Doubtless, reading has many benefits. Educators, psychologists and behavioural scientists all underline its importance. But one finds that children are increasingly addicted to lighted screens. Given the different ill-effects of being glued to the screen it is our job to get children away from them. But as a parent how do you get your child to read? Here are some tried and tested methods. The one thing to keep in mind is that it requires constant and consistent efforts through the years.
Parents can start introducing their baby to books from as early as they like. Be sure to buy books which are very colourful and are made of durable material like cardboard or washable cloth. Even if your child does not understand a word hold her in your arms and read from the book and point to the pictures. She will enjoy the warmth of your arms and the lilt of your voice and the colours in the pictures. Not just that she comes to associate books and reading subconsciously with parental love. She would also want to hold them when she is ready and turn them over and utter what she thinks are the sounds that you speak. Sometimes she would think the books are edible and are to be chewed in a very literal sense. So be sure they are made of safe materials. Reading to infants is a great way to start.
Toddlers do maddeningly repetitive things. So be prepared to read the same story hundreds of times and even minor variations which you thought would bring variety to the monotony are not easily forgiven. Read to them anyway. Choose stories that are cyclical. Like the kind where the characters do repetitive things. Also choose stories that have characters that are easily identifiable and are familiar to your toddler. Modulate your voice and try acting out parts of the story. Also read stories that are funny and have lots of laughter in them. Feels like you have read the same story a hundred thousand times and are falling asleep mid-sentence? Hang on; you’re actually making great progress.
By this time your child will be able to recognize sight words and letters associated with certain sounds. Still stick on to your routine of reading to your child. Choose books with characters they can relate to and those that have large and colourful illustrations. Also choose books from different cultures so that your child recognizes that there are people from different languages and cultures in this world. Choose stories that have counting and rhymes and songs. Stories that talk about real life situations like going to school, or making friends, or the arrival of a new sibling. These are a great way to prepare a child for these events.
School Going Children
Once your child is able to read on her own help her choose books to read. Remember to only be a guide and not to impose your tastes on the child. You could join the local library. That would be a huge way of enhancing the number of books the child reads. It’s important that at this stage the child gets to browse through books. Going through books in your local library and deciding what to read is a great way to spend quality time with your child. Be sure to skim through what your child is reading and always be ready to discuss doubts about words, actions of characters and stories themselves with your child.
Increasingly, the above word is used only in relation to the internet. But looking through a collection of books is what I have in mind. Going to a book store or library and browsing through the books is also an important factor that leads to the development of a child into a committed reader. It is the physical experience smelling new books, (they do smell divine) rifling through the pages, reading blurbs and introductions and deciding whether a book is worth buying or borrowing that contributes to the pleasure of reading. It is akin to opening doors to secret new worlds and deciding which one of them to enter.
If you find that in spite of your efforts the child is reluctant to read, don’t give up. Here are some more ways to induce bigger children to read. You can try them.
A Tale Half Told
If you find your child is willing to listen to stories that you narrate or read out but is unwilling to read on her own you can try this technique. Start telling a story that has some mystery or suspense to it. Then stop it midway at a particularly intriguing point and pretend that you will not be able to tell the remaining part of the story that day. Then make sure that you leave the book lying around in a very accessible and visible way. Nine times on ten your child will pick up the book and try to find out what happens next in the story. The desire to know what happens next is a very powerful motive. Even seasoned editors are known to fall for it.
Tweens/Teens or Even Later
Let’s imagine that in spite of your efforts your child still has not developed the reading habit. Many parents would now give up considering that it is too late. I beg to disagree. I know of many children who got hooked to reading in their late teens or even early twenties (though you would probably not call them children anymore). A particularly effective technique with tweens and teens is to get their interest by exploiting their thirst for doing something rebellious. Leave a book that you would like your child to read but pretend that it is something you don’t really approve of. This will make sure that the book is read on the sly. Continue doing this for a few books till the habit is established. Then you can discuss with your child what she is reading and why it is interesting or good or otherwise.
