The Importance of Reading in the Early Years
In a society like Singapore's, there are now many forms of entertainment available for children. Out on the streets, you can probably find many children holding on to their parents' smartphones and tablets, watching cartoons (educational or not!) or playing games. Back at home, children's eyes would be glued to televisions and computer screens.
In recent years, there has also been a raft of "educational" shows and materials that purportedly aid in the learning of our children. You can even find shows on children's channels that try to teach your children the basics of reading: letters of the alphabet and spelling. Intuitively, these shows appeal to parents. They take minimal effort, entertain your children (keeping them quiet!), and even educate your children while doing so. Why not? As a parent, do you therefore still need to spend time teaching your children the ABCs? Is it still important for your children to read AND for you to read with your children?
The importance of reading
Most people would agree that being able to read is important. It is not an understatement that being illiterate would be a major handicap for anyone in our society. Talk to any of the elderly who did not have a chance to be educated and chances are they would have loved to learn reading and writing. On a practical level, when you think about schools for our children, not reading well would mean not being able to understand written instructions. Your child would not know what to do or write on their test papers! In fact, reading is arguably the basic skill upon which all other learning skills rest on. If you can't read well, you cannot understand what all the textbooks are saying.
Even if reading is achieved on a simple level and your child can understand the textbooks, should we be satisfied with just that? All (okay, maybe most) children have wonderful imaginations. They can imagine totally different worlds and even create people out of nothing (imaginary friends, anyone?). Their imaginations can be so vivid that they bring their imagined creations with them into their dreams and end up having nightmares (hands up those who have had children crying in the middle of the night). Reading allows them to share in the imaginations of others. It allows children (and adults) to learn about things that they have never seen and it helps them to relate to others better because they have experienced the sharing of other people's thoughts and imaginations. This is why reading expands horizons.
OK, I get it: reading is important. But why start young?
Like any good habit, the best time to get our children reading would of course be early childhood. There are numerous articles in academia and on the internet that show how reading positively influences children's chances in life. Children who read do better in schools, communicate better, and display more empathy. They can concentrate better and have longer attention spans. They are more logical and are more able to grasp abstract concepts. Traits which are all essential for life.
So reading is important, and we should start young. Where can we start?
For any advice on reading, the most logical place to go would naturally be our local libraries. In Singapore, our National Library Board has excellent programmes for reading. For toddlers aged 1 to 3, the Jiggle, Read & Rhyme programmes are a series of 30-minute sessions where librarians will give you tips on what you can do at home to help your children learn pre-reading skills. They also demonstrate during the sessions how you can use songs, rhymes, and stories with your children. Fun and interactive, these sessions are held regularly at most of their public libraries.
For children aged 4 to 6, there are regular storytelling sessions at the public libraries. Your children can enjoy having librarians tell them stories over 30-minute sessions, after which your children can also borrow books specially curated by the librarian. There are even sessions conducted in the mother-tongues! The libraries may sometimes also have Children's Specials where your children can learn interesting facts and stories, and have fun making their own crafts. For more information on these library programmes, you can visit their website.
In conclusion (the TL; DR version)...
Reading is an essential skill for success in life.
Like any good habit, it is best to start young.
Check out the NLB programmes!