Mrs. Anne Dayanandan, is an educationist, a founder member and was a correspondent of Campus School(MCC college-Tambaram)India.
Mrs Anne Dayanandan’s article on “Born to Read” is very informative, interesting and practical and it is a must read for every parent and teachers, interacting with primary school children. We request you all to circulate this article to all deserving parents and teachers.
BORN TO READ
Indian Review of Books
16 Oct 2000 – 15 Nov 2000
By Anne M. Dayanandan
A new father was chatting with a more experienced father at the office where they worked. ‘I’m planning to start reading books to my daughter as soon as she is ready,’ he confided in his colleague. ‘And how old is your daughter now?’ She is just completing six months,’ the proud father replied. ‘Well, I’d say you have missed a few good months already,’ the experienced father said. ‘Don’t wait another day, start reading to her tonight.’
‘The Sooner the Better?’
Are these fathers serious? How can they think of reading books to infants? Are they pressuring their children before they are ready? Are they completely ‘jumping the gun’?
We do seem to suffer from a malady that fits the phrase ‘the sooner the better’, when it comes to child development. Children develop at their own pace, along a broadly defined pathway. Forcing them to do things too soon, such as writing, does not help their development and can lead to aversions.
But reading books with children cannot start too soon. Reading a book out loud to a child, looking at the pictures together, playing games with the pictures; these activities don’t ask the child to read, just to look and enjoy, listen and interact. Older children and adults reading aloud to younger children can only benefit everyone.
Fine, you say. Read to children. Read to children who can talk, or can hold a book. But infants? Read to babies who aren’t even a year old yet? They can’t even understand what you’re saying!
Reader for Life
A friend of mine was given a small-sized book with simple pictures and textures when her first child was born. She never planned it, but because she didn’t really have many toys for him, she read this small book to him when he was just two months old. She turned the words into a singsong rhythm, and the baby responded. She responded to him, letting him lead the way, so to speak. Pretty soon she was reading several different books, every day, by popular demand. One day, before the infant could even really crawl, she saw him looking at two little piles on the floor: one was books, and the other, toys. He looked back and forth, obviously trying to make a choice! He pulled himself straight toward the pile of books, proceeded to open the book, and started looking at it on his own. As he grew, both mother and father continued to read books to their son, and it became one of their favorite interactions. This child started reading on his own before he completed three years. He continued to read throughout his school years, and reads everything fast, with comprehension and with enjoyment. He is a reader for life.
We are learning more all the time about how the human brain develops and functions. We know that the first nine months in utero plus the first three years of a person’s life are when the most significant brain development occurs. The more the stimulation (of a positive nature), the more nerve synapses are formed or activated. Within the first few months, the experiences of a child build the capacity of the brain more than twenty times over the capacity at birth. Parents and other care-givers naturally talk with, sing, and play with their children. The more the infant is stimulated, the more she responds. And the more she responds, the more others are inspired to play with her.
Children learn so much, so fast, during their first few years, and grow faster than they ever will for the rest of their lives. They are learning ‘machines’: moving, cruising, exploring and interpreting the world around them at an amazing rate. The more they experience, the more they are capable of experiencing and learning. We cannot and must not stop them from learning, and we sure can help them learn better and more. But read books? Can an infant focus on the page? Can an infant see or recognize what is pictured?
Sound and Light Show
When the topic is speech development, we don’t seem to have these reservations. Do we wait to speak to our babies until they can understand and talk with us? How do infants develop speech? By imitation, of course. If a child never hears people speak to her, can she learn how to form the sounds of a language? This is the reason why people who cannot hear do not learn how to speak. They are not usually mute but cannot reproduce sounds they are unable to hear. We also know that sound and language development takes place optimally at an early stage in development. Our brains seem to be good at language learning when we are young. The older we get, the more difficult it is to learn any new language.
Babies can definitely see colors and patterns, especially red and high contrast colors. They can certainly recognize faces, and they can easily focus on objects at a set distance from their eyes. This distance is about the same as from the mother’s breast to the mother’s face. Reading a book with your baby gives that close comforting contact that both adult and infant thrive on.
Doesn’t it seem logical then, to read aloud to children long before they can read, understand, or handle books on their own? We introduce our babies to the sounds of our voices and they can hear our songs and our language even before they are born. Why wait until our children go to school before introducing them to books? This idea is not to advocate that you teach your child how to read when she is only a few months old. But when you read to your child, you will introduce her to language that goes beyond conversation, no matter what language(s) you are using with the book.
Our Behavior Counts
Our children are born imitators. If we set an example by reading books ourselves, our children and our students will value books and want to read. There are two simple but important activities that we can do as parents and teachers to encourage academic progress: Read books ourselves and read aloud to our children and students. The purpose of reading with our children is not to prime them for future entrance exams. We must first relax, get rid of our own anxiety and enjoy the precious moments with our young people.
