Thursday, January 05, 2006

Stirring a reading consciousness in children

Very often we hear about children who refuse to read books and involve merrily in creative activities that give wings to their imagination. Harry Potter has certainly re-introduced reading especially among children, in startlingly significant ways. Still, reading is a habit that needs to be inculcated in children as early as possible. From what we see around, the average age to start reading books like Harry Potter, Eregon etc.. seems to be 7 or 8 yrs. Till then, reading mostly revolves around the ubiquitous 'fairy tales'.

A mother of two kids, Mrs.Shailaja Dixit opines, "Wrapped up in the form of imaginative stories, they have some important values also". Strange as it may sound, it is but true. Because not only do they emanate sheer magic and a pleasant feeling while one reads them, they also have worthy messages for young, impressionable children. Since children are very pliant at that age, to have an essential message passed on to them in the name of a story is certainly not a benign task. For one, there is this inimitable heroine in Cinderella who has so much self-belief that despite having been ill-treated and made fun of by her step-sisters, she still gears herself up to be the enchanting girl who wins the hand of the charming prince! Many more stories of this nature are driven to inculcate self-confidence, truth, justice, honor and valor in children, provided they are guided firmly and intelligently, backed by sensibly chosen stories.

Children have much more to remember than just the story from tales like 'The brave tailor' that heralds the importance of wit and decisiveness, 'Elves and the shoemaker' that entails the story of an honest and duty-bound shoe-maker who eventually gets blessed with colossal fortunes, all because he had the empathy and compassion to help some elves who were in dire need. These stories sizzle with their emphasis on goodness, fine behavior and deportment, sense of justice, character and last but not the least, presence of mind, wit, gallantry, braveness and courage.

However, the challenge is to evoke the submerged interest in stories among children and to captivate them with a delightful narration, which is precisely what the best-selling children's books do! It is no mean feat to reinstate the love for books among children. But once achieved, it only grows. They should be made to understand at an early age itself that reading is a religion in itself and a well-read person definitely comes across as more refined than the rest and is never really alone wherever he is. Books are the primary source of information. Reading is the kind of devotion that, if once evoked, never goes astray. So, children ought to give reading the distinction it rightfully commands.And this is where the responsibility of parents comes into fore by nurturing appreciation and inclination towards reading in their offspring.

To start with, a child would want to read the kind of books that are sprinkled with imagination, beauty and a taste of humor. The obvious choice would be a well-chosen fairy tale that brightens their moods and colours their spirit with a lot of spunk. This will undoubtedly lay a firm foundation in turning them into vigorous and interested readers who believe that reading is not an activity or worse, a chore, but it is a pleasure and a fun filled experience they would want to indulge in, more and more often.

Further more, when we look at fairy tales from this angle, one can safely conclude that along with a regular diet of generic fairy tales, our very own mythological epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata should also be imparted to children in the form of short, understandable stories. Along side being entertaining, thanks to the rich drama that they unfold, they are also informative regarding our ancient history. Most of us have had nostalgic experiences with our grandparents telling us these stories when we were kids. But now-a-days, due to the shift in family structures from joint to nuclear, not all homes are replete with people who are free enough to pass on these stories.

So fairy tales (or any short story) for children should be written carefully with a well-placed view of awakening the dedicated reader in them and also live up to what could be achieved through word-of-mouth story telling. When this is accomplished, we can happily sit back and watch a new generation of voracious book-lovers who can devour this knowledge source, and a consistent breeze of coming-of-age creative playwrights, not to forget hordes of other people who will be better equipped with abundant knowledge and timely information, not because they have access to all the world's resources but because, they have the drive and capacity to read and are using it to their advantage in any field that they embark on!



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