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Cultivating an Interest in Reading from Young
By: Coreen Soh . April 2017
1. How to get a toddler interested in books?
Toddlers are attracted to bright colours, pictures and special features in the book (e.g. pop-ups, textures, pull-outs). To get them interested in books, use board books that are easily held by the toddlers themselves. This will prevent them from dropping the book which discourages them. Caregivers could get the toddler’s attention by talking about the pictures, holding the child’s hand to feel the textures in the books and trying the pull-outs.
Taking the toddler to the library on a regular basis is another way to create interest. The library has activities e.g. puppet shows, dramas, song and dances that are usually extended from stories. These activities create a higher interest in the toddlers. Alternatively, a caregiver at home could supplement storytelling with puppets so that the toddler’s interest and attention can be captured.
2. How to cultivate love of books/reading from young?
Adults act as important role models at home. Reading begins when the toddlers see their parents/siblings reading. When reading the newspapers, an adult should attempt to make it visible for the toddler. Read out the captions or tag lines aloud to the toddlers and draw their attention to the print. As toddlers are in the stage of imitating, engage their participation by giving them a book, magazine or papers to flip. Though they may not read, this is an important process that cultivates their reading habit for the future. During this process, the caregiver could facilitate by guiding the child to hold the book/reading material the right way up and turn the pages in the correct way. The toddler might not be able to do it straight away since their motor skills are still developing, especially if the pages are thin. It is alright and not necessary to force the toddler to do it.
Have books, magazines and reading materials easily available in the home environment so that the toddler can easily access them when they feel like it. Also, reading need not always start from books. The idea is to get the toddler to be interested in text from young so that they will love to read later. Text exists everywhere in the environment. We could draw their attention to signboards, text on food packages (especially their favourite food), pamphlets or brochures. Read out the signboards, road signs, text on the packages to the toddler. It should be done in a very natural and incidental way so that we do not make the process ‘forced’ or stressful for the little one. It could be a fun thing during a supermarket trip where you draw the toddler’s attention to some text of things that he/she is interested in. e.g. toddler is looking at some chocolates. Just read the words on the packages at that moment. It is important to catch this moment as when interest is high, the learning is meaningful.
3. What can parents do to make them interested in reading?
What activities can we get a toddler to be involved in since they can't read yet? There are activities to get the toddlers ready for ‘serious’ reading in future. We refer to them as pre-reading activities. Not writing though as this should come last. First we need to understand that language development starts from listening, speaking, reading then writing. Therefore, by talking to the toddler frequently, we are exposing the child to a lot of language. They are receiving it but not using them yet because they are developmentally not ready. So talking to the toddlers sets the first language environment. They will try to model after the adults and imitate the sounds or phrases they hear. This is important as it will help them make the connection that another form of language is written and it can be found primarily in books.
Singing, playing, dramatizing are activities that are considered ‘low risk’ to children. This means that when children are engaged in these activities, they are not under any pressure. This is especially true for play as play is intrinsic in every child. Therefore, using these activities as a platform to learn language works best as the child is not put in any ‘I have to get it right” situation.
Parents can also pick books with topics that interest their children. E.g child likes aeroplanes. Parents could select books based on this subject or have stories that have aeroplanes in them. This encourages the child in reading,
4. How to create an environment that supports reading?
Creating a print-rich environment is the first step to support reading. A few things that can be done at home would be to label some of the furniture. Labels should be in lower case as this the natural form of words in books and reading materials. We should not be too concern about capitals or any other grammar at this initial stage as it is interest that we are concerned with. The grammatical concepts would be incidentally picked up with exposure to language and good role models.
A print rich environment would have interactive song and rhyme charts visibly displayed, great selection of developmentally appropriate books, different kind of reading materials like informational books, stories, newspapers etc.
There should also be materials for the child to doodle. Put drawing tools like crayons, thick pencils, paints, paper etc easily available to the child. These ‘doodling’ activities are pre-writing activities.
Beside a print-rich environment, there could also be a language expression corner where children have materials to act out. Puppets (finger puppets, hand puppets, paper bag puppets etc.), masks, head gears can be left with the story books to encourage children in extending their reading by dramatizing the story, pretending to be one of the characters or tell a story through the puppet. This makes reading more interesting and also helps children who are less confident to visit the reading experience. In many homes where the day goes by in a frantic rush, it is helpful to create a corner at home called the reading corner. Give it a catchy name that children would love. Set aside time everyday (15mins the most) where the whole family will go into that corner and read something. It could be shared reading time or individual reading. Though the toddler would not be able to read, they should be encouraged to pick up a book and look at the pictures and talk about it in their own capacity. This corner should be made as cozy as possible to invite the child in. Do ensure that the corner is child-friendly and child-safe as the child should be encouraged to go there anytime of the day apart from the reading time set everyday.