—by Jeff Tuttle, Golden Apple Fellow and Golden Apple Board Member—
I know that the metaphor of the brain is popularly now a computer, but I think of the brain as one of my wife’s tomato plants. Reaching, grasping, it does best with sunlight, water, nurturing, and a trellis. Computers you can leave in the corner, recharge, and they work. Sometimes. A tomato plant, if you do that, withers and dies. I’m the king of that – the neglectful death wither, so that is why “our” tomato plants are really my wife’s tomato plants.
I’ve learned that aside from the usual sunlight, water, and nurturing model, tomato plants also need that trellis. They cannot support their own fruit without one, and their branches get so laden they actually flop over from the weight, or break.
Our searching brains rely on the trellis of words to structure our thoughts. Words are not only the framework, but they are the expression of the fruit of the mind. Language and intellect are so intertwined as to be inextricable in the understanding of the capacity of a person. An IQ test is inevitably a test of context and comprehension of language, symbology. That is why the Sherlock Holmes reference in the title: decoding. The brain is searching for a lock to pick.
The bounds of the trellis largely define the limitations of the tomato plant. Vocabulary is connected to understanding, a better vocabulary provides that larger schemata trellis to grow upon. So where do we buy a better trellis? Yep. You know it from the title, because you, my friend, are a reader.
Reading and being read to from an early age expands vocabulary – brings words and ideas in from all around – to build a structure that the fruit of the mind can hang on. Reading is not only the sunlight, water, and trellis, but the time people take to read together is also the act of nurturing. Those shared vicarious experiences build relationships and provide opportunities to experience situations together that oftentimes are difficult to talk about in the moment they happen. Reading provides an objective perspective and builds a mutual history that can be referred to or remembered when those moments come in our own experience, and can help us prepare for things that we have not yet experienced.
Reading is the portal, other lifetimes and worlds made available at the opening of the door that is that cover. Walking through it together with your child sets a pattern that will serve them for their entire life, and builds a history together that goes farther than any amount of time or travel could allow. It is the only way to spend more than a lifetime with the people you love.