Many research studies have shown that children who read books for the pure pleasure of reading, and children who are read to, do better in academics, are better critical thinkers, and display a host of other advantages compared to their non-reading counterparts, write Gayathri Tirthapura
When I chose to buy the book Bishnu the Dhobi Singer for my nine-year-old daughter, the intention was to support her in her love for Hindustani classical music. The story in this book is a historical fiction and is set in the 16th century Mughal era. Bishnu a dhobi’s son living in Mughal Emperor Akbar’s kingdom loves to sing while washing clothes. One day, Ustad Mian Tansen, Akbar’s favourite musician, notices his singing. Tansen takes Bishnu under his tutelage. The story then goes on to describe how Bishnu eventually becomes one of Tansen’s favourite students.
Ever since my daughter, a voracious reader, laid her eyes on this storybook, it had become her personal favourite. She had read it several times. She had wanted to find out more about Tansen and the Mughal kings and had referred to other non-fiction books in the process. I could see that she had begun to take more interest in Hindustani raagas, which could be partly attributed to this storybook. However, little did I realise how much this book had increased her passion for Indian history, until we recently visited Fatehpur Sikri, the 16th century capital of Emperor Akbar in Uttar Pradesh.
Even though my daughter was visiting the ancient city for the first time in her life, she took me around the fort and palaces as though she knew it closely. She recognised the Palace of Dreams where Akbar had worked and slept. The markings on the palace grounds, drawn for the game of pachisi, which Akbar loved to play in the palace courtyard, was amazing in her eyes! Anup Talao, the raised sandstone seat in the middle of a pond where Tansen would have sat and sang to a royal audience, resonated with her deeply. She wanted to visit the historical Tansen’s house, which was about two kilometers away with no access by car or auto rickshaw. We had to convince a local guide to take her there on his motorbike. Overall, I saw her relive history in her thoughts and imagination!
Many research studies have shown that children, who read books or who are read to for the pure pleasure of reading, do better in academics, are better critical thinkers and display a host of other advantages compared to their counterparts. The results of some studies (for example, Frijters and Barron in 2000; Whitehurst and Lonigan in 1998) have even suggested that children, who were “interested” in reading, did better in literacy skills later in life, than children who knew how-to-read but did not enjoy reading or being read-to.
Read to children
The experiences with my daughter have stayed true to the results of these research studies. Her love for reading has only helped her to enjoy learning and to perform well in many areas including academics. One reason the love for reading has developed in her is that she has been read to every day since a very young age. Reading to a child is something that every parent should do with his or her children. The second reason I think she is a voracious reader is that we’ve gotten to choose from a wonderful variety of children’s books available in the market. There are picture books available for reading to a child of every age starting from an infant. The selections of books cover every theme or topic you can think of. In addition, there are independent reader books available for every reading level of a child.
In fact, many of these books are so enjoyable to read that one does not even notice that you are learning academic content or other skills in the process. For example, although the book Bishnu the Dhobi Singer is fictitious in nature, the author has carefully strewn around real facts from history all over the book. The child then easily picks up these facts in the context of the story. Neuroscience research shows that long-term memory of information improves when the information is placed in a certain context rather than as standalone information. Real life experiences (or experiential learning as some would like to call it) are another factor that aids storage of information. Giving a child both the storybook and the real life experiences can only reinforce each other. This is not just true with history, but with any other subjects including Math and Science. We parents just have to be equipped with the tools on how to choose a book for a child. In fact, choosing the right book to read is so important that it can make or break the love for reading in a child.
Having said this, it is crucial that I let you know that choosing a book to read for pleasure for your child should not be about how the topic or the theme of the book is linked to academics. Choosing a book to read for pleasure should be just that — choosing a book that a child would enjoy reading or being read to. You never know when the child will encounter academic experiences that are related to the book. However, when the child does find linkages between the book and academic experiences, the aha! moment is so beautiful that it could only inspire the child to read increasingly on the topic.
Connect books with joy
If we as parents give enjoyable reading experiences to the child at a very young age, the child starts to associate a book with love and joy. On the other hand, if the only book reading experiences that the child has since a young age are the workbooks and textbooks related to school work, which at most times are read under stressful conditions, the child starts to associate a book with stress and joylessness. The child will then do everything in his/her power to avoid books.
We as parents have the power to instill the habit of reading for pleasure, in our children. Children’s authors all over the world including India have done a wonderful job of understanding the needs of children and writing and illustrating accordingly. Tulika Books, Pratham Books, Children’s Book Trust are just a few of the Indian publishers who have made headway into publishing wonderful books for children. If we can take some time to understand the world of children through these authors’ and illustrators’ eyes, we’ll see that we parents ourselves can fall in love with children’s books. In fact, the perspectives that these books will provide have the power to awaken the child within us. This can only help us relate to our children better and build a trusting and lasting relationship with them.