“Once upon a time....” doesn’t this line pique our curiosity and set the stage for us to be transported into another world? We all love stories and so do children, even babies!
So, when is it the right time to introduce children to books? It’s never too early! We don’t need to wait till the child turns two or starts talking in coherent sentences to show them books and narrate stories to them. Research says that children benefit a lot even from hearing stories without looking at visuals. It drives them to make sense of our facial expression, words and tone. This makes them use their own imagination in picturing the different characters of the story. So, introduce children to both stories and books from the time they are babies.
Books for toddlers and how it helps them. For toddlers and preschoolers, small board books with single words and pictures on each page like books with letters, numbers, plants, animal species, modes of transport etc. are popular as they are interesting and challenging for the child to grip and explore. Children derive a huge sense of calm and independence when they can engage with an object by themselves.
What to keep in mind when choosing books:
Characters: Books should not be aimed at just teaching the child. Children discover the joy of books when they feel engaged in a story. Reading relevant age-appropriate stories to them helps a lot. These books could be on the boy who couldn’t whistle, the child who never wanted to share, the boy who never wanted to pee, the elephant who ate a lot, the girl who was worried about going to school etc. It is reassuring for children when these stories bring out concerns like the ones they are grappling with. Many lessons can subtly be taught through these narrations and the children love it too, as they see part of themselves in the central figure of the narrative! Stories with picture illustrations, repetition and funny sounding words bring tons of laughter,
Messages: It’s important to pay attention to the underlying messages in stories which may be outdated, sexist and build prejudice. Princesses being rescued, or step mothers being portrayed as wicked for example. These and other such beliefs may not be the ones we want our children to grow up with. Many classic children’s books are now rejected for the messages they give but luckily one can also find classic stories with twists and different endings. The princess as the hero. Goldilocks and the bears becoming friends!!
Cultural relevance: Books with lead characters from diverse backgrounds are now becoming easier to find. When children see and witness people like themselves being represented in pictures, it increases their self-esteem. (For example, an Indian child feels happy to see a brown skinned child dressed like himself) Having said this, also choosing books with stories from different cultures help build a healthy attitude towards inclusion, self and society
Besides choosing the right books, when children see us enjoy reading as part of our daily lives, they may gravitate towards books. Interest is roused in books when they are easily accessible, and time is made for this spontaneous exploration. As the child begins to read independently, discussing what he likes about the story, or what he thinks about the characters are great ways to gain insights into his thinking. If you see your child with a book, avoid instructions and allow the child to explore the book in her own way.
This week, we looked at ways to encourage children develop an affinity towards books. Next week, we will discuss ways to support children when it comes to developing their own reading.
Author: Manasi Dandeker is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.