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The Medium Is the Message

Last month my family spent a few days in west Michigan while my husband ran the Holland-

Haven Marathon, a 26.2 mile course stretching from Grand Haven to Holland, Michigan. The

weather was mostly perfect, allowing us to walk around town, play at the beach, and eat

outside. Our very last day, however, was marked by a gloomy hour-by-hour forecast with no

end of rain in sight, no matter how many times I refreshed the weather app on my phone

hoping for a different outcome.

What were we going to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon in a town we hardly knew? In a former life, sans children, I would have gone shopping or stayed in the king size hotel bed to read all afternoon. With kids, we gravitate toward a children’s museum, but there weren’t any nearby. Nonetheless, trying to entertain tiny humans in a hotel room for an extended period of time is a distinct form of torture for everyone involved, so getting out was imperative.

And then I had a thought. What do I do at home when it’s raining and I want to get the kids out of the house? I take the kids to the library.

Loren, my two-year-old, was ecstatic. The children’s wing was on the second floor of the library and Loren wanted to take the elevator so he could push the buttons. He enjoyed playing with new toys and watching turtles glide through the giant fish tank. Most importantly, he was able to play in an environment surrounded by books.

On this particular trip, Loren wanted to read about “diggers,” so we asked the children’s

librarian to help us find books about that subject. She led us to a designated section of

nonfiction picture books all about construction crews and vehicles. Loren reached for the books as soon as she took them off the shelf. We read about backhoes, excavators, and dump trucks. We learned about buckets and cabs, tracks, and rollers. And then Loren took off to explore a new area of the children’s wing.

In one corner of a designated play area there was a graphic on the wall: “Read for Fun Every

Day!” The phrase felt like a burst of encouragement to children and caregivers alike. As a mom of two youngsters, it also felt like a personal responsibility.

In the first chapter of Marshall McLuhan’s book Understanding Media: The Extension of Man,

he coins the phrase “The medium is the message.” If, for example, we want our children to read for fun every day then we must read to them and with them. We must personally demonstrate that reading is enjoyable, and we must create opportunities for children to do the same. The medium (i.e. the act of reading itself) is the message.

When we visited the library in Holland (the medium), the messages we were sending to our

children were: When we go on vacation to have fun, we go to the library! The library is fun.

Books are fun. Reading is fun. The beauty of the concept, “The medium is the message” is that we don’t actually have to say any of these things because the act of doing says it all.

These early memories and positive experiences are the messages that will shape and mold our children’s worldviews. If we consistently send these messages to our kids, there’s a good

chance they’ll carry the messages with them into adulthood. And in the off chance that they

don’t, you’ll still have a fun trick up your sleeve for the next rainy day.

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