Reading and the art of mind maintenance

Blast off to different worlds without ever leaving the comforts of your bed

By Chandrea Serebro

Reading is possibly the most underrated skill we learn as human beings, despite being one of the most beloved past times. It boosts the imagination, sparks curiosity, provides escape, and reduces stress. It feeds the brain, elevates the soul, and exercises the mind. It provides hours and worlds of entertainment, to anyone, anywhere, about anything. Countless studies and research has shown the benefits of reading – impacting every area of development and potential. “The importance of reading cannot be overstated,” says Speech and Hearing Therapist Dr Tali Frankel. “As children, reading is the vehicle through which we learn. As we get older, reading is the way in which we can gain access to and understand the broader world. It is the content of much of our everyday working and professional life and increasingly, because of text messaging and apps like WhatsApp, the way we communicate socially too. Reading is the flint that sparks our imagination and curiosity about the world and the magic trapdoor that allows us entry to myriad universes.”

The mere mention of the subject causes those who love reading – teachers, mothers, fathers, and kids – to get all warm and fuzzy. A love for reading is something that every mother wishes to instil in her kids, and every reader knows that, without books, their lives would be far less in every sense of the word. A non-reader will never understand the joy of turning the page of an exciting book, or being able to take more than one book on holiday thanks to electronic reading devices. The relaxation it offers, the escape it gives, be it mindless or mindful, the respite from everyday stresses is absolute. “Reading opens many doors to us. You are never bored or lonely if you can read. Books are like wonderful friends who can keep us company or open our eyes to contexts, time spans, and environments we have never personally experienced. We can enter new worlds, or return to familiar ones. We can see situations from someone else’s perspective or reflect on our own thoughts,” says Tali.

Literacy, once thought of as the ability to read and write, includes being able to understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute as well – just some of the skills it gives us with which to navigate life. “Reading enriches our understanding of the world we live in, how it works, and the people who populate it,” says Tali. Learning to read is a defining moment in all of our lives. “As we learn to read, our whole body language changes from one of insecurity to one of confidence and good, healthy self-esteem,” says Mickie Mayer of The Link, a Non-Profit Organisation that supports the development of literacy and numeracy in children at low-income schools for whom English is a second language. These children show a lack of basic literacy skills, often due to a combination of their disadvantaged background and their second-language learning environment. “If they can be given the basic skill of reading they can go on to thrive in all subjects.” To these kids, reading is so important, helping them to connect with other people and the broader world, she explains. Simple things would be enormous tasks if we didn’t know how to read: reading the instructions on medicine bottles, filling out forms, using a cell phone or computer. And for these kids, it’s the best way to start getting them ahead in life by giving them the best chance in their future school career.

There is no question that the greater the attention paid to enriching literacy in the school and home environments, the bigger the impact on the child’s ability to read, says Occupational Therapist, with a special interest in Dyslexia, Shelley Sosnovik. “It is so important to read to your child and to model an enjoyment of reading. Exposure to books and reading is essential for literacy development and enrichment, and can lessen the severity of a literacy difficulty. Encourage the use of strong language skills, and cultivate your child’s vocabulary.” Everyone agrees that the first and foremost way to encourage your child to read and to instil a love of books and stories within them is to love and read books yourself. It starts from the get-go with the bed-time book routine so loved by parents to calm and settle the child and adored by children as the chance to cuddle up and prepare for the next big adventure, being soothed to sleep by the sound of mum or dad’s voice.

“A book lover once asked me, ‘My child shows no interest in reading, how can I help him along?’ I advised her to leave books which might interest him casually around the house and it will just be matter of time before he picks one up to read,” says Mrs Gita Mazabow, Librarian at the Kollel Yad Shaul Lending Library. “I cannot think of a better way to instil a love of reading in children than for parents who love to read to pass this passion on through the act of reading itself. Children will see their parents reading and start loving books. They will see the full bookcases in the home and the importance placed on having books on all subjects, and their curiosity will be sparked.”

Almost everyone before the age of technology will remember their trips to the local library. Sadly, libraries are not a part of the majority of children’s lives today, but they could and should be – with the price of books on the up and with the wealth of wonderful books to choose from at your fingertips at the library, it is almost a no-brainer. Plus, some libraries offer ‘Story Time’, an outing that gives mothers a chance to relax and kids the chance to be taken on a surprise journey that they didn’t choose.

Benefits of the mind

 Books are the active-wear for the mind; reading, the exercise. It encourages focus and concentration, works memory skills, develops vocabulary and language skills, and paves the way for more sophisticated thinking and understanding. Reading and sharing stories can help your child become familiar with sounds, words and language, and with ideas. “Books assist children to learn the difference between ‘real’ and ‘make believe’ by exploring fantasy and more life-like experiences,” says Tali.

Emotional intelligence  

Reading can also help children to understand change and new or frightening experiences by living through a character’s reactions and responses to specific challenges,” says Tali. It helps us know about the stories in which other people in other places and other times find themselves, helping us gain glimpses into what they feel and think about, and how this makes us feel in turn. It develops our ability to empathise with others, explains Tali, giving us insight into the minds of others, which is “a crucial skill to forming successful social relationships”.

