Shelagh Robinson Mirror Read Blog 38: Smiling at Ourselves

I’m reading in mirrors with kids all the time, so I like to mix it up a bit. Nothing like a few red dots on faces to inspire lively learning… It’s all part of the game of hanging out in reflections – and a classic test of self-recognition in Psychology that any parent can try.

At Mirror Readings, we sit facing large looking-glasses, where stories printed in reverse text are easily decoded. Before I begin, I will sometimes put a small red smudge* on a child’s nose or chin without them realizing, just to see what will happen.

According to theory, if they notice the mark and try touch it, they recognize that the face in the reflection is theirs – a key cognitive milestone generally achieved by 18-24 months. If they don’t notice the smudge, the child may not yet possess self-awareness, or the capacity to recognize themself from another person’s perspective. That’s when the fun begins: Playing in mirrors increases opportunities for self-recognition to occur.

Sooner than later, a red-smudged child will catch their own eye and notice the mark on their face. I don’t always have a camera around to catch the results, but when I do, what I capture is very sweet (like this little guy).  It’s rare to see such confusion and curiosity followed by silly grins and self-admiring gazing. My own mirror neurons get a little activated every time: I always beam back.

What’s the bigger picture?
Engagement, acknowledgment and silliness, are common outcomes at Mirror Readings. These are precisely the conditions that experts encourage to develop key skills like joint attention, mutual gaze, social imitation, language acquisition, and theory of mind. We create positive learning experiences with play, indirectly, through the medium of mirrors.

When faces are framed by a mirror, children easily watch as adults read the story, and can lip-read, and copy their funny facial expressions. Adults are able to directly observe children’s efforts at decoding, gently help them over hurdles, and offer encouraging looks. And that’s just the beginning…

Mirror Readings are not just fun for kids: Adults never know what sorts of adventures they may have when they play in reflections. It can lead to all sorts of unexpected lessons in perspective. Left and right mean very different things depending on your point of view, and mirrors are famous for twisting the familiar into the peculiar. Even grown-ups can get turned around.

Whatever your age, next time you try mirror reading:
– Can you spot the mystical transformations in upper and lower case text?
- What magical letters reflect only themselves?
- Are you able to trace the secrets of “S” on a paper, looking in the reflection only – not at your hand? Even experienced readers and writers find this a challenging task.

Ultimately, for me, enjoying books in reflections is all about connections, and reading with kids, not just to them. The mirror interaction is an amazing experience – one I really miss when asked to read side-by-side books. I’m tempted to hold them up to reflections to make them more interactive, but even I can’t comfortably read the classics in reverse.
I wonder if famous authors could be persuaded to produce their works in mirror text?

Rowlings? Sendak? Bridwell? Let me know.

In the meantime, if You have any stories or graphic novels that you would like to see in reverse, please connect:  We’ve become the world’s leading publisher in this niche, and are looking for new content for our reading programs.
* using a non-permanent, non-toxic ink, with parental approval : )

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