Parents often ask me what they ought to do to prepare their children for a future they can scarcely imagine, in a world that’s changing before their eyes.
I say that there’s a brilliant learning technology already on the shelf.
It builds vocabulary, conveys knowledge, fosters creativity, improves concentration, develops skills of reasoning and pattern recognition, calms anxiety and opens discussions … all this, while nurturing love and bringing joy.
The batteries last forever. It’s cheap, and sometimes even free. And it’s widely available in libraries, shops and homes.
Can you guess?
An old technology, for the future
It’s the book: the humble book, an old technology that’s still our portal to the future.
Consider this: every four years, our students take part in a global assessment called TIMSS, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.
Books that shaped Australia’s great minds
- Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist:Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
- Leanna Read, South Australia’s Chief Scientist: Any of the Dr Seuss books (for seasonal flavour, try How The Grinch Stole Christmas!)
- Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate and Veterinary Pathologist: the Biggles books, by Captain WE Johns
- Michelle Simmons, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Quantum Physicist: The Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island, by Enid Blyton
And it’s striking that Australian year 8 students who have many books in the home are nine times more likely to perform at the advanced level in science than students with only a few books in the home.
The best book is the one you read
Of course, it’s one thing to have books on the shelf — it’s another thing altogether to use and enjoy them.
I treasured books as a child, and I wanted to raise my two boys the same way. I was ambitious: I began before they were born. Once I’d begun, I discovered it was impossible to stop.
Storytime was baked in the pattern of the day, as mandatory as mealtimes.
I read to my boys every night that I could, often drifting off to sleep with them, and I admit it, occasionally even dozing off before they did.
It was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
My challenge to you
As adults, we can all set the example by reading books ourselves. It’s a great start — but it’s not enough. These holidays, I’m challenging all of us to take the next step.
Pick up a book and pledge to share it with a special child in your life: a son or daughter, a grandchild, a niece or nephew, the child of a neighbour or family friend.
I promise, you’ll be glad that you did.
And you won’t be alone. Behind every great scientist and inventor is a library of wonderful books. I’m sharing recommendations for children’s books and reading pledges from some well-known Australians, including at least one Nobel Laureate.
Together, we can open the world of books to the next generation of thinkers, makers and leaders.
And we can be confident that they’ll pick up the pen on an astonishing next chapter for the world.