Reading is the foundation of all learning and the more proficient a child’s reading ability, the easier studying is. The mistake that many parents, and a number of teachers, make is to pressurize children into trying to read too early. Studies show that a child actually begins to read, in the sense of being able to understand basics concepts and ideas from the written word, only at the age of 6 or so. To force an attempt at such comprehension on a toddler can lead to confusion, a dislike of reading caused by not understanding what it means and offers and future problems in comprehending school curricula.
However, this does not mean that younger children should not be encouraged to look at books and try to understand the alphabet, words and perhaps even a few simple phrases and sentences. If they can do this, it will help them to progress faster when formal reading begins. But if they are not happy with this, it should not be forced on them. Some kids start later but then progress very fast and leave the early beginners behind. Here are a few tips on encouraging a child to read.
- The first step is to begin reading to a child at a very young age – even a few weeks old is fine. Not only does this develop a bond with the child, it makes books a part of the child’s life. As time passes and the words being read and the pictures to be seen make sense, the attraction for books and being able to read on their own will grow.
- Read from the right age appropriate books. For children of up to 18 months of age read lullabies, board books with real pictures, song books and cloth books of different textures. For the ages of 19 months to 3 years song books, nursery rhymes and board books with short stories are the best. For children between 3 and 6 song books, rhyming books, picture books and story books will attract and retain their interest.
- Once a child is able to comprehend at least a small part of what is being read, begin to ask a few simple questions. Watch the child being read to and note any parts of the story that seem to elicit special interest. These are the parts on which questions should be asked as the child has been more involved here and would have paid special attention. Keep the questions simple and basic and help and prompt the child to give answers. If the answers are not right, work with the child to encourage the correct answer to be given. At all times offer encouragement and aim to keep the child involved as an active participant in the discussion.
- Set a good example by doing your reading in front of the child. Children are heavily influenced by what adults do and will often try to copy what they see. Even if the child is resting or playing with toys, the fact that you are reading and enjoying it will register and the child will wonder what is so nice about reading.
- Once a child is familiar and comfortable with books, it is time to start reading. Begin by sitting with the child and allowing him or her to see each word you read. In time common sight words – the most common ones in the language - will be understood in the same way pictures are. From this will come an association of letters of the alphabet with specific sounds and with this the basics of reading are in place.