I have met many children who would not take to fiction. Maybe some of us have our brains hardwired that way. We simply do not enjoy fiction. There is no ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Such children have a wide variety of options to choose from. Some of the categories for such children are sports, history, amazing and fun facts about places, travel, popular science, riddles, mysterious places on earth and space. The list is endless. And nowadays you find an engaging variety of books in each of these genres.
We all know the hazards of electronic devices. But there’s no wishing them away. As a parent you have to adopt a practicable policy towards such devices. The best way is to vary the devices on which your kid reads. Keeping to traditional print books is an absolute must when they are small. But you can consider e-readers for teens and young adults. Of course you will need to take all the necessary precautions before exposing your child to a device.
E-readers are a good option as they have a child lock and this allows you to monitor or limit the content your child reads. Not only that, with their built-in font and brightness adjustments they are easier on the eye. Not just that, there are some truly amazing e-books out there that are just too good to miss out on.
Many parents insist that when a child comes across a new word she should stop what she is reading and consult a dictionary. There is no surer way of discouraging a budding reader. For one it stops the flow of the story and often the child doesn’t feel like reading after so many interruptions. Besides, it doesn’t really matter if the new word does not interfere with understanding the story. The best way to learn new words is guess their meaning from the context. What better way than reading to find the same word used in different contexts? By the time the child comes across the same word in three different contexts she would have figured out its meaning pretty accurately. Later if the child gets curious about usage and synonyms and words per se she can and no doubt will consult a dictionary on her own.
It’s also good to build a ‘book’ atmosphere in your house where there are books lying around and bookshelves are stacked neatly and attractively. You can also create reading niches. Places in the house where it is cosy to lose oneself in a book. One of my all-time favourite places to read during my annual school holidays was a kind of store room in my aunt’s house where she stacked mattresses that were not in use. I used to plonk myself down on a stack of three, bounce around a little and settle comfortably next to the window that had branches from the nearby mango tree peeping in. If I got lucky, as I did on some days, I’d surface from my book to find an inquisitive squirrel checking me out from the branches of the tree, his nose twitching from an excess of curiosity.
As a parent you must also be seen reading. It is important. If you’ve given up on the habit excusing yourself that you are crazy busy, start again. Do it for your child. And also, for yourself. If you’ve never been a great reader, start now. The benefits of reading are not limited to children alone. No matter how old you are; it is always beneficial to read. It is never too late to start.
Benefits of Reading
Reading is not just an academic skill, it is a life skill. The more you practice the better you get at it. Here are some other benefits of reading:
- It improves the reader’s vocabulary and language skills.
- Through some kind of osmosis the reader learns grammar and syntax without having to ‘study’ it consciously. Ever heard someone say, I just don’t know why but that sentence is definitely wrong? This is the reason.
- It improves the reader’s concentration and the ability to focus on a given task since the reader is required to sit quietly in one place to read! In these days of falling attention spans this is a much sought after skill.
- It reduces levels of stress.
- All of the above lead to good academic performance.
- It develops empathy and tolerance especially when you read about different people from different cultures.
- It makes a person richer. Not in material terms but in experiential ones. All of us have just this one life. Through reading we can live a thousand others.
- It lets the imagination soar.
The last point mentioned above is by far my favourite. In the ‘Cinderella’ that I read as a child there was no mention of the colour of the gown she wore to the ball. It just said that the fairy godmother conjured a beautiful gown for her. Well, I’d always pictured her wearing a gorgeous red Kanjeevaram silk gown till quite recently when this was busted by a film I watched which showed her wearing an ethereal blue! I was a little disappointed since I was rather fond of my red Kanjeevaram silk.
A film is a visual rendering of someone else’s imagination. It has its limits. There is only so much detailing and interiority that is possible. In a book there can be a million little details that add up to the whole experience. And while diving into a world created by another’s imagination, you can also let yours run wild. This particular aspect is not possible much in a film. You are limited by another’s imagination. But reading is an interaction between your imagination and the author’s. And this is what makes it unique to every person who reads it. Imagine you are reading a book that was written a thousand years ago. It is like speaking to someone who lived all that time ago. It is like travelling back in time and being able to make that magical connect.
So what are you waiting for? Get hold of that book.