While on a family trip in our car, Marina asked our son Nikhil, then a University Student, as to how he developed reading skills. The question was pertinent as Marina had migrated to Canada and I as a single parent had brought him up through his Kindergarten and Grade 1 while I was serving in the Indian Army. Our daughter Nidhi was initiated into reading much earlier by Marina as she was a home-maker and I was invariably tied up with my military duties.
Nikhil explained “While I was in Kindergarten every evening Dad would read with me stories from many story books that I had inherited from Nidhi. The story which interested me the most was ‘Three Pigs and a Wolf.’ The book was a well illustrated one from a kid’s point of view and every page had a small sentence, thus easier for me to comprehend. Dad would use different voices for the three pigs. The best was he named the third Pig the smartest one as Nikhil. That held my interest. Further he would make changes to the story every time he read it and I used to be very inquisitive about it every time he read it to me.”
The four words माता पिता गुरु देवा (Matha Pitha Guru Deva) simply translates as ‘Mother Father Teacher God’. The word sequence originates in the Vedas, the scriptures that contain the essence of Hindu Philosophy. The four words contain an axiomatic truth regarding the order of reverence as laid down in the scriptures, which everyone needs to adopt. Irrespective of religion, down the ages, the idea has always been fundamental to Indian thought. It follows that as Parents You are your child’s first teacher. Not that one needs a philosophical backing to comprehend this basic truth. It’s just that this basic tenet of human understanding had evolved thousands of years ago, at the very dawn of civilisation.
One of the first tasks of the ‘parent teacher’ is to develop reading skills in your child. You’ve got to read with your child every day. Children will always imitate their parents – obviously children of parents who read turn out to posses better reading skills. Children who are read to will end up loving to read. It’s got to begin when your child is very young, as soon as you can make him/her sit with you.
When I joined Sainik School in Tamil Nadu in Grade 5, I could neither speak nor read Tamil, the native language of the state. By interacting with my classmates learning to speak Tamil came very easily, but how to learn to read the language? When I was in Grade 8, my buddy Vijas gave me an advice which hardly anyone would have heard of – “Look out there, it is the cinema poster for the movie ‘Raja Raja Cholan’. Read each letter of the Tamil alphabet to form a word and continue the exercise whenever you see a poster while on the run to the dam every morning during Physical Training.”
I employed Vijas’ technique with Nikhil. While driving – dropping him off at school, picking him up after school, commuting to the swimming pool or tennis court or for music class in the evening – I used to point out to various road signs, billboards, store and restaurant signs on the roadside and make him read them out aloud. Then we would discuss the various aspects of displayed signs. Every time we came across the McDonald’s logo, he would react differently.
Here is the link to his reaction and reading. McDonald’s logo is one of the most popular emblems in modern history. It consists of an arched golden coloured ‘M‘ on a plain red background. This simple one letter logo with two contrasting colours is bound to stay in the memory of any child, even without the gastronomic connection. Their eyes get promptly zoomed on to this simple logo from a long distance. Whatever it is, the use of a single letter or the colours, everything homes on to a child’s imagination without making it look complicated. The mantra is Just Keep It Simple.
What should your child be reading? Priority should obviously be given to what evokes his interest as obviously will sustain the reading habit and improve reading skills. Books about your country, other important places in the world, wild animals or dinosaurs – anything and everything, but age-appropriate. Fiction – action, fantasy, science fiction, funny stories, comics, all of them foot the bill. Adventure stories where the child can imagine to be the super-hero, princess, detective, and so on are ideally suited.
When your child raises questions? Ensure that your child has time to think while he is reading and this can be assessed by the questions that may be thrown at you. Many a time it could be somewhat uncomfortable too. Be prepared to answer all the questions and never snub the child. While answering, instead of preaching, ask a question that will lead your child to talk about what he or she thinks. That will give confidence to your child that you are listening.
Which language to communicate with your child? A pertinent question mainly for the immigrants. I recommend the language which you and your child are comfortable with. It need not be English all the time. Communicating in your mother-tongue will enthuse your child to learn more about your own cultural history.
With the effort you devote to developing your child’s reading skills, your child will grow up to become an excellent reader with strong writing skills. The knowledge gained will eventually transform him/her into and a valuable citizen. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man (Sir Francis Bacon). It’s a gradual flow from one to the other. We all need to remember that even in today’s age of technology there is simply no substitute to reading skills. It will surely reflect on your child’s grades and will make a difference when he or she enters university or the workforce.
You don’t need a lot of special skills to help your child learn to read and write. You need not be super-parents. Just spending time with your child doing everyday activities with a focus on the ‘written word’ makes all the difference in the world.