Reading aloud may seem as simple as the alphabet, but most adults find themselves petering out somewhere at Gee! Britain discovered earlier this March, via a Nielsen’s survey, that only 32% of its children under 13 are read to daily, down from 41% in 2012, while only 19% of 8-10-year-olds get this treat.
No such survey has been done in India recently, but in a country glued to screens it would be no surprise to find that the ritual of bedtime storytelling is fast dying out despite study after study stressing the upsides of reading stories aloud to children: from improved cognitive development, to sharper language and literacy skills, and most importantly, closer bonding between parent and child.
Publisher and founder of Pickle Yolk Books, Richa Jha,
recalls reading to her children even before they could follow the words.
“That’s what led them to love words. My two children, now 14 and 18, latched on
to books at an early age because I read to them.” She continues to occasionally
co-read a picture book or a novel with her 14-year-old daughter, for whom the
memory of that loving routine begs a reprise.
But Jha, author of award-winning picture book Dance of the Wild, now largely reads to rooms full of children. The act, however, has got tougher. “Reading aloud has unfortunately become a form of entertainment, infiltrated by theatrics. Children are getting used to being entertained, and find it hard to tune their ears and minds to a story simply read,” she observes.
It’s now common practice for schools to inquire if visiting authors can accessorise their story with, say, a quiz, or an audio-video presentation to hold the students’ attention.
“I’ve interacted with children in three to four countries, and I find our children in India have a ‘listening’ problem,” says Sandhya Rao, author of several books, including My Mother’s Sari and Dream Writer. “They are ready to share their thoughts and opinions, but few really listen, and that I think is directly linked to the fact that we don’t read aloud to them when they’re small.”
Recalling the ‘Reading and Recitation’ sessions that were once part of school life, Rao believes every school ought to have read-alouds, with the child too as reader. “It helps them develop an aesthetic appreciation, particularly for books that are rhythmic and musical. It also helps them speak confidently and builds vocabulary,” she says, citing the example of her mother-in-law, who learnt Tamil by listening to stories read aloud to her from serialised stories in magazines.