Into the World of Books: From One Mamma to Another

Hi Menaka, tell us about yourself and your family. 

Thank you so much for having me here. It’s a pleasure to meet like-minded people and share ideas. I am from Chennai, staying with my husband and our son Pranav. He is 6 years. My journey with the Montessori Method started in 2015 when my son was 2 years and there has been a lot of learning and unlearning happening since then. My husband and I strongly believe that a child’s formative years impacts their entire life and together we guide our son in this journey.

What do you think is the role of books in the lives of children under 6?

To me, one of the best things ever created is books. With books that relate to real life, children connect with the world and enjoy being a part of it. For example, reading a book on insects to a very young child changes the way the child looks at the insects. When my son was younger, I used to read a wonderful book on ladybirds and whenever he noticed an insect he used to call it a ladybird. Though many of them were not ladybirds, we were glad that he noticed the insect and related the story to it.

Are there some aspects you consider before choosing a book? 

Yes, there are! I am a very picky reader. To choose a book for an adult seems a lot easier. When I chose my son’s first book, I did go to the bookstore to understand what sort of age appropriate books they had available. There were many things running through my mind -paperback or board books, content and presentation, illustrations and most importantly the plot. After searching a lot, we resorted to books that had real images, art, collage and hand-drawn illustrations, and content presented with simplicity and humour. We went for books that blended facts with a story. I have realised that things like paperback or board do not matter as we make sure all books are treated with respect in our house and they always stay in the same condition.

How did you ‘read’ with your son when he was under 3 years? How has it changed since then? 

Reading books together is the best memory we both share. Initially, we had one box collection of books and 2 individual books that we placed on a table close to the sofa. We made sure we read at least 2 books a day. Initially, after reading the books to him regularly and observing his depth of listening, we would ask him to bring his choice of book and read that also to him. We also made sure that we were available whenever he wanted us to read to him.  Now that he is older, we set aside a reading time and decide based on our availability. If we aren’t available, he will just go through the books himself, looking at the pictures. We noticed how he gradually tried to read phonetically.  Now that he has started reading, he reads a book and then I read one.

Regardless of how we read now, we have always begun our sessions by  listening to the storyline and gradually, as he started talking, we began to comprehend the character’s emotions, humour and other aspects.

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Are there any specific ways in which you store and display the books? 

When he was younger, we used a DIY cardboard holder and placed it close to where we spent our family time. As our book reading gained momentum, we chose a place by the window to display the books so that he can make choices. There were days when he didn’t show interest in reading any book and, on those days, we would just pick out his favourite book and casually leave it lying in different ‘noticeable’ corners of the house. This usually caught his attention and he would grab them and then we would ask him if he would like to listen to a story. 

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How do you collaborate with your son in maintaining the books? 

As parents, we are particular in making him realise that there is responsibility in the choices he makes. Initially, we bought all the books for him. As he grew, we started taking him to a bookstore/lending library to choose books, find a place in the bookshelf and decide when to read. We both spent a lot of quality time at home reading books in the early days. It is always not just about reading, but we look at the details on the cover picture, the front page, the summary/collection items, the way the books are bound and how the author has  illustrated them. I think bringing his attention to all these tiny details has made him feel a deeper connection with the books. He would never take any book, fold or flip the front page or scribble things on them. 

Do you think it is just as important for adults around children to read? Why? 

It is absolutely important for adults to inspire children to read. Children look up to the adults in their family and learn habits. There is so much to learn and enjoy in this world and sometimes we could never experience them in real life but the joy of experiencing them by picturing the images in our mind is what books help us achieve. When a child sees somebody close to them enjoying and cherishing a book, they are naturally drawn to it. My son always wonders how I read big books with no pictures and lots of words. I hope that wonder changes into a joyous interest in the future.

What are some unique themes you have explored with your son in your readings? 

We are not particular about themes but I just realised that most of our books are about nature – plants, animals, insects and everything under the sky. We spend most of our evenings gardening, watching the sky and talking about stars. So, he got into choosing books about these topics and even when we are not around he looks at the pictures and refers them to us in our conversations. We continue to encourage him to choose books based on simple and real things so that  we can talk more about it.

Do you think there are enough libraries and reading groups for young children in India?

That’s a good question! There are very few libraries and reading groups. We recently shifted to a more central place in the city hoping that there would be more libraries, but we managed to find only two libraries and no reading groups. And those two had very limited collection for young children.

Schools and parents role in encouraging children to read are vanishing. More libraries and reading groups should come up in India. Parents and schools should give more importance to reading and help children blossom into young readers. I feel the awareness among parents to nurture reading is less and most schools are sidelining reading as a hobby. Reading is so much more than a hobby; it is a deep need for children! There is so much that children get from books. When we look at where the world is going now, what we want is more empathetic people who can understand others’ feelings and be there for them. Books don’t just help us imagine but make us feel what each character is going through.

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With the current pandemic situation, how have you been accessing books? 

My son who had recently got into independent reading was actually shocked when he came to know his ordered books won’t be delivered. Since we had a few extra new books, thanks to our book collection habit, he managed well for a while. We additionally got him into watching others reading books online which has helped tremendously.

Inspired by watching people read books online, he got interested in reading his old books  for other children and now we have a YouTube channel featuring his videos which really helps keep his reading habit alive. I continue to read my books to him, few pages a day and let him listen, as I feel it will be a smooth transition for him to enter the world of non-fiction and improve his listening skills as well.

What are some ways in which you talk to Pranav about the situation we are in? Do you read books around that? If so, can you recommend?

Firstly, we stopped watching sensational news about the current situation and made sure he learns about the crisis from us. He took to the changes gradually as we spoke about COVID-19 and the importance of staying indoors. Surely, books have been of immense help; many across the world have created e-books for children making it easier to explain things that’s happening around while also instilling hope. 

Ignorance is the key to fear; when children know what’s going on and see people act with courage and caution, they develop responsibility, problem handling skills and care for people. This is a learning opportunity for everybody.