x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Lifelong readers are born 'on the laps of their parents'

In a world full of distractions, parents, siblings and role models should take the opportunity to introduce young children to reading.

My parents are avid readers. As a child I remember them encouraging my siblings and me to read and explore books. We would read the tale of The Tortoise and the Hare and Little Red Riding Hood, and the sagas of Salah El Deen and other historical heroes. These wonderfully fluid worlds of literature and imagery transformed me to a place only found in one's imagination.

I guess this is the reason I have taken to reading myself.

Studies have proven that children of parents who read for pleasure are more likely to read for fun themselves. Children who read tend to be less violent and perform better academically. Different education systems and schools emphasise reading, and at the end, reading is a skill that we inherit, from parents and teachers who share the passion.

So it's disheartening to learn that fewer and fewer parents are passing this skill on to their children.

A recent study by the Abu Dhabi Education Council found that a large percentage of adults are not following in my parents' footstep. Parents today spend less than one hour a week reading with their children, and many parents have stopped reading themselves.

The decline in reading by children is a global issue, and it's happening even in the developed world. Research by the National Literacy Trust in the UK shows that only three in 10 children spend some of their own time reading books. The survey of more than 21,000 children found a notable decline in the number of children reading for pleasure between 2005 and 2011.

In other words, without parents' guidance, children would spend all their time watching TV or playing video games, reading nothing longer than a text message or a tweet.

Parents can help reverse this trend. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development conducted an international study in 2011 on teenagers from 14 countries; it found a strong link between parental engagement in reading activities at an early age and teenage reading skills. Although education systems have a great effect on the ability of children and young people to read, the OECD study suggests that children whose parents spend time with a book in their hands were ahead of their peers in reading skills.

Of course, the only way to encourage children to read is to make it fun. Maybe this could be done by creating a special decorated area at home just for reading? This would show children how wonderful books are and encourage them to enjoy reading.

Unfortunately, I have seen some parents use reading or studying as a means of punishment. When children do something wrong, a parent might ask them to go to their room and read or study.

Sadly this can create a negative vibe around reading. How could children love reading if it was their punishment? Why don't we give our children books as gifts instead? We all value gifts, especially from our loved ones.

Luckily for local families there are many opportunities this month to turn things around.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council has launched the "Abu Dhabi Reads" initiative, which aims to encourage students and their parents to enjoy reading more often, and together. And on Tuesday, the Sharjah International Book Fair will launch the 5th Sharjah Children's Reading Festival. The fair will host a number of local, regional and international children's books authors and hold different activities to encourage children to read and love reading. Meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair starts on Wednesday; it too will host fun reading activities for children.

In a world full of distractions for young children, parents, siblings and role models should always take the opportunity to enrich young minds. As Emilie Buchwald, author of two award-winning children's novels Gildaen and Floramel and Esteban, once said: "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."



On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui