I have been asked several times by parents regarding books and reading habits in children. I thought of compiling all those questions to answer them on a public platform so as to benefit all others who might have similar queries.
Qs. Why read? Is reading really important? Isn’t what they read in school more than enough?
Yes, reading is the most essential thing in childhood. Books are like nutrition to the mind. When the child’s stomach is empty, he cries. His cry is an alarm to give him food for his body. But what about his mind? What food do you give to his mind? Do you ever worry what all goes into his mind? Empty stomach growls but an empty mind just shrivels silently. You worry about junk food but do you ever consider what junk his mind imbibes? This is where books come into play. And not just books, but well researched books that can enhance imagination and critical thinking skills. I always tell parents, books are to the mind what food is to the body.
Reading from young age enhances the child’s awareness, widens his perspective and evolves him into a creative and active thinking individual. Reading develops the pictorial representations of our brain which is one of the most effective memory methods. Most avid readers have good memories, because they know the trick of converting hundreds of words into a picture. This kind of neural pathways develop early in childhood.
No, reading in school is not sufficient. Its just enough to be called a literate person, but not enough to open the wider horizons in the child’d mind. So, to answer your question, it is imperative that you supply them with lots of books at home to enhance his mind’s eyes, to increase his vocabulary, to fill his bucket with endless ideas and to give him a stress buster lifeline.
Qs. How can I make my toddler fall into the habit of reading books?
Here are some tips I can give you that may help you in building your child’s reading habit for a lifetime:
- Read aloud picture books.
- Point towards pictures while reading about that character. Point towards sight words like ‘and’, ‘the’, ‘you’. This way the child can know these words even before knowing their spellings. Children have excellent pictorial memory.
- Children like listening to same story again and again. Indulge them. This is their way of reinforcing interesting stories.
- Talk about the book you read in form of discussion questions. Children love branching out their own stories from the original. Encourage this behavior; it enhances creativity.
- Choosing books- Try Counting books, Alphabet books, Wordless books, Animal books, pop-up books, cloth books and books on family and friends.
- Most importantly, have your child sit close to you while reading the book.
- Reading Together and Reading Aloud are important rituals if your child is 1-7 years old. Yes, read aloud books to your toddlers, even before they can start reading. With a single activity of Reading Together or Reading Aloud, your bond with your child and the child’s bond with books will be enhanced.
- Children have excellent picture memory. If you start reading to them in earlier years, this kind of memory develops well. Also children have an innate comprehending power. They will comprehend from your voice modulations and expressions.
Qs. Why is my child not fond of books? How can I make him fall in love with books?
He doesn’t like books because he equates books with studies, something he is forced to do. And have you ever wondered, why he doesn’t like to study? Because that’s a process that judges him. And who wants to be judged unless he is winning all the time!
You need to make books available to the child.Keep books at his eye level and not stocked into almirahs. You can simply keep stacks of books on the floor. Have you ever wondered why your child wants to play all the time? Because playing is an enjoyable activity! So make reading a pleasurable activity, and not a chore!
Take him to bookshops and fix a budget. Let the child buy whichever book he wants. Take him to neighbourhood library and storytelling sessions. Make reading activity a fun activity like going for movies. Not only this, you yourself need to start reading more. Be the change you want to see in your child. Actions speak louder than words. You read, your child will copy you. Sometimes, the child needs a little persuasion. Bedtime is the best part of the day to start reading together.
Qs. At what age should I introduce my child to books?
This is a million dollar question! I meet many parents (of toddlers) who look at picture books and quip- “These books are inappropriate for my child; he has not learned to read yet.”
On the other hand, parents (of 5-7 year olds) say – “My child has outgrown these picture books and I am looking for something more complex to challenge his brains.”
Unfortunately, picture books that act as bridge between budding readers and new readers, are being shunned , because either the child is too small to read on his own or too big to read them when he is grown up.
So my gentle advice to all such parents is that, picture books are to be picked up twice– once when your child is too young to read on his own, and you indulge him with read aloud sessions. And again when he is old enough to read sentences on his own. That’s the entire purpose of a picture book.
Some parents start reading even when the child is in the womb. Do you know that in Mahabharatha, Abhimanyu remembers the war strategies when he was in Subhadra’s womb? We store a lot of stuff in our sub-conscious minds that we don’t even realize. You can start reading to your child when he is in womb or by the age of 6 months when he starts sitting and fixing his gaze.
Qs. What should my child read?
There are no rules as to what your child should read. The reading level and interests differ from child to child. Please don’t force a child into a particular genre. Let the child decide and develop his interests. You as a parent, just need to provide him with lots of opportunity to play and experiment with different books.
Having said that, you can join my facebook group for general book recommendations and book deals. Please feel free to consult me for further advice. Please be kind enough to drop in your views at the end of this post. Looking forward to hearing from you, and taking this further.
Disclaimer: I have written this article using the pronouns “he”, “him”. It has nothing to do with gender bias. It is purely for the ease of convenience. Next time I might use only the pronouns related to feminine gender. Just want to put a point across that using them exclusively doesn’t make one either regressive or a feminist.