How Reading Stimulates a Child’s Imagination – and Why It Matters
We all know reading is good for children – and adults! Reading is essential to cognitive development and helps fend off dementia as we age. But how does literature develop children’s imagination?
Have you ever read a book and thought, “This would make a great movie!” That’s because as your eyes move over the page, you can see the action being described in your mind. You are imagining the scenes that you’re reading about.
Let’s look into how reading books triggers the imagination and why it matters.
Right Brain vs. Left Brain
Let’s start with a quick look at how the brain works. The brain is divided into two halves, or hemispheres. The left brain is considered the analytical and logical side of the brain. The left brain is in charge of reading, writing and mathematical equations. The right brain is the more intuitive and artsy side of the brain. It’s more visual, dealing in images instead of words, and helps you process nonverbal clues.
So, what happens when children read? Although the left brain is the processor of language, scientists have found that reading – especially reading fiction or books – also engages the right side of the brain, because it makes the reader visualize – or imagine – what they are reading about. They have concluded that reading boosts connectivity on the right side of the brain. Making connections helps people discover solutions faster and be more imaginative.
Although people used to believe that we are either predominantly left- or right-brained, that is not true. In a healthy brain, humans use both hemispheres. However, reading does help the brain make the connection between words on a page and the pictures in a child’s mind. Bottom line: There is a physiological connection between reading and developing imagination.
Make-Believe People, Places and Things
The children’s author Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, summed up the connection between reading and imagination well when he wrote:
“The more you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Reading broadens your knowledge of real people, places and things as well as made-up people, places and things. That allows children to take both real and imagined characters, settings and objects and imagine them in their own life or in a world that exists only in their minds.
Reading is like the kindling for a fire. The kindling may spark the fire but then the fire takes hold and burns on its own long after the kindling is gone. Likewise, books that kids read not only provide a peek into an environment that an author has created but also encourage and enable imaginative play in unique worlds of a child’s own making.
Reading for Stress Relief
Reading is relaxing. It allows a child’s brain to tune out the noise of the world and focus on one task, much like meditation does. It lowers the heart rate and allows muscles to slacken. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading reduces stress levels by 68%.
How does stress relief support imagination? It’s extremely hard to be creative when one is tired or stressed out. Just ask a writer on deadline!
Like most muscles, the brain can be trained to perform more efficiently with practice. Regular reading sessions reduces stress and helps a child develop a more active imagination, which can be exercised more easily with practice.
(Note: Kumon Parents familiar with the practice makes possibilities™ creative campaign that launched in 2022 can watch for a new version of the campaign, which will integrate “imagination.”)
Why Imagination Matters
Why do we need to stoke the imagination? Imagination brings a number of very real benefits:
- Imagination improves problem-solving skills. Remember the “connectivity” in the brain? That helps kids link the facts of a problem to what they imagine might solve it.
- Imagination develops and preserves memory. Older adults who continue to use their imaginations after retirement have reduced the risk of dementia by up to 73%.
- Imagination helps children develop empathy. Reading can deliver insights into the emotions of someone who’s different from the reader. That allows children to imagine how someone else is feeling or how certain actions may affect them.
Reading yields rewards in many areas of life, including developing a healthy imagination. A daily reading practice is a critical first step to developing an active imagination for children learning to read and write, for teens developing empathy for their peers and for adults determined to keep their minds active and healthy for a lifetime.