Nurturing baby to be a life-long reader

Baby with book

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Recently, on a visit to the home of a new acquaintance, I took a gift of a book for her 7 month-old infant. It was a plastic-coated board book filled with bright pictures of animals. The pages were sturdy, with clear, bright colour pictures of animals. Before I could place the book within his reach, the baby, gurgling and dribbling, tugged the book out of my hand. He looked at the cover of the book and eagerly grabbed the edge of the first page that I began to turn for him. He looked at the pictures with big clear eyes. He sat there quiet, absorbed as he looked on; a smile on his face. 

It was then I heard my new friend say, “Books are new to my child.” Then she continued by saying, with a casual shrug, that children in her culture (I am not going to say which) prefer to play rather than read books. I was taken aback and greatly saddened when I heard her say this. Why?

Babies and books go together. But here was a child at seven months old interacting with a book for the very first time.

Books for babies, like toys for babies, are everywhere now. They’re made out of firm board; some with plastic or rubber coating. There are even books made out of cloth. Whichever kind, these books are made to withstand chewing, pulling, tugging and washing (to get them clean or to have child play with in bath). Parents can aim to buy one or a few of these kinds of books for babies from among all the toys that they purchase for their little one.

I watched as the baby played with the book, all the while his eyes sparkling with delight as he looked at the bright animals on each page. I was curious as to know what was he thinking as he ‘turned’ the pages. What would happen if I began to read the words aloud; clearly and slowly. Oh I am sure then he and that book would have been the best of friends!

Parents need to make the first step toward creating life-long readers. But here was a parent who readily acknowledged that books were not liked in her culture even from a young age, and from her reaction it seemed she didn’t find that this was a problem.

While it may be difficult to break out of certain cultural practices, research shows that making books available to children from the early years and reading to them, helps establish the foundations for developing into a good reader (and someone who will grow up to like reading as a form of entertainment).

“An infant won’t understand everything you’re doing or why. But you wouldn’t wait until your child could understand what you were saying before you started speaking to him or her… or wait until he or she could shake a rattle before you offered any toys.” (KidsHealth)

I knew that the little book will see rough days ahead; a corner chewed on here, a page ripped off there. But that is fine because I knew what was important was that this book presented to the baby a whole new way of seeing the world. It presented print and pictures. It was entertainment as much as his rattle.  With the presence of more books around him, and in hearing them being read aloud to him; this child would grow up to find books not just useful but also satisfyingly entertaining. What’s more it’s likely he would develop into an early reader. If only his mother was ready to be the one to change the very thing she observed.

Action Points: There are many benefits in providing books in the home for a child and in parents finding time to read to their child. What’s most important from an early age is to try to make books, and not just toys, available to your baby. Also, provide books with bright, clear pictures (whether with text or wordless). Spend a little time everyday ‘reading’ to your baby (this could be simply talking about what you see in the pictures). Finally, don’t forget to sing (chant) and talk to your child as much as possible.

Do these simple steps and you will be laying the foundation for a child who grows into a life-long reader.

My independent reader, giveaways and some recent finds

Whilst I’ve been unable to spend time on the blog, I’ve been updating the Ummah Reads page on Facebook and sharing quite a bit of good information and news at UmmahReads on Twitter. However, I did have a quiet moment today and decided since I had the computer all to myself I would post about some of what’s been happening and what I’ve found recently.

But before I do I need to mention two giveaways that are taking place as I type:

  1. MiniMuslimeen magazine is giving away a free copy of its first issue to the first 100 people who email them at MiniMuslimeen is a wonderful magazine for Muslim children that teaches children Islam in fun and inspiring way.
  2. AmericanMuslimMom has a giveaway going on as well on her site. These books are not Islamic but they are great picture books for children 7 years and under. Go have a look here.

Independent Reader

My little one has grown into an independent reader, MashaAllah and now he almost always refuses to be read-aloud to. Bed time used to be special times when we would sit quietly and I would read to him. Not anymore; he wants to read all on his own! I know I should be happy that he can read on his own and I am, AlhamduLillah . But I am also aware that he still needs to hear words being enunciated properly in order to help him pronounce and spell words correctly. In addition, reading aloud has the added benefit of helping him to learn how to express himself through reading with different intonation, voices etc.

I am slowly negotiating to get back to the bedtime routine of reading aloud together and it seems to be working. First I let him read about 10-15 minutes on his own, then we select a book to read together for about 20 minutes. What this means is that we have to start getting ready for bed earlier in order to give us enough time for him to read and then for us to read. 

Recent Finds

I recently came upon (but have not read) the Jannah Jewels series. It’s an adventure chapter book series that aims according to the website to focus on Islam’s rich history. The four characters are all girls who have special skills which they use when they go on their trips. The first book in the series (there are three books in all) is currently available; it’s title “The Treasure of Timbuktu”. For more information on this new series that looks like a great read for children 8 to 12 years, check out the website.

Next up on my list of finds is Owh So Muslim, a website that contains information about essential aspects of Islam presented in an easy-to-read format with fantastic manga inspired graphics. Right now there is a beautiful description of the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) up on the site (see here). Some of the graphics and information are available for free download as well. I can see parents and teachers using this at home or in the classroom (school or weekend Islamic school).

And finally I listened to a poem called Jannah being read by Ammar Al Shukry with the words cleverly appearing on the screen that makes reading the poem as much fun as listening to it. A video that young people will definitely enjoy! Listen here.

And that’s about it for now. I pray that I can get back to posting here regularly once more.

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Reading at Bedtime

Reading aloud to your child at bedtime is a great way to soothe your child especially when it forms part of the bedtime routine. Infact some children look forward to bedtime just so that they can hear stories! Reading aloud at bedtime also helps to build a child’s love for reading and develops his/her listening skills.

So I was delighted to read a wonderful post over at The Well-Read Muslim outlining how Muslim parents can help calm and relax their children at bedtime through the use of stories.  The post describes what a parent can do in the event that s/he cannot be there in person to read. The solution? Provide your child with the an audio recording of stories or surahs from the Qur’an. You may even consider recording yourself reading aloud the story. Read more here.