Spiritual Upliftment

Getting stuck into a good book has the power to make your soul sing with hope, renewed faith, and with the beauty and wonder of the world you find in the pages of your book. And, the quintessential book of them all, the Torah, does indeed contain the entire world. “Literacy has long been valued in Judaism. The Oral Law was written down so that it would not be forgotten. Scholars spend hours, years, poring over ancient texts, familiarising themselves with concepts, arguments, and theses that inform the way we practice our faith. Study through reading clarifies and crystalises our value system and illuminates the very essence of what we believe and what forms our most essential identity as Jews,” says Tali.

For more information or to get involved with The Link go to or contact Mickie 0833058822

Reading between the lines

Sometimes reading can be a challenge, and there are many reasons why a child might struggle to read, says Tali. “Children with auditory processing difficulties can find it difficult to develop sound awareness; the ability to match sounds to letters. They may find it difficult to differentiate between similar sounds, break words up into component parts, or blend individual sounds together. Visual processing deficits cause difficulty remembering the shape of letters and sight words. Language-based difficulties affect comprehension, rendering the reading activity meaningless. Children may have difficulties with the speed at which they can process material or access symbols from long-term memory stores. The delay in finding the correct associations for sound (phoneme) and letter (grapheme) matches makes fluent and accurate reading difficult. Finally, eye tracking concerns or visual difficulties can impede the child’s ability to make ocular adjustments to print on pages or a board.”

The lowdown on Dyslexia

“Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that affects accurate, fluent reading and spelling, which can occur irrespective of a person’s IQ. These difficulties are often present at birth in 10 to 20 percent of the population and have effects throughout the person’s life,” says Shelley. She explains: dyslexia manifests in various ways. Some will have an inability to decode (read) and encode (spell) words correctly. Others may be able to read and spell fairly well but they have difficulty with fluency or comprehension of the text that they are reading. Dyslexia will affect the individual’s will to read and his enjoyment when reading. It will affect academic success as well as daily functioning. “This is why vigilance by teachers, therapists, and parents in the early years is extremely important, as the earlier a risk for dyslexia is detected, the more likely the effects of dyslexia may be alleviated.” Although dyslexia is found to resist conventional classroom teaching, its effects can be lessened with intervention by remedial and other therapists. Success breeds success. The more we are successful at a task, the more we enjoy being involved in the task. Many dyslexic people are verbally expressive and strong. They enjoy words and speaking. They enjoy imaginative play and creativity. Once they have received the correct intervention and assistance with their reading and comprehension difficulties, they may come to enjoy reading books for escape, for information, and to learn.”

Kollel Yad Shaul Lending Library

The Kollel Yad Shaul Lending Library began as just a few shelves with the early starts of the Kollel itself and has grown with the Kollel to include Jewish books to suit everyone’s taste. No matter who you are, you should be able to find something that interests you there. The Library is open to everyone who would like to access this wealth of Jewish texts, and the joining fee is only R70 per subscription, which entitles a person to take out one book at a time, and you can take out unlimited subscriptions. Librarian Mrs. Gita Mazabow, who has presided over the Library lovingly since the days it was located in Yeoville, has seen so much pleasure brought to so many book lovers over the years. She sees women who used to enjoy the Library as children get married and bring their own children to enjoy the books. She derives great pleasure when people take multiple subscriptions (some over ten!) to keep them busy until their next visit. And she takes great care deciding what to buy when hand-picking new books, ensuring that she is always accessing what people want to read. The Library boasts the “pick of the Jewish publishers”, and has books on every Jewish topic. The Library is split between adult and children books, and has a host of novels, which are perhaps the most popular choice, says Mrs. Mazabow, as well as Biographies, for both children and adults. The Library also has books on Philosophy and Hashkafa (outlook); Tanach; Halachah (Jewish Law); Jewish Festivals and Shabbat; Jewish History; Tefilla (prayer); Marriage and dating; Chinuch (education); and Jewish ethics.

The Kollel Yad Shaul Library is located at No. 5 Water Lane, Gardens. For opening hours please contact Mrs. Gita Mazabow on 0723925737

PJ Library

South Africa has just become the fifteenth country to join the PJ Library family, which sends free books to Jewish children around the world to be enjoyed together and kept and loved thereafter. PJ Library is made possible through partnerships with philanthropists and local Jewish organisations in SA under the umbrella of the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, explains Rabbi Mark Friedman, head of Jewish education and Soul for the SABJE. “They recognised that there weren’t enough high quality, user-friendly Jewish books around for kids, so they set out to make such books available. Parents are going to be reading to their children and not the other way around – during special moments sitting together before bedtime, reading books that allow for Jewish values and traditions to come through.” Hence the name PJ Library – as in Pyjamas – because while PJ Library supports reading anytime of the day, they also know that many families sit down to read books at bedtime, in their pyjamas. PJ Library sends Jewish books to over 540 000 children in over 140 cities every month at no cost to the recipients. This translates to about 3 000 students between the ages of three and eight years old who will receive 10 books over the course of a year. “The books are not only selected based on their beautiful illustrations and presentation, but because they deal in an age appropriate manner with topics that are fundamental and central to Judaism and Jewish identity.”

Go to for further information

Related posts