The wonderful sight of a child happily curled up with a book does not come about by chance. It is the result of thoughtful parenting.
By Deepa Agarwal
As a young mother, I could not wait to introduce my daughters to books. Being an avid reader, I was eager to share the pleasures of reading with them. I started reading to them early, even before they could speak. Maybe they did not understand everything. But their delight was obvious, as we turned the pages and made new discoveries through the colourful pictures, new words and fresh experiences.
At that time a vast variety of books for pre-readers was not available. My lucky grandchildren, however, began to handle books from the time they could barely sit up. They explored touchy-feely books, squeezed pages to listen to squeaky sounds, chortled at their faces in tiny mirrors and smiled as they put their fingers through little holes. Some books became such favourites that they had to be at hand every day at meals or at bedtime. And in no time, they had memorised the words and “read” along with much satisfaction.
Truly, it is never too soon to introduce a child to the written word. The child who has handled books from infancy and listened to words connecting into sentences, is bound to become an avid reader as she/he grows older. And studies show that early readers have a head start over those not interested in books.
Which books should you begin with? Picture books with just a few words on the page along with the picture are perfect. The child will “read” the picture while you read the words aloud. Soon they will begin to recognise new, unknown objects and connect them with words, colours and sounds. Repetition of words to reinforce recognition is a must in books for both pre-readers and early readers. Rhyming words fulfill the same purpose because children love to repeat them and thus learn. Imaginative, child-friendly illustrations that widen the scope of a young one’s imagination, and board books that can withstand rough handling are the best.
We found that Sandra Boynton titles like Moo, Baa, La, La, La! and Blue Hat Green Hat were a big hit. The seamless manner in which the sounds were strung together combined with the comic pictures kept toddlers asking for more. Eric Carle’s books also have enormous appeal for pre-readers and early readers. His all-time classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar—a page-turner with vivid and unique illustrations—should be part of every child’s reading journey. Its educational value, which brings in counting, days of the week, foods and the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly is the icing on the cake. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? is another much adored Eric Carle title that introduces children to colours and animals in a very natural way.
Most parents know how useful books can be in calming a restless toddler at bedtime. Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night Moon is a classic that has become a bedtime ritual for many because of its easy pace, the rhythm of its language and the repetitive words that help to lull a child to sleep. Bedtime reading is a must, I would add, because many busy parents can spare some time to bond with their kids at night.
A toddler who has learnt to connect books with pleasurable experiences, will be raring to read on her own soon. While schools follow their own systems of teaching reading, parents can reinforce these skills by maintaining a routine at home. Nothing can equal the sense of achievement that a child feels when she/he has completed reading a whole book on their own. The Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad are some of the series that children have a lot of fun exploring. Reading becomes a game, rather than a classroom imposition. And which little one can forget the sheer delight of turning the pages of a Dr. Seuss title? From Cat in the Hat to Green Eggs and Ham they carry readers into a hilarious, colour filled world where they discover the imaginative ways in which words can be used.
These are just a few of the numerous titles that guide early readers on the happy path to reading proficiency. I well recall how my daughters enjoyed The Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik. Julia Donaldson’s many delightful books are a must on your shelf. Clifford the Red Dog will definitely find a place in your child’s heart, while the Usborne graded reading series will introduce them to world classics simplified for them.
Words and language are essential tools for learning and communication. The earlier your child acquires mastery over them, the easier will be their mastery over their lessons in school. Fluency in reading, an enhanced vocabulary, correct grammar, better spelling and writing, are all the product of an early introduction to books.
Studies prove that early reading provides excellent stimulation for the developing brain. Increased self-confidence, independence, concentration, and an improved attention span are just some of the other benefits.
The wonderful sight of a child happily curled up with a book does not come about by chance. It is the result of thoughtful parenting. And apart from parents, the whole extended family can contribute. When a kid is clamouring to listen to a story, grandparents, aunts, uncles and older siblings can all play their part.
A final word—all children will not acquire proficiency in reading at the same age. If another mother brags about the thick books her child is devouring while your little one is struggling to spell out words, take a deep breath, smile and compliment her on the little genius’s progress. But continue to work patiently with your own child. And in case you discover she/he has a learning disability, continue to read aloud to the youngster.
In due time it will pay rich dividends. Because, remember, a book lover will always be a winner!
(Author, poet and translator, Deepa Agarwal writes for both children and adults and has over 50 books to her credit. She interacts regularly with children, conducting creative writing workshops and storytelling sessions in schools.)
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