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I have read to my son, from the very day he was born. I couldn’t do the in utero reading, the idea freaked me out, but as soon as I had a little person in my arms, we were reading together. Books are an adventure, an escape and a treasure trove of discovery. My whole life I have found books to be a great comfort and companion. In my work I have used stories and narratives as a key tool for therapeutic interventions and found it very powerful.
Here are my reasons to urge and encourage everyone to inculcate a love for reading and a ritual of reading with your child. As the Dr. Suess quote goes- “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn. The more places you’ll go!”
Reading Stories- Books open up a world of imagination for children. They offer ideas, images and a language of exploring. A book can be as much a tool for learning about concepts of color, shape, language or skills as they can be a medium for expressing emotion.
Relating to emotions- Children do not have the words to express their emotions. However, they experience a gamut of emotions from the time they are born and they recognize them too. A child knows when a mother is upset or happy. Children know what they want and especially what they don’t want even at the infant stage. Hearing stories and reading to them helps them find words that match the feelings and feelings that match experiences.
Relating to personal experiences- Children are able to understand through books that some experiences are universal and are able to match their own experiences. This helps reinforce links and to prepare themselves for what comes next. Example Spot goes to school, just like you, he wakes up and hugs his mom, just like you. Spot eats breakfast just like you, he brushes his teeth just like you.
Creating a third person account- Books also allow care givers and parents a parallel example to reference to rather than to have to enforce a regime that the child feels is non-negotiable.
Role modeling- Stories give us a chance to find characters for role modeling. They also allow us to create scenarios where we can think of multiple ways of problem solving and therefore of reinforcing to the child that they can come up with their own ideas. They give us a chance to share our values through neutral examples. For example what should goldilocks have done when she came to someone else s house. Should she have gone in? And if she was tired and if she went in, what should she have done? Should she have looked around for someone to come? Should she have waited to eat? And if she had eaten could she have put the bowl in the sink and cleared up.
Narrative building- It is very important to build a stimulating conversation around children who are absorbing vocabulary at such an active rate in the early years. The more words a child hears, the more language and concepts will a child develop. Accents, Pronunciation, alphabets and phonetics are all picked up through an active reading process. We use the word “active” wherein the child is as much a participant as the person reading to them. One of the most important role of stories is to offer the child a chance to tell their own story. It offers the child a chance to talk about their thoughts, their experiences and most important their feelings. It helps them make sense of the world, through narrating and questioning things. We all grow up hearing all kinds of labels around us, we tend to find ourselves around near similar kinds of people but through books we are able to recognize all the diversity that exists in human kinds. Of course, the read has to bring those ideas through.
Re- enacting- Young children learn through mimicry and through reenacting what they see around them. We teach most skills through actions and play and once more books are a stimulating tool to aid this. Children will often also engage in re-enacting what they read about and this is a powerful way to build memory and concept development.
Building Attention Spans- In today’s fast paced and virtually connected world, most of us find little time to actually sit and read through a book, perhaps not even a newspaper. Most people skim read or as my friend says “read diagonally”. It has become harder and harder to sit and really enjoy a good read. We have thus become a googling/ wikipediaing generation. We search only specific information and feel easily empowered with gradually unfolding and searching for meaning. For children this message is very contradictory, for they are sent off to read books and school themselves in a traditional method. They can just as easily google their way through school. However, we don’t want search engine experts, we want a generation that enjoys the process of discovering, of making connections of building links and for that we have to find activities that build and strengthen their attention spans. Sitting through stories is one of the building blocks of this.
Learning to predict- Stories and narration of the story also helps the child understand the concept of prediction, the idea of what happens next and that of sequencing and cause and effect. For example, Patty woke up on Christmas day and what happened through the day?
Building confidence in public speaking-Most of us turn into extremely self-conscious public speakers as we grow up. I remember, as a child almost feeling I had nothing to say when in a crowd or with new people. Books and reading gives us content to spark off conversations. Children find it amusing when they realize that adults too know the stories they have just read and they love it when you understand exactly what they are talking about.
Emoting through verbal and non-verbal-The process of listening to a story and of watching it enacted with expression also helps the child understand and develop voice projection skills and they learn how to speak while emoting. They learn the non-verbal skills of communication and are able to recognize visual cues, thereby enabling them to grow into more considerate and empathetic people.
Thriving from a reading group-Working with children I have found that group responses encourage them to discover a wider range of their own emotions. Sometimes a hearty laugh only comes on when the whole group has a giggling fit. Sometimes they are able to make sense of their own emotions when someone else voices it for them, and more often than not they know exactly what will make them feel better. Listening to stories allows them to listen to each other more closely.
Stories are as much an oral process as they are visual, it is important for children to see how illustrations make for a story, how sounds alone can make for a story, how songs and poems are stories too. These multi mediums allow a child to focus on all their senses and also offers a wide opportunity for them to see what works for them. Traditionally we are an oral culture, where stories were passed on from one generation to the next over meal times and in the afternoons, where education was imparted under shady trees orally, where music was taught by ear. Most of us are natural story tellers, and it’s possible to nurture that skill for our children too.
If I have sparked off the urge to read with your child, then do go out and buy some picture books, story books, graphic books, comic books or even audio books.