Textbooks make staple reading material for every child. However, to realise the true potential of reading, it must go beyond academics, says Sanchayan Bhattacharjee
As the famous author Ray Bradbury puts it, the only thing worse than burning books is not reading them. However, there is a section of people in the city who are not only aware of the joys of reading and but are actively involved in spreading it. “While people bemoan the fact that fewer children are reading these days, the library has changed our perspective. We have young readers who write to us asking for new books. It is all about exposing them to the culture of reading,” says Vibha Kamat who along with a couple of friends runs a library for children with the help of the government at Bandra.
Atul Khaire, an 18 yr. old boy from Mumbai was not at all interested in reading until his father put him to work as a library assistant during holidays. “I saw so many people reading different books and wondered what it is about a book that keeps them so hooked. I gave up midway into my first book but gradually started reading more,” he said. Similarly, 7 yr. old Rhys Gonsalves is too young to develop any kind of reading preference. However his mother ensures that Rhys picks up a book of his choice every fortnight and at times even reads him the book. “I make sure that I read to him in case he isn’t reading the book,” she says.
Such initiatives are essential as the academic rigors of the times have made it difficult for children to cultivate reading as a hobby. “Nowadays kids have to deal with too much school pressure. Their schedule is too hectic for them to find time to read for leisure,” says Sonal Bimal, who is also part of the library. She also adds that that this paucity of time impacts their reading choices as well. “American authors have replaced classic authors like Enid Blyton because they are easier to read,” she says.
In addition to the tight schedules, the advent and subsequent rise of computer games, social networks, online videos etc. too has cut into the reading time of children who get swayed easily by the audio-visual nature of the medium. “I come across so many children, some of them appearing for their SSC exams who have not read anything except their textbooks. They do not consider it as important,” says Dr. Shubha Thatte, a clinical psychologist in Mumbai.
Since the academic pressures show so immediate signs of relenting, what must one do to ensure that children do not treat always reading as a chore? At MCubed library, a parent came over to the counter to issue a book for her child. She wanted an essay book which would help her child get better marks in his exams. “We cannot let children read just study materials for the entire day. They should have the freedom and access to read anything they want for at least half a day to one whole day in a week,” says Dhara Kothari, founder of Katha Kosa, a story telling initiative for children.
The advantages of developing a reading habit like improved vocabulary, better concentration and a calm mind are hidden to few. Thus it is imperative that parents play their part when it comes to inculcating this habit. “For starters, they must start reading themselves and lead by example. Reading cannot be an isolated activity. Parents take their children to malls, movies etc. Similarly, reading can become one such activity where the entire family participates,” says Bimal. In the end, it is the child who will eventually decide whether he likes or dislikes reading. However, as most of the people who have worked in this sector mention, they must be provided with the initial push.