THE WITNESS, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2006 START A LOVE AFFAIR THAT WILL NEVER END Our columnist explains why it is so important to instill a love of reading in children They can make children laugh, cry, shake with fright and shiver with delight. They can bring minutes or hours of enjoyment. They stimulate their interest , imagination and creativity. They enrich their language ability. They support their intellectual growth. They aid their personality development and help to build their emotional intelligence. They support their social and moral development. They improve the quality of family life. “What are they? Where can I get them? How much do they cost?” Nothing more then a visit to the library and the time to share them together. I‟m talking, of course, about good children‟s books. Walking out of the cinema, recently, after seeing „Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‟, I rejoiced at the producer‟s treatment of this wonderful children‟s fantasy. His close adherence to the original book enabled the themes of betrayal, self-sacrifice, courage and forgiveness, resulting in the final triumph of good over evil, to shine through. Together with the good casting and visual richness he was able to make an excellent piece of children‟s literature into a wonderful piece of cinema. Travelling home, I recalled a conversation I had had a number of months earlier with a friend, the mother of two children. Having read somewhere that this film was in the making, I asked her if she had read the book to her children. “No‟, she replied, “they can wait for the film. There are so many excellent children‟s films on video now that I find I don‟t have to do much reading. They can watch the video and then read the book themselves, later, if they want to.” I had to agree with her that there are, indeed, some wonderful children‟s films but, on the other hand, felt saddened that she used them as a substitute for reading to her children. Why, with all the electronic media available today, is it still important to read to children? Let‟s take a look at a few of the reasons. Firstly, it instills a love of books. Being able to read and become people who not only can read, but who do read, are two of the things we really want for our children. Research into early readers shows that most of them are children who have been read to. Their parents , or caregivers, have shared good children‟s books with them, daily, from the time they were babies. Children learn through imitation and these children have seen that their parents love books and enjoy reading to them. They have experienced books as exciting, interesting and enjoyable and, as a result, have also learnt to love books, to know how they work, and developed a desire to learn to read. If they are to get the desire to read, children first need to be made aware of the pleasures of good books. Ruth Love, a superintendent of schools said: “If we would get our parents to read to their children fifteen minutes a day, we could revolutionize the schools.” They need to know that there is more to reading than phonics, word recognition and questions at the end of the story. “The problem”, writes author John Trelease, “is that we (teachers and parents) have concentrated exclusively on teaching the child how to read and we have forgotten to teach him to want to read. There is the key: desire. It is the prime mover, the magic ingredient.” It is only reading to our children that can instill in them that desire. Reading to children also stimulates their language development. Children speak language mostly in the way they have heard it spoken. The words used in good books, as opposed to the electronic media, offer children a wealth of language to imbibe and to use to express themselves. They need to hear it often so that they can absorb it like rain on dry ground. By regularly listening to good books, and putting themselves in the place of The Ugly Duckling, Lucy, Edmund or Julie of The Wolves, children‟s creativity and imagination are stimulated. These vicarious experiences lead them to a better understanding of themselves, as well as others, and support their emotional and social development. They also enable them to regularly define and solve their problems. As they suggest possible solutions to the problems book characters have, they learn that their problems are not unique. When their solutions are different to those in the book, they learn that there may be many solutions to a problem and that they can be evaluated according to the consequences. And now some ideas for reading to your children. Start reading as soon as possible and continue through to, at least, the early teens. Start with nursery rhymes and picture books and move on to storybooks and, eventually, novels. Read as often as possible – try to have a time for at least one story (or chapter) a day. Make story time a time when you cuddle up together so that the child associates it with warmth and love. Allow time for discussion of what you have read. Stories bring new discoveries and arouse thoughts and feelings like hope, fear and compassion and children, both young and older, need time to express and deal with those. Never use it as a time to question them on the content of the story. Help them to learn, incidentally, about how books work by reading the names of the author and illustrator each time you start a book. Tell them a bit about the author. When reading to a preschooler, sometimes follow the text with your finger from left to right and allow them to turn the pages if they ask to. Give them time to handle books. Allow tactile/kinesthetic children, who find it difficult to sit still and listen, to keep their hands busy by drawing or doodling while listening. Add other experiences to the book when you can. For instance, when reading Frog Finds a Friend investigate frogs in the garden. Dad, you also need to read to the children and take them to the library sometimes so that , in the child‟s mind, books have the same status as cricket bats and soccer balls. Young boys, whose fathers don‟t read with them, often only associate reading with women. Monitor the amount of time your children watch television as research is showing that it can become a habit and that too much television can have a negative effect on your child‟s reading development. Never use a book as a threat. Telling them that if they don‟t go and bath immediately there will be no story tonight, is a sure way to develop negative attitudes towards books. “That first love affair between the young child and the young book”, wrote children‟s author Roald Dahl “will hopefully lead to other loves for other books and when that happens the battle is probably won. The child will have found a crock of gold.” We, their parents and teachers, are the cupids needed to shoot the arrows that will cause these wonderful love affairs to happen. Let‟s read to them every day. Beryl Lourens is the founder and director of The Centre For Life-Long Learning which specializes in Learning and Productivity Styles and Emotional Intelligence. 033-3431017; info@C4lifelonglearning.co.za; www.C4lifelonglearning.co.za.