Why you should encourage your children to read

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Sabrina Almeida

A news report on International Children’s Book Day (ICBD), celebrated on Monday, April 2 this year, got me thinking about how a critical life skill (and enjoyable hobby) like reading has lost its importance.

The yearly event sponsored by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), aims to promote a love of reading among children around the world.

Each year a different National Section of IBBY sponsors ICBD. It decides on a theme and invites a prominent author from the host country to write a message to the children of the world and a well-known illustrator to design a poster. These materials are used in different ways to promote books and reading. Latvia was the host country this year.

Many IBBY sections also promote ICBD through the media and organize activities in schools and public libraries. This initiative is even more critical in today’s digital age where podcasts, YouTube and video games have made reading books virtually redundant.

Over the years I’ve observed the slow change in my sons who used to devour books while in grade school. Going to the community library was huge a treat during this time and we visited almost all in Mississauga to check out their collections.
We’d come home with bags bursting with books and the boys would head straight to their rooms to get started. Summers became a huge challenge as we ran out of reading material. That’s when Costco and online offers came to our rescue. However, trips to Costco and the grocery store soon became frustrating as they tried to read books and comics here.

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While they still grab the occasional book, podcasts and video games have replaced their favourite pastime. They told me it is easier because they can multitask!!! And suggested that I too should listen to podcasts since I complain about having no time to read…

Now that they are adults, I don’t worry about how this will affect their development and learning abilities. Several studies show that children who struggle with or do not read, tend to have academic difficulties. We learned this from our experience with low-achieving classmates and friends who almost always shunned reading.

Haunted by this fear, I read to my boys every night from the time they were babies till the younger one was able to read “chapter” books on his own. They shared a room at during these years which meant they listened to two “stories” of their choice. Being four years apart the books were of different levels but that didn’t deter them from asking for more.

Lack of parental involvement is cited as one of the main reasons for children not being able to or wanting to read. My experience coaching struggling readers in elementary schools for close to a decade has found this to be true in most cases.

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As the kids discussed their weekend trips, new toys and clothing with me every Monday, I wished their parents would devote some time to reading with them. Teachers often lamented parents’ lack of interest and were thankful for the additional practice volunteers provided. Even though I was there just twice a week, it gave the kids a significant boost.

A school of thought that explores parental influence further suggests they may have had similar experiences in their childhood… and that the cycle continues. Sadly, I have found this to be true as well. Children from families (among relatives and friends) where one or both parents did not read felt no desire to do so.

Study after study has shown that parents reading to their children not only inculcates a love of books but boosts their verbal, comprehension and retention skills as well. Most Indian parents of my generation were obsessed with getting their kids to read. Having a struggling reader was a slight on the family. Social gatherings would typically include conversations with the youth about the authors they liked and the books they were reading. Then comparisons were made.

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Children who read have a better grasp of language and understanding of what they are learning. Studies show that more than 80% of children diagnosed with learning difficulties have a primary problem with reading and related language skills.

According to the American Psychological Association studying is a combination of reading, processing the information and being able to visualize (or imagine) what you have read. All these skills can be developed and enhanced through reading.

Reading to your preschoolers is the easiest way to inculcate a love of books. Get them their own library card to urge them to read. Choose video games that promote reading skills. Encourage them to read street names as you walk to school or drive around. But be patient and don’t push too hard.

Offer grade school kids a variety of subjects and formats so that reading does not become a chore. Discuss books and authors with them.

And above all be a role model—let them see you read. Read books together just as you would watch a movie or show on television.

Frederick Douglass, a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator said, once they learn to read, they will be forever free.

Gift your children the love (and freedom) of reading! – CINEWS

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