What have you read, lately?

It is a norm for Malaysian parents these days to want their children to be able to read at a young age. In fact, most pre-schools provide a set of readers and encourage children as young as three to start reading. Although this is a good way to start, not all children turn out to be readers. Perhaps I should clarify the term: A reader is primarily an individual who enjoys reading for pleasure. Although most avid readers tend to gravitate to fiction, some prefer non-fictional, albeit non-academic books. 

In Malaysia, however, most people have traditionally viewed reading as a means to achieve academic and economic success. In most of our popular bookstores it was not unusual to see people flocking the sections for school curriculum related material and self-help books while a small number browsed through the fiction section. Fortunately, the fact that reading can be fun while being a beneficial way to improve language skills and general wellbeing is becoming more widely known. 

Known in academic circles as ‘extensive reading’, reading as a pleasurable activity has been widely researched. Researchers have identified several key characteristics of extensive reading: that the reading is within the language competence of the reader, the reader chooses what he/she wants to read, the texts are interesting and engaging, the reward is the reading itself and that there are no exercises, questions or dictionaries; and that the parent or teacher is the role model who participates along or encourages the reader.  

Among the numerous educational and social benefits of this simple activity are improved reading attainment and writing ability, increase in breadth of vocabulary and competence in grammar and text comprehension. Apart from that an avid reader also will have better understanding of other cultures and deeper insight into human nature compared to non-readers. In New Zealand, a study among school children showed that reading for pleasure had positive effects on empathy, social skills and motivation towards school.

As with any other good habit, reading begins at home. Parents can encourage children by providing a large variety of age-appropriate reading material for them to choose from. As children nowadays are surrounded by technical devices, encourage them to use e-readers or kindles. Even though parents may think it counter-productive, using technical devices to facilitate reading gives children who have grown up in an age of smartphones and computers another outlet with which they are familiar to grow and learn. It also goes without saying that parents who are avid readers will most probably pass on the trait to their children.

Schools too can promote the reading habit in many ways. It is pleasing to note that some public schools have a reading programme where children are encouraged to bring a story book to school and read it during their free time. In fact, they also have a little notebook to record the details of the books that they have read. Having their reading ‘achievement’ acknowledged by their teachers and parents can make this a truly rewarding experience for the children. 

While we encourage our children to read, let’s not forget that adults too, can reap similar benefits: Reading for thirty minutes or more per week for pleasure reduces stress, engenders stronger feelings of relaxation, and provides greater ability to cope with difficult situations and stronger awareness of social issues and cultural diversity.  So don’t wait for a good time to start, but get your favourite paperback or download the e-book version on your smart phone today. 

By Ms Rajani A/P Chandra Mohan, Lecturer for Monash English Bridging