“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.”

“If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Albert Einstein

October 2013. Entering the Junior Boys school at Claires Court, by the back door, you are confronted by a vast poster, created by some in their Art class. Above and around the poster are large, firm, obviously aged and somewhat ‘wonky’ shelves. And packed onto the shelves are hundreds of jars, filled with a cornucopia of slime, and colour, and crepuscular things. In the instant, such is the power of Roald Dahl’s writing, one feels the presence of all of the myriad of dreams of these children, captured in Dream jars by that companion to their sleep, the BFG. 

I took one of the jars to their assembly on Wednesday, marvelling at its touch and feel, and happy to share the hopes and ambitions of the young B4 child with the company. “One day, I shall play cricket for England”.  And I hope he does.

Throughout this term, I have marvelled at our mission throughout the school, for pupils of whatever age, to ensure they become literate, communicative and coherent in what they do and say. When the deeply dyslexic and now internationally famous video editor, Rupert Houseman reminds us of his sense of irony that he is ‘paid to read and write’ and that we gave him those skills, it humbles me to the core. I know we did, as we have done with so many others, and it is that single-mindedness of purpose that pervades our mission to this day.

In the world of shared Docs that Google Apps give us, I am able to read a vast range of minutes and other shared thoughts and directions of the staff. At Senior boys on a Wednesday morning, there’s a 10 minute time set aside for all to read. And I read a memo this week, a quick stick shake at colleagues, to make sure that the available time for this quite work is not displaced by some prosaic need to tidy a bag or complete a homework. Throughout the school, as notably with older as well as younger pupils, we celebrate their writing on walls; short creative works of fact and fiction, highlighting that writing is good. As is reading, As are books. 

Neil Gaiman summarised the value of books in a brilliant Annual talk for the Reading Agency earlier this week, reported in the Guardian – http://goo.gl/YQleLP. Douglas Adams once told him ” more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. “

Gaiman highlights too that the long-established ban on Science Fiction in Communist China has now been overturned. What was the key feature Chinese research that led to this recent volte-face circa 2007? The fact that all the highest achieving scientists in companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, responsible for imagining the future had in common the practice when they were young of reading science fiction.

All around our school, we are imagining the future for our children, for our learners, for each other. I was in a B10 History lesson yesterday, wrangling with them to capture their research, their viva-voce of same, using technology (Movenote) to show it all. And I was struck by their struggle to come to terms with what it might look like, watching them wrestle with that process of imagining.  And History reminds us, because we can read what our forebears have done through its lens, that Human life is a story of struggle. Without imagination, we wouldn’t have all of the things around us. Take the light bulb; Thomas Edison worked diligently on perfecting a commercially manufactured light bulb. He imagined that it was possible and eventually achieved success. He has been quoted as saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

At the heart of our schools are the Libraries, populated by books and artifacts for reading by talented professionals who give their all to ensure a love of reading is a possibility to be acquired by all. I am proud we invest in those centres of ancient culture, of paper and picture that provides vivid illustration to our ambition that all should read.  “Memo to self -just got to make sure they do!”



About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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1 Response to “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.”

  1. Es says:

    Do parents still read their children bedtime stories? I recall a friend of mine telling me her child’s third word, after Mummy, Daddy was “Cbeebies”. “Back in the day”, I was lucky enough to have my Dad read to me half an hour before bedtime. We read The Railway Children, Black Beauty, Heidi. Dad used to enjoy it as much as me, doing all the voices and escaping to a another country, time even world for half an hour. I then progressed to Enid Blyton and then Judy Blume. If young people can find “that” author that hooks them in, then we will, without a doubt, improve literacy levels. It can be encouraged in schools but it can be considered that ultimately literacy starts and ends at home and with the child. Booksellers and libraries are being put out of business on a daily basis. Whether we use books or kindles reading awards for children’s reading at home has to be a way going forward…. Controversial but worth consideration.

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