EDITORIAL

Spelling out the benefits of books

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In today’s digital world, there’s something almost magically nostalgic about getting a brand-new book.

Maybe it’s the musty smell that wafts from the pages as you flip through in the initial inspection of its contents, or the excitement of wondering what lies within those words – an unexplored journey just waiting for you to take the first step, and then continue at your convenience.

Some books are more potentially exciting than others, especially for kids. And in terms of excitement value for kids, dictionaries probably rank in a category alongside textbooks and phone books near the bottom of that list. “Oh, a big book of words that can’t be updated, how cool is that?” they may think sarcastically. “It will make for a perfect stand to prop up my monitor so I can more efficiently Google definitions without hurting my neck. Thanks!”

However, that doesn’t mean that giving a kid a dictionary is a pointless exercise in futility. There is real value to instilling a love of books in children, and that is why the Warwick Rotary Club’s dictionary gifting program – which on Wednesday just handed out 734 dictionaries to all third-grade students in public and parochial schools – is such a valuable, heartwarming program.

It has been long proven that reading promotes positive educational practices and social behavior in children, starting as young as infancy before they can even read the words on the page. It gets neurons to fire in a way that will benefit the child going forward and build upon itself. And once a child has a thirst for more knowledge, reading becomes an enjoyable activity.

This exploration can even come in the form of a dictionary. Outside of simply learning more words and helping children discover new, more complex ways to communicate with their peers and the world around them – which will provide them advantages in school and once they enter the job market – the dictionaries provided by the Rotary Club (“A Student’s Dictionary”) also contain a bounty of incredibly fascinating tidbits, from information on the planets in the Solar System to demographics of every country on Earth to the American Sign Language alphabet.

While nobody would contend that a single book can outmatch the breadth of knowledge available on the internet, there is something uniquely affecting about learning something from a paper book – something that almost makes that information seem, though it can be obtained elsewhere, more important, more permanent, even more influential.

You could contend there is a difference, especially for a curious child, between Googling the answer to any random question they have and stumbling across a neat fact in a paper book while they didn’t expect to find that information. It can potentially inspire more curiosity on a wide range of topics.

It is easy to take the simple book for granted, but it has been the sole delivery system for the entirety of mankind’s knowledge since the ancient Sumerians began marking down trade transactions on wet clay tablets with river reeds. New technologies can improve the availability of knowledge, but the power of a physical book remains as important today as it was in any past age.

Kudos to the Rotary Club for continuing to see the benefit of their dictionary program, and for helping spread the importance of developing the ancient skill of interpreting the written word.

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