“Just hearing the word ‘book’ makes me sleepy. Reading is such a non-exciting and boring activity to do, sitting in one place like a dead person, cut-off from the world around you. Absolutely disgusting!” – said a non-reader.
“Indeed. Reading a book can put one to sleep. It is bland and anti-social an activity to do. Rather awful!”- replied a reader.
Puzzled by the above lines? (Though you will have a tough time finding any reader with that opinion but, for a while, just take it as said.)
Both the reader and the non-reader shared the same opinion, but they still sound different, and one out of them sounds better, right? There is no magic behind it, but the edge of ‘vocabulary’ and ‘self-expression’ that one has. Both said the same thing, but the way of expression was different. It is just that the ‘reader’ has a better way of communicating her views than a non-reader. This highlights the significant benefit of book reading, and that is enriched vocabulary and exceptional self-expression.
That’s the magic of reading! It helps us improve in many ways than we tend to count, pretty much like homoeopathy- working naturally in the background, on the fundamental belief that with a little boost, the body can heal (learn a lot- in the case of books) on its own!
There are terms like sincere, nerd, and studious, which are usually used to describe inquisitive people, eager to find answers for their questions, caringly passionate about what they do or how they do. But the whole narrative around the same has changed since the last two decades, as the world has witnessed the greatest of innovations, art, and entertainment coming from people who had a few qualities in common.
Earlier, these things were considered anti-social, but people are now beginning to realize that these qualities are crucial for learning and development. They believe that nothing is wrong to be like this when one is spending that time productively reading and learning. Other benefits, such as improvement in one’s knowledge base, development of critical thinking, boost in one’s confidence level while putting mind and time in reading and exploring, have brought a significant shift in perception.
Book reading is a promising hard skill to have. And like any other skill, it cannot be mastered in a day. For children, reading is one of the important skills to have to be successful in life. Making ‘book reading’ a ritual is essential because it stimulates the imaginative and creative sensory of the child’s brain because there are no visuals to manipulate the narrative to the content they are consuming. The greatest merit all children enjoy is ‘curiosity’. They are new to everything and keen on discovering, learning, and engaging with anything new; they don’t hesitate to skim through the books, take a pause to glance at the pictures, ask questions that stand out to them.
Also, children don’t have any preconceived notion about anything; this is also why they grasp things quickly and retain them for a long time. You tell kids Santa Claus is real, they will believe it, you tell them ‘XYZ’ is wrong, they will believe it, you tell them reading a book will help you they will believe it. There will definitely be follow-up questions, but they have these questions because they are trying ‘to understand’. These questions are helping their brain to develop a sensory perception.
Introducing children to book reading can be tricky because they have a short attention span, and they keep steering from one thing or activity to another really fast. Sometimes the book or story is not over, and they would unwaveringly be unwilling to join you through the story till the end. And that’s OK! Keep it child-led, even when it comes to the book selection; however, guide them with age-appropriate books.
So, it becomes vital that reading is inculcated in a way that doesn’t look enforced on them. Because if it does, there is no chance in hell they will do it. Plus, they don’t know anything like adherence, so parents’ mindfulness in making the reading experience enjoyable and meaningful plays a vital role. We are helping them develop a positive relationship with BOOKS.
Now, when to introduce books to children?
Parents can begin reading books to the little ones when they are as young as 3 to 5 months’ infants. Because their receptive senses are active by this age, they can respond and recognize the sound, touch, and objects around them. Reading to them will make them alert; their attention would mainly be on the narrator’s face and her gestures or on the vibrant colours, and patterns in the book.
Keep a place just for books. The books can be about anything; the goal here is to let the toddlers become aware of what a book is. When the infants are 9 to 10 months young, by now, they hold things with a better grip, walk towards things that intrigue them, sit and explore them. There is no chance, an infant to find something new at the corner of the room and not approach it. They will pick it up, or sit on it, chew, or tear the pages while trying to flip them; they will try every possible way to get to know ‘the book’– the introduction of what a book is- done, perfectly done to a toddler by herself!
Children 1- or 2-years young are learning to communicate. They surely understand what is said to them; maybe they can’t reply as they don’t know any words yet or have just begun joining two words to respond. Surprisingly, studies have shown that people who are bilingual or multilingual have command over different languages because they had a bilingual or multilingual family or environment that led a child to pick up different languages naturally rather than taking classes to learn the languages. Children have brain fresh as a clean slate absorbing anything and everything, which means their brain efficiency and receptive ability, is high. It must be channeled into use wisely, ideally by reading books and stories to them, talking to them about things they like and dislike. Don’t worry whether they understand everything or not, but as long as parent-children both are having a fun time together, that’s more than enough to set the ground for grooming. And the process of making sense of things is already in function, so stay calm and enjoy the reading treat together.
Once the children are 5 or 6 years or above, they probably by now have learned to do lots of activities independently, such as walking, eating, communicating; some may even have begun reading on their own. At this age, book reading can be made even more engaging. Help them predict the story by asking them to describe the book cover and the pictures between the pages. Involve them also in reading the book a sentence or two in between, keep the fingers running on the words while reading as they’ll learn how ‘the words and sentences’ are read, spelt, and pronounced. Conduct small plays to make the story come alive, create storyboards, ask questions, allow them to narrate the stories, ask them ‘what-if’ questions. And don’t forget to ask their views on the book. All of this would spark interest and enable them to ‘choose and decide’ books themselves eventually and not just tag along with everyone’s likes and dislikes.
The whole idea is to not let the hustle die and make book reading an everyday ceremonial ritual to ensure the child remains inquisitive, imaginative and curious explorers growing up. Book reading can be lethargic when the mind is not into it. And scientifically, it is said that some things to become a muscle memory or doing something without giving much attention to it, at first requires conscious, constant practice. In other words, when you are young and have just learned how to walk, from getting up to taking a step and navigating the path, everything is consciously done. But when an adult, you don’t give much thought before walking because the mind is aware and well trained to perform the task. It happened because the intrinsic motivation to get better at taking every step of the way was there as a child.
The childhood period- introducing books as early as 3-5 months young- is the best time to start instilling the relationship with books and inculcating the habit of reading, done with a sense of ceremony and purpose. It is basically gaining so much at no fear of losing anything. Yes, finding an intent on the internet is easier and convenient. But it narrows the scope of getting more information in abundance. And being fond of books doesn’t have to be to boycott the technology; it is to completely be aware of it and enjoy it, but still not give up on one of a human’s old friends, a book.
Books are a lot more sorted than the internet. And peaceful, and enriching, and feels a lot more personal. As Mark Haddon said, “Reading is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well”. And it can be everything to ask for, sometimes. So, don’t let your child miss such a great thing—a book.
Enjoy the sweet treat of reading with your little one and help her make book reading a part of practice! Happy parenting while reading!