This article is the first in the series of “Raising Readers”, a Kidskintha initiative meant to encourage parents and children to explore imaginative worlds through the written word. The next article will be published on the 8th of June.
Children who read are adults who think.
When my daughter, then 10, walked into my office carrying my copy of Jane Eyre, she was met with incredulous looks. My colleagues couldn’t believe that a child was reading and could read literature. They couldn’t imagine their children reading for pleasure and asked me how I had managed to raise a reader who carried books everywhere.
It surprised me that they were surprised. To all those who know me, know that I am a reader and my favorite meeting places are bookstores and libraries.
And every time someone asks me how I managed to raise a reader who is also a digital native while their children of the same generation inevitably fall to the lure of video games, T.V, social media, I have to say, it starts with the parent or the primary caregivers.
And it begins way before the child is born, and it is reinforced by reading to your baby from very early on! This is the part where most enthusiastic parents lose interest but I will reiterate that one cannot hope to raise a bookworm without being one yourself! (assuming you are the primary caregiver)
Reading To Your Baby: How To Nurture A Child’s Love Of Books Early On
1. Pick up a book and read for pleasure before reading to your baby
I hate to sound like a broken record, but you cannot inculcate the love of reading in your kid if you don’t enjoy reading yourself. So, to raise a reader, you must be a reader yourself. If you don’t read for pleasure and haven’t developed the habit of reading, a suggestion is to devote 20 min to reading something beyond the newspaper.
Short stories, especially of the Young Adult Genre, are very entertaining and hard to put down. Many adult non-readers who when introduced to Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, have branched out eventually to grown-up books. So, go ahead and channel the young adult in you. Here’s a handy list to start with, just pick one on it.
2. Make reading to your baby a norm
When your baby begins rolling around (2-4 months) let your baby watch you read while she or he rolls around. Make it fun by reading out loud. Maybe you can have a conversation with your infant about your book while you’re reading it. Pretend your baby is your audience and you are the narrator and performer.
Immerse yourself in the written word, enjoy it, and eventually, your baby will catch the enthusiasm for books.
I promise it will not make you look crazy. You’re in your own home with your baby away from judgemental strangers. Immerse yourself in the written word, enjoy it, and eventually, your baby will catch the enthusiasm for books.
When your baby begins pulling up to a sitting position, begin board books (Eric Carle is a universal favorite) or cloth books.
The only complaint I have against board books for babies is they’re heavy to hold. But, they help develop gross motor skills in teeny-tiny fingers. Cloth books are a good alternative and are more widely available now.
Maybe have both board and cloth books to your baby’s burgeoning library so they can get a feel of words on fabric as well as paper.
3. Put away your gadgets.
Maybe this should be first on the list?
For those of you who are new parents and have a newborn, take your nose out of the smartphone or eyes off the television and park them in a book.
To raise a reader, put away your gadgets and screens when the baby is awake. Watch television only when the baby naps or sleeps. Your baby should hear voices only from flesh and blood humans loving around them, and not from a 2D screen for the first few years of her life.
Pull out your smartphone only when you need to talk to someone. Use a desktop for all your online needs which will discourage you from reaching out for the smartphone for checking emails, WhatsApp messages, and all those mindless, time-consuming activities that we do over the internet.
In short, make going online painful instead of easy.
4. Strew your home with books- use them as a part of the decor.
Buy a bookshelf and slowly fill it with books. I usually recommend going with the tallest bookshelf you can afford because once you get hooked on reading, your book collection will exponentially increase.
Leave a book at your bedside table, on the coffee table. Make it so that someone who walks into your home knows you enjoy reading.
5. Commit to reading to your baby for 20 min per day at least.
As soon as your baby can pull himself to a sitting position, commit to reading with them for at least 20 min a day. 20 minutes are doable. Set a timer if it seems daunting. Those 20 minutes could be at bedtime or before nap time or anytime.
When you get tired of reading, request your better half or extended family to take over once a while.
6. Build A Community For Raising Robust readers.
Bookstores, libraries, reading groups, and read-aloud. Your baby absorbs and retains far more than she can express so expose her to a wide variety of contexts and environments.
If there are no reading groups in your neighborhood, develop one. It can be a great way to meet other parents and build long-lasting friendships.
7. Focus On Reading Stories To Babies
When you get tired of reading out from a book (we’re all human), tell a story. It could be your own creation and need not make any sense. My mother in law used to weave in experiences from her childhood as a narration to my 3 yr old. Every grandparent has an arsenal of stories and they will be happy to share their memories with their grandchildren. In the absence of grandparents, maybe a friend or other family members could step in that role. And you could return the kindness by playing that role for their children.
Build a network of relationships centered on sharing stories gathered from experiences and memories and you will never run out of an engaging story to narrate to your children and grandchildren.
8. Incorporate Reading for Babies Online
Given the unprecedented pace at which our world is changing, it becomes imperative that I also mention the vast number of online resources available for reading to your baby these days. With assistive reading technology platforms, you have plenty of resources to choose from to begin reading to your baby, and lead her on.
It is left to us to make the best of them.