Advice Column, Education, Parenting

Open a book, open up your world

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A book is a dream you can hold in your hand.

Last year the UNESCO Institute for Statistics stated that global literacy rates were rising but despite the gains, 774 million adults (15 years and older) still cannot read and write and two-thirds of them are women.  Among the youth, 123 million are illiterate.

The South African Government is on a drive to improve literacy but the reality is we live in a country where the culture of reading isn’t every strong.  Only 5% of parents read to their children and around 14% of the population are active readers.  A large percentage of our schools don’t have libraries and our Grade 5 learners literacy levels are on a par with Grade 3 learners worldwide.

Reading and literacy go hand-in-glove and if we are to get South Africans literate we need to get them reading – and to develop the love of reading from an early age.  ‘Reading not only helps build your vocabulary but develops your mind, your imagination, the way you look at, and participate in the world and goes a long way to determining your future,’ says Gary Hirson, author, photographer, speaker and youth life coach.

Hirson believes that reading enriches lives and his focus as an author and life coach is to help children, tweenies, teenagers and students develop a love of reading, use their imaginations to dream, set goals and achieve success. ‘The gift of our imagination is the place where all journeys begin.’

His three books – all available in English with the first translated into Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu – are aimed at different age groups and include interactive elements to make reading fun.  Each story follows the adventures of siblings, Joel and Jina, and takes the reader on a journey using their imagination, while promoting self belief, goal setting and problem solving.

‘Reading is crucial to self-development,’ says Hirson. “As we read we visualise the words, the characters, the scenes.  We learn new things, ideas, concepts and places, we expand our mind and are transported to new worlds. We get to understand the world a little better.’

In his quest to get youngsters loving the written word, Hirson is encouraging parents to read to their children. ‘Words, both spoken and written, are the building blocks of life,’ he says.

Here are five reasons to get your child reading.

#1:  It expands the mind.  Teaching youngsters to read helps develop their language skills and vocabulary, improves concentration and exercises their brains.  The more we read the better we get at it.

#2:  We discover new things and learn about the world around us.

#3:  It entertains us and develops our imagination.  With reading you can go anywhere in the world and be part of the adventure.  The possibilities are endless.

#4:  In a busy, cluttered world, reading relaxes the body and calms the mind.

#5:  It’s good for our self image. By having a good vocabulary and learning more about the world through books you feel more confident and have better self-belief.

‘For me reading, imagination and learning are the basics of all education,’ says Hirson who, through the publishing of his books, now conducts workshops and talks about the power of the written word through his company Calm In Storm.

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