Reading Promotes Mindfulness


Ten toddlers sit in rapt attention every Wednesday as Chris Chaput reads them a story in the cheery back corner of Tutti Bambini clothing store. Afterwards they use colored paper and crayons to make art projects. Before they go home they will choose a book of their very own to take with them.

Wonderful partnerships for children’s literacy are forming all over the valley as more readers turn their own personal enjoyment of literature into action that benefits children.

Las Crucen, Chris Chaput has found a beautiful way to honor her mother, now 98 years old. Chris created Wednesday story time at Tutti Bambini children’s clothing store because, “My mother was a single parent who struggled and gave up a lot to get me through school. I have always wanted to give back to children and the community.”

A happy alliance between Chaput, Tutti Bambini and the Children’s Reading Alliance enriches lives through stories and creative play.  Chris and her husband Jim have built a cozy learning corner at Tutti Bambini located at 300 El Molino Blvd. There, every Wed. at 10:45 am little ones are engaged in story time and crafts activities while their parents get a 50% discount on purchases.

Tutti Bambini itself is a powerful gift of love. Sister Beth Daddio created the children’s clothing store to provide aid to children challenged by poverty and special needs. Income from sales and events are shared with other organizations to improve quality of life and enhanced opportunities for children in Dona Ana County. The store is stocked by donations of clothing, toys, books, stuffed animals and other furnishings. Through the careful and creative efforts of Jenny Segura and other volunteers, the shop is colorful and inviting with neatly displayed new and gently used items for sale.

There are other reasons that make the work of Tutti Bambini, Children’s Reading Alliance and individual efforts of people like Chris Chaput so important.

Reading and craft projects are great for building large vocabularies, developing self-confidence for learning new things as well as developing powers of mindful concentration. Reading aloud to children creates positive loving experiences that build brain health and resilience. Mindful concentration can be defined as paying attention on purpose and focusing on the present. Being mindful opens us to novelty and new information. No matter our age, or level of stress, getting lost in a book is a wonderful way to escape for a while and to practice “staying in the moment.” A story engages the mind, transports the spirit, and suggests alternatives to our current problems.

Unfortunately, not all children experience enough of these gentle moments. In fact 25% of children are exposed to so many risk factors that their cognitive and emotional well-being can be compromised for life.

Christina Bethell, a professor in Population, Family and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins University, is studying the consequences of exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Data from over fifty studies strongly suggest that an accumulation of emotional or physical neglect, abuse, household dysfunction such as alcoholism often results in a higher levels of chronic physical and mental illness and death. According to Bethell, “Ours is a social brain, and neurons that fire together, wire together. Moreover, ACEs can impact not only early brain development but also lifelong health.

In a December 2014 Health Affairs study, my colleagues and I estimated that half of all U.S. children have ACEs. Nearly a quarter have two or more. As with adult studies, our research found ACEs were linked with higher rates of health problems among kids and youth, including asthma, ADHD, depression, anxiety, obesity and autism spectrum disorders. We also found alarming negative effects on school engagement.”

With intervention these effects can be mitigated.  Harvard mindfulness researcher Ellen Langer says, “Wherever the mind is, the body will follow.” a new science of thriving is emerging that suggests that resilience specifically, and well-being overall, can be learned. Mindfulness plays a central role.  Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.” Books provide momentary escape from stress, can transport us into other worlds, and provide our imaginations with alternative ways of coping.

Reading and practicing mindfulness help unlock, integrate and heal embedded stress, interrupt harmful reactions to daily stress, open possibilities to rewire the brain and begin to heal the heart.

Which brings us back to the importance of the work being done by the staff and volunteers at Tutti Bambini. The money earned at the store is directed back into the community through organizations that serve families suffering the stresses of poverty in hopes of breaking the cycle for generations to come.