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Values & Education

Fostering The Reading Habit

Magazines, books or just newspapers – these are something we have grown up with. With children nowadays, it takes a bit of effort to introduce them to the sheer pleasure of reading a book because they have many different gadgets that demand their attention.

Fostering The Reading Habit - Teach Kids To Read

This world of ours is fast turning electronic at such a dizzying pace that the current generation is, unfortunately, fast in the process of losing out on the sheer pleasure of reading an actual book, a paper book. When travelling, I do resort to reading books on my Kindle but there is no dispute to the fact that reading a book with an actual book in hand is a different kind of pleasure altogether. A Kindle, though very convenient in terms of size, can’t quite come close.

If I were to go back to my childhood days, I would say my love for stories and reading started at a very early age when my father used to read me stories. Stories have this immense power to stimulate imagination and in doing that, they have the ability to make the reader imagine different worlds and create some of their own. But then, there has to be a start somewhere. My father used to read me stories from a wide range of books and magazines and this had turned into a ritual of sorts, every single night. I still remember that feeling of sheer joy when the issues of Chandamama, Tinkle and Target used to be delivered by the postman at our doorstep.

For both, my husband and I, books have always been an integral part of our lives. When we had Macadamia and Pecan, we did realize that a love for reading is not something that simply gets handed down, generation after generation. Simply put, there is more to creating “little readers” than just the genes that they are endowed with, by nature, and born with.

My strong belief lies in the premise that even with reading, as with many other things, home is where it all begins. As parents, do we not teach children to walk, to talk, to eat, to dress themselves? So why should it be any different with inculcating a love for reading? I remember reading lots of books to Macadamia right from the time she was a little baby. She used to love the colours in the books, she used to love getting a feel of the books. Reading to her at bedtime was one of those treasured habits and it was a time we used to love. It proved to be a lovely way to wind down the day too. With Pecan, he had been listening to stories being read even before he was born. This little nightly reading habit soon became a tradition in our home and it was one we all loved.

Slowly, as they grew, Macadamia and Pecan learnt to handle books by themselves. It first started off with board books and small words. It started off with teaching them the initial sounds of letters and alphabets and then teaching them to put those together to form a word. Some words were simple and some not. Over time, they started reading fluently. What really made a difference was the fact that they read because they loved to read, not because they were obligated to read. In creating little readers, this is one aspect that I think is very important. We, as parents, need to work more towards getting children to love reading books. Children need to read for the love of reading and not because they are being forced into reading books.

It is always better to take books at the child’s pace and not our own. It is good to stop at each page, let the child absorb the pictures, the colour schemes, the textures too (some baby books provide different textures to stimulate the sense of touch) as this vivid tapestry stimulates their imagination rather than get them to concentrate just on the text alone. Many a times, pictures get children all animated, they talk more about the book, about the story, the characters and this helps in increasing their vocabulary.

Pausing and reading to them slowly, whilst explaining to them the finer aspects of the story and the book on each page, also ensures that their comprehension skills get honed and sharp. Comprehension is just as important as reading skills. If a child does not quite understand the concept or the underlying theme or the moral in a story, there is no real point in racing through a book, is there ? Learning to read does come first but what is equally important is teaching children reading to learn.

Helping children develop reading skills is important because reading is the basic foundation for learning. Children who are good readers do, more often than not, get off to a good start at school and this, in turn, feeds and boosts their confidence levels. This turns into one of those cycles that simply feed and lead from one good thing to another. Good readers are more confident at tackling books at school, both in terms of reading and comprehension. Once that bond with books is formed, this relationship often lasts for a lifetime.

Often, when reading with children or while selecting books for children to read, we, as parents tend to choose books which we feel they should be reading. While this is applicable to a certain extent, it is always better, within reasonable limits, to get children books on topics that interest them. When they are very little, they would be more inclined towards more colourful books with a funny theme. But as they grow, their tastes get clearer and it often is a good idea to let them read what interests them. Pecan, for example, used to read and thrive on just non-fiction and trivia books, until recently. Over the past year, he has forayed into the world of fiction books and is enjoying reading fiction now. Had we forced him into reading fiction when he wasn’t ready for it, I sincerely doubt if he’d have enjoyed fiction books as much as he does now, when he is reading them on his own accord. While we did stress on the importance of reading fiction books too, all along, he had complete freedom in choosing books from the library or the bookshop. Just as our reading tastes change, theirs do too, as they grow.

Books are also a good medium in helping little children cope with events that would bring about changes in their routines. For example, having another baby in the house or moving houses etc. In these situations, books and related stories go a long way in helping them cope with the new feelings that they are faced with and with fears arising from these new situations as well.

Most importantly, the one thing that books consistently do is stir, induce and inspire a child’s imagination. This is an element that is so very essential to a child’s all round development, imagination being the very beginning of a child’s concept of abstract thought. Books also encourage children to imagine worlds other than our own, they encourage them to imagine a totally different world and then fill that blank canvass in, with colours of their own. Imagination and pretend play (both of which, books encourage children to do) also go a long way in helping them conquer their fears in many different situations. Many a child has been helped by books in quelling those monsters that have lived under their beds .

Like someone once said,

“TV. If kids are entertained by two letters, imagine the fun they will have with twenty six. Open your child’s imagination. Open a book.”

Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full-time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten-year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity