If you are a parent of a young child and you are reading this, pause for a moment and answer the question before you move on. Some parents are of the view that it is a good time to read to the child once the child has mastered the alphabet. Others feel that the child should be ready to read himself/herself before they start. A miniscule percentage, however, start even before the child can start to recognize the alphabet in any language. Where does the truth lie?
Having raised two bookworms at home, both of whom were reading the likes of Harry Potter series at age six, I feel qualified enough to answer. YOU, as a parent, should create the right time for the child.
If you think that the baby won’t understand if you read to him, reflect on when you started to talk to your child. Did you expect the baby to understand you when you were crooning when he was a just a few minutes old? What makes you think reading is different?
Let me share my personal experience with you. Twenty years ago, when it was time for us to return home with our new-born, the hospital in the US presented us with a baby hamper – along with the customary items like diapers, baby formula, clothes, toys etc, we also discovered a set of ten books. This part of the gift intrigued me even though I am a bibliophile myself. The reason – I had started my reading journey only when I was seven.
Recently, during the lockdown, I was sorting old photographs when I chanced upon a picture of my then eight-month old son gazing intently at one of those books. That picture brought back a flood of memories and random thoughts about how reading is perceived in India compared with countries like the UK and the USA.
During my days of running a children’s library, I have interacted with parents of young children who hold the view that reading to children needs to follow formal instruction/introduction to the language. Nothing could be more further from the truth. As soon as your baby is old enough to sit for some time – and this could happen between 6 – 10 months of age – you can start to introduce books.
Many countries create an environment where children can get into reading right from kindergarten where the focus is on listening to stories and reading. Writing is introduced much later. Also, by creating spaces in public libraries and classroom libraries, children are exposed to books at an young age. In India, more often than not, children do not have access to good quality reading material across all genres. The lot then falls on parents to make children get started on reading.
Before I move on, let me clarify. When I speak about reading, I mean, reading in any language, not just in English. Research suggests that language acquisition capabilities are carried forward from one language to another. So if your child can read her mother tongue well, the skills will stand her to acquire reading capability in another language as well.
Children are made readers in the laps of their parents. Books belong to the hands of the children. Try it and see the transformation in your child.