Sunday, February 07, 2010

Make reading fun for children

Make reading fun for children

There's much joy to be found in reading. It is up to us to come up with creative and fun ways in which our children can discover this joy early in life, say the founders of Hippocampus Reader Foundation, Umesh Malhotra and Vimala Malhotra

Sindhu Murthy

* Reading facilities are inadequate
Umesh: We thought of Hippocampus in 1998-99, when we were in the US. We were exposed to public libraries there. That's when we noticed that the Western world typically had fantastic libraries for children and for adults. Large spaces were beautifully done to attract crowds. The place where we lived overlooked the lake and that was a great reason for children to come in there (to read). Plenty of activities happened in the evenings; that made children frequent the place. Would it be too much to have a good library in India, we wondered.
Vimala: Our five-year-old son had just started to read and we noticed how much he enjoyed it. The children's book market wasn't great in India then. We understood that we don't have a great library system here — the collection is just not there. In the US, you have many distractions but that didn't matter to our son. He still loved reading.

* Reading is all-important

Umesh: Reading is the first R of the three Rs — reading, writing and arithmetic. Education is built on these. Reading is also very pivotal for a child to build an imagination — to build knowledge of what's happening in different worlds. There is disrespect for other cultures because you do not have an understanding of them. Books in that sense have a role to play in culture, in imagination, in teaching how to handle emotions and in education, of course, directly.
Vimala: Interestingly, a parent who was talking to me shared that she was slightly confused about whether to leave her child in the school she was in. Although the school was very good, the child was just not challenged enough. The child was too intelligent to require inputs. The parent noted that there was no need for a school, once a child has learnt reading. Even parents feel that reading takes a child a long way.
Umesh: Besides, there is a joy in reading. We look at it this way: when a child goes to school, all he does is read his textbooks and write his examinations. If a child does not have the habit of reading and he finds reading a distasteful, painful exercise, imagine what would happen. If I were in Class X and I were to prepare for a science exam and I hated reading, a history textbook is not going to be the most appetising thing for me. If I had the habit of reading instead, it would become that much easier to handle academics. Look at the changes in the CBSE system where they are moving into no-exam mode. We are achieving now, what the US had, nearly 10 years ago. Now, look at the international education system, it is based on projects that are based on research which is in turn based on reading. Reading can be anything—Internet, Kindle or iPad as long as interest is inculcated.

* Induce excitement

Umesh: We work with diverse sections of the society — close to 65,000 children across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. One like this in Koramangala caters to the top 5% and in the rural areas, the bottom 25%. We have to use a different strategy for each. We promote reading by giving them access to fantastic books.
Vimala: We aren't forcing children or consciously taking them to books to make them read but when they are ready, books are there for them. That's what we do. Eventually they start reading, once you provide access.

* Storybooks aren't so bad

Umesh: In schools, children fond of reading are considered to be storybook readers who shun academics. Few parents also fear that too much reading will distract the child from studies. But if you don't have the habit of reading, how would you get through exams?
Vimala: Parents should inculcate the habit of reading amongst children by reading out to them early in life. I did that to my son, and today, he is all of 16 and is a voracious reader. Parents should help children understand that reading is pleasurable and beneficial in the long.


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