x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Reading time is key for young minds

Storytime is vanishing, so educators are right to encourage parents to become more involved in their children's development by reading to them.

There were the usual stories of ghosts and ghouls. Of the dreaded djinn. Of Baba Darya, the "Father of the Sea", a water demon that haunted fishermen and stalked ships, plundering them for the day's haul of pearls while the crewmen slept.

Before the onset of mass urbanisation, the UAE, like most cultures, had it's own unique traditions of storytelling. Family elders would pass on folktales to the younger clan members as they sat outside their homes under the night sky.

It is a very different story today. Indeed, it is often no story at all.

As an education forum heard on Tuesday, the UAE's educators are being called on to help parents realise the importance of getting involved in the children's development, rather than relying on outsiders to do the job for them. The simple pleasure of sharing a story, today by reading a book together, is the best way parents can do that.

Rabaa Al Sumaiti, a bilingual inspector at Dubai's education body, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, says postnatal classes that encourage both parents to be actively involved in their child's development from an early age - thereby playing a more active part in their child's upbringing - is proven to have a dramatic positive impact on the development of a young person's mind.

Through stories, children learn valuable social skills, morals and ethics they might otherwise miss out on. They also develop their linguistic skills and, hopefully, acquire a liking for reading and literature.

But the rate of development that the country has witnessed in the last four decades means that we have gone from a society that engaged in the oral tradition of passing on tales, to a highly digitalised one without preserving a strong literary culture. Storytime has suffered in turn.

The absence of such a culture risks producing future generations that are out of touch with their history, religion and language.

Thanks to a large expatriate population, proliferation of the English language has grown, but it has come at the expense of a decline in Arabic proficiency.

Teachers must put their heads together and come up with a workable solution. But most importantly, parents should simply find the time to share stories with their children - just like their parents did before them.