Many parents and educators consider comics to be a less desirable use of our children’s time. Often maligned as trashy or a waste of brain space, in truth, reading comics benefits our children in many ways - some of which are related to heightened reading ability and comprehension.
Comics is a visual art consisting of picture grids that show a story expressed in the order of the pictures and thus sometimes referred to as "sequential art."
It plays an important role in the relationship between pure visual art and written literature and can be said to be the oldest writing communication tool for human beings. If you look at ancient artifacts from China and Egypt, you can see how this was true.
While we do not suggest your children ONLY read comics - and of course, only age-appropriate content, using your kids’ innate attraction to comics can be a very “sneaky” way to help your child level up their Chinese (and English) reading abilities.
Let’s delve into how sequential art works in our brains (and thus the brains of our children).
The relationship between comic strips and brain development
Comics clearly shows the successive causal relationship between images and text and helps form a vivid map in the brain. Just as we use image coding to reorganize and process our memories during dreaming, when we read comics, it helps us understand and construct new causality concepts through imaginative reorganization. The cognitive development of this brain activity on the brain is even more pronounced among children.
The relationship between pictures and films and words
There are big differences between reading a graphic novel and watching a movie. When watching films, our brains are more passive. The director and actors already interpret the script (text) so our imagination is restricted. The images, movement, sound, and story are pre-packaged for our easy consumption.
But when we enter the world of sequential art, everything is alive: your inner voice is responsible for reading the text and you directly assume all the roles, even the narrator. You are like a director who rules a team of actors and directs them to ride on the stage in your mind. At the same time, your eyes can freely swim on the paper before and after, and repeat the one-page portrait as you like.
The line blurs between what happens on paper and our brains. In this way, as a reader, we can get a gripping experience, and reading a comic book becomes an entertaining personal experience.
Comic strip and language development
The brains of pre-adolescent children are very active in mapping but if they don’t actively develop and practice visual art, the ability will gradually degenerate and disappear.
Of course, the role of sequential art in the language development area of the brain has yet to be studied, but many experiments show people who are good at visual art also have a high level of language development.
How Comics Increases Children’s Reading Abilities
Keeping in mind the above concepts, we can easily see how comics can be a really beneficial way to increase our children’s Chinese reading comprehension and abilities. Let’s take a look at some patterns we find in children:
1. Interesting and easy reading can lead to more serious, formal reading
While it may seem unbearably far off, complex books and plotlines are not usually an easy entry-point for children as they are still developing their reading skills. Since comics contain fun pictures and a lot fewer Chinese characters, it is a lot less intimidating for your children to pick up and try.
Once your child sees that the stories are funny, exciting, and interesting, they will want to read more. The more they read Chinese characters (and use the pictures to guess characters for words they can’t recognize), the more their Chinese will improve - sometimes high enough to read more advanced Chinese books.
2. Children who read a lot of comic books read in higher volumes
Truthfully, it doesn’t much matter what your children are reading as long as they are reading. Regardless of format, the more your children read and level-up their character recognition, the more they will read in general.
Reading books become habit and if it truly bothers you, you can always slowly substitute comics with books that have fewer pictures and more text. There are many Chinese bridge books that have a combination of pictures with longer chapters that can gradually replace comics.
3. Reading comics can improve the overall interest of reading
Just like you probably become more interested in doing things if you like the subject, graphic novels show your child that there are exciting worlds in books. These early experiences with complicated storylines, imagination, and visualizing what the text represents will help your kids make the intellectual leap that reading in general is fun.
4. Building confidence and deepen interest
Reading graphic novels can improve children's confidence in autonomous reading, boost self-esteem, and deepen interest in subjects and reading in general.
As we mentioned earlier, because comics include both pictures and text, if your child cannot read every single character, they still can figure out the gist of the story - and perhaps guess the Chinese characters - based on the illustrations alone. The more they practice and succeed at reading these “easier” books, the more they will believe that they can read more complicated books.
Competence breeds confidence.
5. Build vocabulary and expand subjects of interest
Children can acquire more advanced vocabulary, new terms, and subjects of interest from reading comics.
If your child is deeply intrigued by the comics, then they will quickly decode the terms they do not currently understand. Whether they stop and look up words, ask you, or just skip over and guess from context, this process builds new connections in their brains and increases their Chinese reading comprehension.
Has your child ever surprised you with just how much they figured out from context? The same concept applies as their desire to decipher the story supercedes their desire to be lazy.