When reading is mentioned, we usually talk about the reading habit of adults, and ignore that of our children. However, if children do not read, if their parents do not read to them, then there is a serious problem. Making children love reading and making them read the right books at the right age is the duty of all parents.
Pre-school children and reading
Reading books to little children is one of the best ways of spending time with them. What we tell them at this period has a greater influence on them, because this is the period when their personalities are developing. It is a very remarkable fact that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) counseled Muslims to whisper the adhan and iqama in a baby's ear as soon as he/she was born; from this we can infer that we should start talking to our child from the very first day. Today, researchers who study child development have reached the same conclusion.
As soon as our baby can differentiate colors and shapes, we can begin to communicate with him/her using books. A picture will catch a child's attention. It is better to explain something to a child with a picture or a photograph, for it is recognized that learning is more effective with visual support. Our child will be interested in books at an early age if we show them the pictures in a book and talk about them. Such a practice is useful in terms of language development and establishing a dialogue between parents and their children, as well as making children feel that their parents love them. A further benefit in introducing books to children at an early age is that it raises their interest in books. In time, books become their close friends and reading becomes a need for them. As Victor Hugo stated, the need to read is like gunpowder, once it is ignited it does not die out.
During the pre-school period, if the parents read books to their children everyday, their child's vocabulary will become enriched and their ability to think will improve along with their intellectual progress. In this way, children will learn to listen and to speak. They will grow up as individuals who love reading. They often ask questions when a story is being read, for children learn by asking. They should be given logical and satisfactory answers. Their questions should never be ignored or undermined. They should never be misinformed. Children are never bored by listening to the same stories over and over. This helps them to become familiar with the vocabulary and facilitates absorbing the message given in the book.
What is the benefit of books?
Books are the most important means of educating children. We transfer our culture to new generations via books. Books improve language use and teach about life. Children can get to know people through books and evaluate them. Within the plots of novels and stories, children come to recognize human behavior. Starting from this point, they learn what kind of people should be considered as friends and what type of behavior is to be avoided.
A child who reads about the problems in life and the ways to cope with these knows what to do when he/she encounters similar problems in real life. Books teach children to use their imagination and to love people, nature and living things. Books raise interest in inventions and technology. They teach about man's place and his duty in the universe. The stories children read teach them that they should not step on ants, destroy bird-nests, that they should not let animals starve and so on. They make children feel in their consciences that lying, stealing, and fighting are all wrong. Children internalize values, such as being kind to people, helping them without expecting anything in return, courage, determination, modesty, being resolute and striving for success when identifying themselves with the heroes in the books they read.
Books are a means of entertainment as well. Riddles, puzzles, mind games and anecdotes contribute to the mental development of children and help them enjoy themselves.
The reason for reading:
Reading is related to the way we perceive the world and our perspective of life, universe and our self-opinion. Reading is the outcome of the urge to discover new things and our desire, as a human being to understand ourselves, the reason of our existence, our Creator and the mysteries of the universe. This must be the reason why the first order of the Qur'an is Read. People can achieve these only by reading.
How can we motivate children toward books and reading?
There is no magical way to make children love reading. Nevertheless, we can try different ways to approach this problem. We have already mentioned some methods that can be used with pre-school children. We can apply different methods for older children.
First of all, if the adults at home constantly read and share their opinions with each other about the themes or characters in the books they are reading, the children will develop an interest in reading. Reading starts with the family. Even a little child who cannot read or write, holds a book, turns its pages, looks at its pictures, asks questions about it and in the end, reading becomes as natural for him/her as eating and drinking. In short, if reading has a place in our own life, our children will read too.
We should not just present books as a means of transferring information. We should emphasize the entertaining and attractive sides of books also. Children should be made to meet books as if they were meeting a friend. Illustrated story books, novels, books of riddles, puzzles and anecdotes are usually more interesting for children. Such books warm children to reading.
We should read together with our child. Children love this. We should alter the tone of our voice when we read what different characters are saying, trying to animate the story. If the parent is the only one reading, it will be boring for the child. Sometimes the child should read to his/her parents. Some parents habitually read stories to their children before they go to sleep. This is a good method that can be used in most families.
Children should be taken to book fairs and bookshops, they should be given time to take a look at the books. They should be allowed to choose some of the books they are to read. We should be careful about choosing books suitable to their age. A book should have interesting illustrations and should be written in a language that is grammatically accurate, yet interesting.
In conclusion, if we choose the right ways, any child can love reading. However, we cannot make a child read a book by force. Even if we cannot help the children to love books, then at least we should not make them hate books. Once a person hates books, it is very difficult for them to warm to them again.