“Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.”
- Arnold Lobel
Books are powerhouses of wit and wisdom that spark our imagination and sharpen our intelligence. They are potent weapons of vocabulary and knowledge. And when these potent instruments are thrust into little hands, the result is nothing short of a Big Bang like explosion of ever improving language skills, better analytical skills, improved listening skills, more empathy, better attention span and an unfettered supply of creativity.
But great minds like great books are never built in a single day. It takes time - years and years of it and wave after wave of effort.
In fact the single most important skill a child needs to excel at kindergarten and consistently thereafter is a rich vocabulary. This is because instruction in kindergarten is disseminated orally and the kid who has more words in their repertoire will understand better what is being said and have an advantage over her peers.
Jim Trelease, in his book The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin), explains how it all begins with the listening vocabulary. When you read to your child day after day, her cup of listening vocabulary fills to the brim and slowly starts overflowing into the speaking vocabulary. Keep reading and slowly words will overflow from her speaking vocabulary into her reading vocabulary. From reading vocabulary, words will gradually overflow into her writing vocabulary. So, replenishing our kids’ cup of listening vocabulary is crucial.
In fact reading aloud shouldn’t be restricted to young kids. Kids as old as 14 or older too should be read aloud to. This is because kids are better listeners than readers. They may be able to read fifth grade books, but they can understand and appreciate more complicated plot lines and characters if it is read aloud to them.
“We let down our guard when someone we love is reading us a story. We exist together in a little patch of warmth and light.” says novelist Kate Dicamillo to Meghan Cox Gurdon, the author of The Enchanted Hour. In this distracted age of multiple screens and ever shorter attention spans, reading aloud is a kind of magic elixir. It is a soothing balm for the soul. It replenishes all that technology leaches away.
Reading to our kids is a gesture of love. They may not remember the toys we purchased for them or the technology we gave them access to or the apps we downloaded. But they will remember our voice, the stories we tell them, the places we describe, and the characters we bring to life.
For infants and toddlers alike whose brains are developing at an exponential rate, there’s simply nothing like being read to. Listening to stories while looking at pictures fosters optimal cognitive development. It is the best possible start in life parents, teachers and guardians can give them.
According to a study about reading habits of kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, just six extra minutes of reading daily can turn a struggling reader into one who is on par with his peers. In fact kids are exposed to 50% more words while reading as compared to watching prime time television.
Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States once said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” And history is witness to this timeless truth. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte - no matter which country they belonged to, no matter which century they lived in, each and every one of them valued books and the habit of reading every day. That is what widened their horizons and made them the extraordinary leaders they were.
Let us also begin our children’s reading journey today. Remember, every kindergartener wants to read. All they need is a parent/teacher/ guardian who cares to nurture this eagerness and open a world of possibilities for them. Margaret Fuller said it all when she wrote, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader”.
Also read: The Modern Rules of Reading to Your Child