One Page at a time


One page at a time
Sudha Subramanian
Friday, November 13, 2009
CHILDREN’S DAY SPECIAL In the age of channel surfing and internet addiction, books could seem quaint and whimsical. Yet you can get your young ’uns to engage with a good book without turning them into smug readers, says Sudha Subramanian
“We hear about the importance of learning to read more often than we hear of the importance of getting excited about reading,” says Dr Simpson. Dr Simpson is the author of the book, Reading under the covers: Helping children choose books. Here are 10 ways of helping kids  to become avid readers: 

1. Start early, preferably even before your kid turns one. Books are unlike toys. They should be held upright, opened and pages have to be turned. This means that kids should be able to handle books physically. This is possible when they are 6-7 months old. Aditya got his first book when he was just 6 months young. His mother Jyothi Anand, a homoeopathic doctor who gave up her practice in Mumbai to be a full-time mom, handed him colourful books. She believes that it has helped Aditya graduate faster from baby books to children’s books. Aditya is now six years old and can read on his own.

2. Describe what you see in the book. Encourage the child to hold the book and turn the pages. Nineteen-month-old Vedanth enjoys books with pictures of animals. Vedanth’s mother, Deepa Shankar, a former nursery teacher in Bangalore, introduced Vedanth to the world of books very early. “I used to read the newspaper with him on my lap,” she says, “perhaps, that is why Vedanth took an instant liking to books.”

3. Ask children what they see in the books. Hand over a new book with their favourite animals or characters and ask them if they see some action. Movina Singh, a kindergarten teacher in a leading public school in Dubai, speaks of the need for picture conversation with children. Her school runs a special programme for children to become good readers. “Pictures fascinate children,” she says. “Pictures also help the child put thoughts into sentences.”

4. Find books with lots of pictures, and follow this up with one or two words that are repeated in the pictorial story. Children learn to recognise words because they have the amazing ability to match patterns. “Kids should be encouraged to use ‘sight words’ because, in the next reading stage, they can be taught to read some of these words by merely looking at them,” she says.

5. Children have to know that book-reading can be fun. Teach children that reading is like playing, then they will enjoy spending time with books. Michael Morpurgo, who has written more than 100 books for kids, says, “We get ourselves all hot and bothered about the teaching of reading, about synthetic phonics and the like, and we forget that none of it is much use unless children want to read in the first place.”

6. Bedtime stories are a must. You can start by narrating the story after reading it aloud. Soon, you will be asked to “only read”.

7. Practise what you preach. If you read books yourself, the child will also try to emulate you. I remember my parents reading many magazines before going to bed and I started doing the same. Even to this day, ‘bedtime stories’ is a habit that is hard to beat.

8. Explain what you are reading to your child. When I was reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, my five-year-old asked me what the book was about. You can summarise the story or the news report you are reading to pique the child’s interest in the world around him.

9. Encourage your child to read posters/banners while travelling. It should not appear that you are testing the child. Make up games that will make him read.

10. Never spell/read difficult words for the child. Ask him to try it out on his own. If he reads it differently, say he did a great job; it’s just that the words sound different.
Kids can become avid readers. They need some direction to understand that it’s fun to read.

As Michael Morpurgo puts it, “The motivation must come first…horse before cart. We all know that unless a child is motivated to learn, there will be apathy or resistance in the learning process. They are much more likely to want to deal with the difficulties of learning to read if they know it is these words that give them access to all these wonderful stories. If we really want our children to become readers for life, we would do well to remember that horses are much more fun than carts anyway.”



Lessons for parents
Friday, November 13, 2009
Most of us want our children to read. But, unless the right books are chosen, children may retreat from the whole exercise. Here’s a guide for you to help them choose wisely and well.
Picture books are great to begin with but not so great to carry on. Many of them have repetitive or rhyming words with a great story and enough clues for children to read on their own. 

Judging a book by its cover holds true in the case of young readers. Unless children are attracted by the book cover, they will not want to read the book. Choose books with their favourite characters or themes. Walker Books have some of the best pictures and stories. They are a big hit with children because of their creative characterisation and engaging story-telling style. Books like Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell or Where’s My Teddy?  by Jez Alborough can be read over and over and children love it every time.

Physical characteristics of the book matter like the book size, number of pages and print size. There are many books in the market which have good stories, but unfortunately the print size is very small. It is important to make sure that your child is reading a good print size, especially when she is able to read on her own. If the book size is too big, children may hesitate to pick it up for the fear of failure. Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, who have authored Guiding Readers and Writers, say if children find the print size too difficult to read, chances are that the book may never be read.

Does the book offer a good challenge? Every child’s reading ability varies. Teachers and parents together try to understand the reading stage the child is at and pick up books accordingly. The books should offer a challenge which the child is able to meet. If the challenge is too tough, then the child may not want to attempt it. Many books come with age recommendations.

Is the book age specific – in terms of story idea and language? If the book is either too easy or too difficult, the child may not want to continue reading. Children don’t like to read if the plot is difficult to follow or if the story is either sad or scary or even confusing. Even if you don’t read the books your kids are reading, you should know the plot as that will help you pick up books that will keep them absorbed.

Usually, kids pick up books because of the fascinating cover or interesting title. Help them know the author they are reading, so that the next time you can point out another book by the same author and help the child make a choice. Help them understand that there will be a story summary on the book jacket.

Sometimes, if the child has read a book, she would like to read the entire series. Don’t get hassled by that. It is a passing phase, so just let her enjoy the experience.
More importantly, set an example. Read books yourself and talk to kids about the books you read. Tell them why you like/don’t like a particular book. Show them your enthusiasm about books and they will be enthused themselves.


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