A few weeks ago, my friend Mehak’s son was invited to an eight-year-old girl’s birthday party. Mehak shares my love of books and the natural consequence of this love is that our first choice for gifting is always a book. She got 1001 Stories for Growing up Girls for her son to gift to the birthday girl. Later that night, Mehak received a text message from the girl’s mother saying that although the gift was wonderful but her daughter is “not into reading”. She added that she had bought her daughter a lot of books but she never took a liking to it. This incident left Mehak and me wondering what we could do to get children to enjoy reading.
Here’s my view on this subject. First, we need to convince parents of the benefits of reading for their child. If your child isn’t showing an interest in reading, you should consider the following reasons to get him to take up reading
- It helps build your child’s vocabulary and develops his language skills so that he is able to read, write and speak better.
- It improves focus. Reading requires children to sit quietly for a fairly long period of time, trying to concentrate on the story they are reading. The more they read, the better their concentration levels.
- Reading fuels your little one’s imagination. When children read about various concepts, characters, places and situations, they visualise the same in their imagination—just like adults do, only better! With practice, they get better at visualisation, which is a great creativity booster.
- Reading enables a child to excel in academics as it leads to a higher aptitude for learning. Studies prove that students who have been exposed to reading since preschool are more likely to do well academically. This happens because kids who are exposed to reading don’t have to struggle with comprehending words and sentences and can therefore easily focus on subjects like maths and science and grasp them better.
- Reading inculcates compassion and empathy in children by making them aware of the differences in this world. In real life, a child’s interaction is limited to people belonging mostly to similar socio-economic strata and having somewhat similar perspectives, thinking processes and issues. Reading exposes the child to a plethora of ways of living, different perspectives, thought processes and issues unknown to her. This contributes to her having a healthy and balanced outlook towards life.
- Reading can be a great way for children to keep boredom away. Whether it is visiting relatives’ places, waiting for a doctor’s appointment or attending weddings they are least interested in, all they need is a paperback and they are sorted. The happy side effect of this love of reading is that your child will be less drawn to TV and other gadgets which, according to emerging research, do no good leaving the mind numb and stressed with constant movement, flashing lights and bombardment of violent images and sound.
Ask questions and discuss the story, the characters and the illustrations with the child
What more can parents do besides buying good books for their children?
- Children learn their early life lessons by emulating their parents. So be a worthy role model to them. If your child sees you reading often and enjoying it, she will start to think of it as a pleasurable experience.
- A child is never too young to be introduced to books. For babies, there are board books and cloth books available which do not get damaged or torn with rough handling. Then there are “Touch and Feel” books to expose babies to different textures and patterns. For toddlers and preschoolers, one can begin read aloud sessions with the books of their interests. For my car and truck crazy son, I began with books about cars and trucks and then graduated him to books on other means of transportation.
- The first five years of a child’s life are crucial for development. Start by reading aloud to them for about 20 minutes everyday, preferably at a fixed time when both you and the child are in a relaxed state. Ask questions and discuss the story, the characters and the illustrations with the child.
- If your child repeatedly asks you to read the same book to him or her, always oblige. Do not suggest a new book if the child wants the same old book to be read. We may feel that it is getting monotonous but the child is learning something new from it with each reading. You can infuse a bit of creativity by reading the dialogues of the characters in different voice pitches each time. One may also be surprised how many different interpretations a child can come up with every time the same book is read.
- Continue reading aloud to your children even after they start reading independently as children love the relaxed and cosy feeling of their parents reading to them. This keeps their interest in reading alive.
- Support the child’s early literacy needs by making them join phonics classes which lay emphasis on sound recognition and blending letter sounds for reading words instead of the traditional “look, memorise and read” method. The techniques adopted in such classes comprise of learning through audio/visual techniques, fun games and related activities. It is about making learning fun.
- Get a library membership for your child and visit it regularly with him. Let your child choose the books himself.
- While buying books online is great, especially for the discounts, make it a point to visit bookstores with your children once in a while so that they are surrounded by books and in the midst of other book lovers.
- Take your child to storytelling sessions and literary activities organised by bookstores or libraries. Subscribe to booklists to discover relevant reads for their age group and reading levels. There are many online communities which offer such booklists.
- Discuss with your children what you are reading [of course it has to be age appropriate]—doing so creates a reading environment at home.
How the story-telling ritual helps your child’s development
The best gift you can give to your child is the life-long love for reading. The only important requirement is to view it as pleasure rather than a chore.
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