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To build a world, begin with a book at bedtime
Today as we rush to achieve the daily tasks of our fast moving societies, we unconsciously rely on our BlackBerry and the computer screens in our offices to feed us with information and update us on the latest headlines from around the world. Many of us complain that we no longer have the luxury of time to read – an argument that I would reject in dismay. It is very sad to find out that on average a person reads only so little, and only on technology-driven gadgets instead of through the printed word.
Many of us are disciplined to go to the gym for a good work out to exercise the body – and we fail to recognise that as much as the body needs to be maintained, the mind also needs to be exercised to maintain its endless potential. And the best way to feed and exercise the mind is to give it a concentrated dose of stimulus. Nothing, in my opinion, does that better than a good book. We must discipline ourselves to nourish this practice among ourselves – but more importantly nourish and encourage the habit among our youth.
As children grow, they learn through imitation and repetition; they are inherently very good at copying others, and most of their earliest learning experiences are developed through what they witness – which is why it is so important to create a reading environment at home. If children grow up watching their parents enjoying reading, by the time they are old enough to learn to read, it will seem as natural to them as having breakfast.
One way of nourishing this habit at an early stage is by reading aloud to them. Many parents may baulk at the idea of reading to infants or really small children because they automatically presume that their young ones will not understand the majority of the words. However they fail to realise that children learn to speak, in the very early stages of their development, by repeatedly listening to words that are initially beyond their understanding and comprehension.
Children develop their future facility with words through a process of imitation and repetition.
As a result, when they start to learn to read for themselves, they will have memory impressions of all those hours spent hearing stories.I confidently and strongly advocate this practice and can vouch for it over any other approach, as I have been both the recipient and the provider of such a process.
When I was a child, my mother ingrained this beautiful habit in me by reading aloud to me before I went to bed each night. She also used to take me and my siblings to bookshops and libraries, generously letting us choose any book that appealed to our eyes or our minds. I also enjoyed it when she used to share with us what she read, and encouraged us to share with her what we were reading. As a result, I built a strong bond with books.
When I was working in London a few years ago, I participated in a voluntary community programme where my colleagues and I would spend an hour every fortnight reading to young children from disadvantaged and underprivileged families. It was a tremendous – and very satisfying – experience to witness the impact that reading out aloud had on the listening children. At the end of each term we got a huge thrill from seeing how much their vocabulary and knowledge of new words had expanded.
Reading aloud to children is an important educational practice that promotes not just vocabulary growth, but also an understanding of text, general knowledge, and – hopefully – the motivation to read. The primary aim of these educational practices is to foster independent reading. Studies show that children who develop early reading practices perform better academically at school because, in addition to the fluency of language that they gain, they also widen their general knowledge.
But reading is not only about academic success, it is also one of the most pleasant and relaxing ways of passing the time that I know. Reading allows me to escape to another zone, and on many occasions has inspired me with ideas. Although I have learnt a lot about life through travelling and meeting people of different cultures, nothing can equate with the knowledge I have acquired about the world through books without travelling an inch from my room.
I was recently amazed by the exciting initiative launched by Dubai Cares to ask students to read one million books in two weeks. Dubai Cares beautifully translates Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid’s vision to transform underprivileged societies of other parts of the world, but this reading scheme has the additional benefit of introducing children here to the joys and rewards of reading.
The novelist Esther Meynell once said: “Books to the reading child, are so much more than books – they are dreams and knowledge, they are a future, and a past”. Let us all work together to nourish this educational practice among our youth and help transform and build their dreams into a reality.
This article first appeared in The National newspaper on 18 November 2008.