. I may just have to re-institute it for the rest of the summer!

Anonymous said...

Family reading hour is a terrific idea. I'll keep that in mind as the kids get older. I love the term "the shallows"--as soon as you started outlining, I knew exactly what you were talking about!

Julie Gillies said...

What a fascinating article, Laura! And I can really relate to it. I took a 3-month blog and Twitter break because I felt SO distracted. I needed time to just be "normal" without all the high-tech stuff.

This year I'm homeschooling my 10th grade daughter with a literature-based curriculum, giving her plenty of time and opportunity to get out of the shallows.

Blessings to you, my friend!

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