Someone once said that the most valuable gift a parent can ever give to their child is a lifelong passion for reading. There’s something magical that happens when a young child sitting on her mother’s lap, wrapped in the warmth of her arms, listens to a voice that weaves adventures of make believe characters in far off enchanted lands. A whole new world, quite different from the one that we live in, springs to life- a world of brave knights, fierce dragons, tales of courageous kings and humongous castles, of witches on broomsticks and magic carpets flying around off to far flung places around the world be it eighty days or 10,000 leagues under the sea! Imagination is indeed magical. More to this beautiful world of books and fantasy reading, here’s the story of Bindu Agarwal of The Reading Curve.
On How Reading Fosters Early Childhood Development
Early childhood is what is known as a critical period for language development. A critical period is a window in development when certain experiences must be present so that your child’s biology can develop properly. Cognitive processes develop rapidly too. At birth your baby’s brain is only 25pc of its adult size, by year 3 it will be 80pc and by age 5 it will have reached 90pc of its adult size. Due to the incredible amount of growth that occurs in these early years, it is critical that young children be exposed to experiences and activities that help process and strengthen their cognitive abilities.
Young children’s minds are like sponges, soaking up everything they see, feel and experience around them. Take a moment as you watch a little child play alone and you will experience what happens as a box becomes a ship, an egg carton becomes an engine and a ruler magically transforms into Harry Potters wand.
On Rekindling the Bonds with Your Little Ones
As a parent you are your child’s most significant and influential teacher. Even though we may not realise it, our children watch us for a living every single day! Therefore it becomes even more important to understand that what we teach them today will impact them far into their lives even as adults. As Lincoln once quoted ‘ whatever you be be a good one,’. Your circle of influence is far greater than you think it is.
In the Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease discusses the fundamentals of reading aloud to children: why to do it, when to begin, the stages of reading aloud, how to do it and even how not to do it. While working in community classrooms, Trelease noticed that many students didn’t read for pleasure but that many who did, came from classrooms where teachers read aloud daily as part of an established routine. He further says that “We need to read to children for the same reasons we talk. To reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform, to explain, to arouse curiosity and to inspire. But in reading aloud we also condition the mind to read for pleasure, create background information, build vocabulary and provide a reading model.
On Why Kids Stop Reading-
One of the key reasons that children lose interest in reading is that the adults in their lives spend far lesser time reading to them. So by middle school almost no one is reading to children. As a result, many of skills that are acquired in their early years: listening, visualising, engaging, learning to concentrate, using stronger words, comprehending, communicating effectively, sequencing and predicting are the very skills students struggle with, simply because they haven’t been developed and reinforced over a period of time.
Research shows that vocabulary strongly relates to comprehension, intelligence and general ability. A typical 4 year old child will have about a 1500 word vocabulary. However by the time this child is 12 years old, he will understand about 50,000 words. Where did all those words come from? Lots of reading!
On How to Start Reading to Your Kids-
Here are a few things to do to get you started.
If you have young children that can’t read on their own yet, you will need to read aloud to them. Read books that have colourful illustrations, get into the skin of the characters and read with a great deal of enthusiasm. Children love the sound of their parents talking and reading to them.
Establish a daily reading routine and make sure it’s at the same time. After dinner is a great time to bond over a story and so is bedtime. And don’t forget to put that phone off the hook. You definitely don’t need any distractions from anyone. One parent I knew, would set up the room with scented candles, her propped up favourite pink cushions and special lights for a reading session with her 6 year old. That’s a memory this little girl is going to cherish forever!
Another important thing you need to establish in your routine is a regular trip to the bookstore. Bookstores are magical places that enrich and nourish us: not only to entertain and inform but also to inspire. Children who grow up in homes surrounded by books learn to love and develop an appreciation right from the start. Be sure to include not only narratives and stories but also nonfiction books, for these are the ones that provide us with information about the world around us. Books on Space, the Earth, marine life, rainforests to name a few.
Jigsaw puzzles, word searches and board games like Scrabble, Pictionary are great games that not only engage families but also strengthen language and build robust vocabularies in children.
Bindu on Bindu-
About 10 years ago when the first seeds of Reading Curve were sown, I hadn’t really planned my journey. All I knew that I was passionate about reading and teaching and I had a deep desire to engage with young children, especially after engaging so deeply with my own two boys. My older one, who is now almost ready to go to University, began reading when he was 5 and a half. I can still vividly remember him laughing out loud while reading his favourite Tintin magazine on a Swiss rail train headed uphill to Jungfrau. At school when most kids were still learning their ABC’s this little boy could sound out the word ‘police station’. As a result I had every parent in class asking me what magic I had done. Come to think of it, all I did was read a hell of a lot. We read first thing in the morning, last thing before hitting bedtime. We read on the pot and we read during meal times. We read in the garden, under a tree, in the car even waiting at the doctors and at the airport. There wasn’t a place we wouldn’t have read. And honestly that’s when the realisation hit. That reading aloud is MAGIC. I felt a deep desire to give that magic to every child I knew. Every child in the city. And especially to a child who was a struggling and reluctant reader.
I spent the initial period of my time researching and reading intensively about Reading Skills. With my education in Child Psychology I already knew the critical periods of cognitive development. I knew that working with kids at the right developmental periods would not only strengthen their skills but also their confidence. And that is exactly what I do. Give them the tools to engage, to have fun, to understand how the language works, to know more about the world around them through stories, to build a strong vocabulary but most of all to give them the confidence. To not only engage to become proficient readers but also to recognise that they have something to say through their writing.
Through their reading and writing they become thinkers. It’s my kindle moment! Kindling minds 🙂
Bindu Agarwal is a child psychologist and reading specialist based in Mumbai. She currently works with struggling and reluctant young readers. Bindu has worked with many children who have been labelled as borderline remedial, many of who are now confident comfortable readers. She loves travelling extensively, gorge on dark chocolate and bake pizzaz apart from the course read. And yes, she is a fitness freak too.
At Reading Curve, her reading workshop kids have lots of fun through informal and structured skills that strengthen their literacy skills with the aim to create life long learners. She also works closely with parents as she believes that when parents realise they play a pivotal role in changing things, that’s when the magic starts to happen. She works with School teachers at workshops on Creative Thinking.