When you read together, sit as close as possible. Read with expression, involve your children, and let them anticipate what might happen next. Point to the pictures and talk about them. You can ‘read’ a book fully just by talking about the pictures together with your child. You are not lecturing, not teaching. You are reading together. You are also experiencing the story together. Follow your child’s lead in turning the pages. One youngster went through a stage in his book-looking when he was fascinated to simply turn the pages, and that’s all he permitted to happen for about a week. When he was satisfied with his explorations, he promptly went back to wanting to hear the story again.
Common Barriers - Time
One of the most common excuses is, ‘I don’t have time.’ Maybe it would help to rethink priorities. Your child won’t wait for you. The precious early years fly by too fast. If we want to find the time to do something, we can. If we want to turn off the TV, we can. Every child goes to sleep at night. We can read a bedtime story, or tell a bedtime story without much extra time. Bedtime then becomes a special time to be looked forward to, rather than a forced separation from parents. After one mother started to read books to her toddler, the child would go and fetch a book, begging her to read it. This was before the child could even say the word ‘book!’ How could she resist? She didn’t! ‘Drop everything and read!’ was her motto.
‘But I am sick and tired of reading the same book over a hundred times!’ Does this complaint make you cringe? Children learn by repetition, as well as by connecting a new item with what is already known. As adults, we learn with less repetition, and the connections become easier as our experiences widen. But for a child repetition is necessary, delightful, and reinforces memory and comprehension. Our attitude and approach are so important in sharing that delight. Children crave and need routine and repetition; it gives a sense of security and structure to their lives. When reading a favorite book repeatedly, somewhere along the way, the child will connect those black squiggles on the page with the sounds you are making. The moment may come when he realizes that words and what they stand for are symbolized by the shapes and designs of whatever script you are reading. If your child has memorized the words according to the pictures, and is ‘reading’ them from memory, be happy! This is a legitimate step in learning how to read. He is already internalizing the structure of a story: it has action, characters, a beginning and an ending. Reading is more than simply deciphering the sounds the letters and words make. Reading is understanding what those words mean. One footnote: please, please, never, ever spell and read, even if you are reading in a language that is phonetic. If you are reading in English, it is not phonetic, and you will confuse your child and slow down his reading.
Format and Access
Another common comment is: ‘But my child will tear the pages.’ There are so many laminated books and board books now available, it is easier to find reading material for the very young. If you cannot find/buy enough, then produce your own. Write down a story or song that your child likes. Draw or cut pictures to illustrate it. If your child is old enough to draw, let her illustrate it. Those pictures tell 90% of the story. Use a notebook or diary, or stitch the pages together, even bind it if you like. Some parents like to laminate the pages and then bind them. Photograph albums of family and events are very useful. Keep it simple, keep it colorful and uncluttered. Make it attractive. Make it with your child. Write down verbatim what she says to tell the story of the picture. She will be thrilled to see her words in writing, and you thereby give importance to her communication and her creation of language. These personal books will be the most loved in the collection!
Your child’s collection of books will be her prized possession. Accessibility of material is one of the keys to becoming a reader. Make a shelf at home only for her books where she can reach them, and help her keep them tidy. You also set a good example by keeping books for adults visible in your home. Accessible, and not locked up is the key. The more costly a book, the more important it is to use it, to get value for your investment! If you treat your books nicely, your child will follow suit. It doesn’t require much to use bookmarks; greeting cards make great ones. You can transfer a positive attitude towards books to your child by your habits. Allow your youngsters to play bookstore and library. Take them with you to the bookstore. Make an annual family outing to the book fair. Let them select books to buy, within an appropriate level. Encourage your child’s school to have a good, user-friendly library. Give all the children you know books as a gifts (let someone else give the new clothing). When you come home after travelling, bring a book for your child as a reward for managing without you all those days. A book is a gift that can be opened again and again.
Growing up and Reading
As children grow and become readers, they still enjoy having someone else read to them. Snuggling together at bedtime for that next exciting chapter creates strong pleasant childhood memories. The class teacher who reads books and tells stories to her class is a most loved and memorable teacher. So many families suffer from the illusion that textbooks are acceptable, but so-called storybooks are a distraction from studies. Actually, the opposite is true. The more widely read a child is the easier academic studies usually are. Reading material does not need to compete.
The key to reading is pleasurable experience. For a person to confidently declare, ‘I am a reader!’ that person needs to enjoy reading. Reading can be an automatic activity that gives a lifetime of pleasure, utility, and powerful ability to make one’s way in the world. We read to our children to expand their worlds and give to them the joy of reading that will support them throughout their lives. Have you seen a T-shirt with the following message?
Today’s Readers are Tomorrow’s Leaders
Maybe we should all be wearing such T-shirts! And our kids can wear shirts that say:
My Appa reads books to me, who reads to you?