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10 Jun 2017
For the Love of Reading...

By Namita Mehta, Partner & Undergraduate Services Manager at The Red Pen

As a university guidance counsellor, I have worked with many Indian students over the last decade and noticed how prevalent the class/tuition culture is over here. There is a class for almost anything! You can enrol your children to learn roller blading and cycling, robotics and 3-D printing, sports, music, art and dance. And of course, the never-ending tuition classes to help children prepare for the dreaded boards and crucial entrance exams. I too send my own children to a variety of classes to enhance their development and of course keep them busy! But in our rush to make our children chess champions, skilled artists, fluent coders and accomplished musicians, one basic skill that I find many parents tend to ignore or don’t emphasise enough on is reading.

I grew up valuing education, encouraged to strive academically by my mother who always supported my intellectual interests. Now as I work with students, helping them explore and pursue their academic interests, I believe strongly that reading is the foundation of education. It plays an important role in every aspect of our life. There are so many things in your life that you will have to figure out whether it is following a recipe, assembling a piece of furniture from a DIY manual, understanding the correct dosage you need to take from a medicine bottle, reading maps, and navigating legal instructions. Reading is critical!
 
In my experience, students that read are the most successful not only in the process of applying for university, but also in college and beyond. Being an avid reader improves your vocabulary and I have noticed that these students are the best at articulating their goals and talking about personal experiences in an impactful way. Reading also helps improve your writing, an essential skill no matter what your career goals are. I have worked with an umpteen number of students who can ace examinations, have perfect transcripts, and various other accolades, but find it challenging when it comes to self-reflection and expressing their ambitions and goals. This is not only a critical requirement in the application process for many international universities, but also an invaluable life skill. The critical reasoning skills and narrative abilities reading helps you develop will be vital for any industry you decide to join, and can kindle a life-long passion for learning.
 
And just as important, there is the joy of reading. Reading has opened my mind to new perspectives and shown me new worlds. It’s disheartening when students say to me “What’s the point of reading? It won’t improve my marks” or “It’s not part of my course, so why should I read it?”
 
As a parent of two young children here’s what I have learned and thought might be useful if you want to help your child develop a reading habit:
It really helps if you start early and do it over a period of time. You can help your child develop the reading habit by reading with them. Get them involved in the process – ask them to identify pictures and read familiar words in a book. Then slowly move to sentences. Play a game where you read one page and they read the other. I make it a point to read with my children at least once a day even if it is for fifteen minutes.
 
Reading is about bonding and spending time together with your children. Very often, while eating breakfast, my son will sift through the newspaper with his father and read the articles on cricket. He reads it himself and asks questions about things he doesn’t understand.
 
I find that reading helps my children improve their vocabulary and in turn their comprehension. I was reading a book, where a character was described as “grouchy and grumpy”. I looked at my daughter and asked her what she thought grouchy means? She tightened her muscles and scowled and said to me “Mama, like Mr. Scrooge. He was also grouchy and grumpy” She did not know the meaning of grouchy, but was able to infer it from what I was reading. A couple of days later, we had an early morning flight to catch. My excited daughter was up and ready, grinning at me and sipping her milk. She looked at her brother, then me and said cheekily “Mama, Ayaan is grouchy today!” This word is embedded in her brain.
 
Who says you only have to read story books? Expose yourself and your children to new ideas, literature, and styles of writing. Read magazine articles, menus and news magazines such as Young World and The Hindu. During a flight, I picked up the Jet Airways magazine and there was a very short article about how Jet Airways and the Mumbai International Airport Authority invited children from an NGO to visit an aircraft and learn about flying. The whole description was not more than 100 words, but I asked my 6-year-old to read it – he was introduced to a new style of writing and learned a couple of new words!
 
When we read we often explore the concept of fact vs. fiction, true vs. not true. My son is very interested in the solar system, so instead of reading a storybook, we read “The Solar System” by Emily Bone. He understood that what he is reading is “real” versus the storybooks about talking animals and flying carpets. He learned words like craters, orbit, revolve, planets and meteorites. The idea is to spark their curiosity and willingness to want to know more.
 
I love the way reading sparks their imagination and gets them to think of possibilities. My daughter’s favourite book is “The Tiger Who Came To Tea” by Judith Kerr. At the end of the book, the main character waits in anticipation for the tiger to come back, but the author ends the story by saying “… and he never did (return)”. This last sentence has played in my daughter’s mind and she wonders about it. She lets her imagination take over and every time we read the story she thinks of a different ending. In one version, a hippo then came to tea and he ate the lion’s food, in another version the girl goes out to search for the tiger and finds him and they have tea in the jungle and so on. Stories can inspire your child to think about what can happen next and this broadens their imagination, motivating them to invent their own stories outside of the presented narrative.
 
Reading also improves listening skills and it teaches children to understand expression. When I read Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and say “Whose been sitting in my chair?” in 3 voices (Papa bear, Mama bear and baby bear) with a deep voice, a calmer one and then in a baby voice, children can easily distinguish who is talking, and they automatically add expression too. It’s a fun way to seed effective presentation skills for the future!
 
***
Namita Mehta is  Partner & Undergraduate Services Manager. She completed her Masters in Molecular & Cellular Biochemistry, University of Oxford; A-Levels at Charterhouse Boarding School, UK
 
Namita led the University Guidance Counselling Department at B.D. Somani International School in Mumbai for over three years.  As an in-house counsellor, she advised students on effective profile development, managed the international university application process, and developed relationships with university admissions offices. Namita also specializes in training applicants for the Oxford and Cambridge interview process. Namita currently resides in Mumbai, but past homes include Hong Kong, UK and Germany. 
 
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