Over the last few years, there has been a lot of brouhaha about how little youngsters are reading nowadays. Parents constantly ask how to get their children to read books at a time when technology offers a gamut of attractive tools.
While pondering over this tussle between reading and watching, I re- membered the words of Groucho Marx, American comedian, writer, film, radio and television star: "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." For youngsters today, reading could be linked to watching and vice versa, as mobile phones have be- come ubiquitous. So where does the problem lie? Is it the way reading happens and the purpose? Does this suit the kind of immersive reading that earlier generations have known?
Let us consider a few valid arguments to support reading in the usual, conventional way.
Reading helps develop cognitive skills, including language acquisition, vocabulary, and comprehension. It stimulates the imagination and helps in critical thinking. This naturally culminates in a for midable communicative skill and the art of writing is enhanced as well. When we read, we think, decide, decode, deliberate and then state our truths and beliefs.
As readers, one has to create mental images. Apart from being a leisure activity, reading can also strengthen familial bonds when stories are shared, discussed and reflected upon. What is imperative here is to understand is reading should not be forced down children's throats. This may lead to a deep-rooted aversion. Reading should be engaging and enjoyable.
When it comes to watching, children learn concepts easily when there is visual learning. The scope for multisensory experiences is also appealing. With digital plat- forms being a source of content, the array of re- sources available offers a diversity of perspectives and ideas even when one is within the four walls of a home.
While no one can deny that technology is here to stay, is it possible to strike a balance between reading and watching? For example, what if adults were to be more proactive and de- sign our lives to share the old and the new? For ex- ample, pick up the morning newspaper and show the children how it looks, feels and reads. Children learn best by imitation, so we need to practise what we wish our children to absorb.
How about visiting bookshops and choosing titles that the children want to read? If they like The Lion in the Library, do not buy Cinderella. If they like Nimmi's Wiggly Tooth do not give them Peter Pan. The time for Cinderella and Peter Pan will come. Spend time reading a book with them. Young children are more adaptable and curious. Ask questions about the story, discuss who they liked and why, make them critical thinkers even as you power their imagination. Follow this routine when they watch something. Sit with them and guide them to watch things that are enjoyable and in- formative. If they want to see Paw Patrol, ask them what is so special about the dogs. Guide them to thinking about loyalty towards family and friends. When you start watching what they love to watch and read what they enjoy reading it becomes a shared experience. We need to frame a schedule for our engagements with our children. There can be a reading weekend and a watching hour. There can be a bookshop visit and a 'choose-your-entertainment' evening. There can be a 'dress-up' as your favourite book character and a family holiday video hour' as well. Do not make them choose between the two. The book and the screen can co-exist, as both are realities of life. So, prepare children to love what they are doing. It could be reading or watching; both play an important role in a child's development when used mindfully, while also giving them the freedom of choice.
—Vijay GarG Retired Principal Educational columnist malout