Monday, June 22, 2009

Reading Made Fun - A Pratham Books Journey

We started this blog last year and it is a space to talk about the work we do and the different initiatives taking place in the world of publishing. Travelling through the worlds of publishing, kidlit, books, literacy, writing, reading, authors, illustrators, art, web 2.0, social media, collaborations, non-profits, India, community, Creative Commons, open source and more, we have learned a lot on this journey. Last week saw us post our 1000th post and we have made many friends along the way. Readers who eagerly mail us to ask us a question about a post, readers who correct us, readers who praise us and readers who criticize us... Thank you all! To celebrate this journey, we have an article written by Sampurna Murti from our Delhi team.

While all agree that reading as an activity needs to be encouraged and fluent readers tend to be better learners, few know exactly how to go about making this happen. Various groups around the country have been working on this issue and a lot of reading material has also been generated for this purpose. However, how much of this material has been developed keeping issues like graded content, limited and controlled vocabulary, use of simple syllables (this is applicable to Indian languages) etc is not known.

Pratham has been working with children all over the country, to help them to read, write and do basic mathematics as these skills help to keep children in school. Pratham sets up libraries in all areas that they work so as to make books accessible to all children who may not have access to books. However, there is a lack of good quality, inexpensive children’s books in the market, especially in Indian languages. Pratham Books was set up in January 2004 to fill this gap. In the 5 years of its existence, Pratham Books has been endeavouring to publish attractive books for children in a bid to get them to read and make them readers for life! We now have more than 150 titles in 10 Indian languages and English.

Pratham started the early reading program for 3-6 year old pre-school children 3 years ago. The thinking behind this program was that early intervention would get children hooked to the reading habit and improve their reading skills. One of the major problems Pratham faced during the program was a paucity of simple, well-illustrated books for little children.

Pratham Books took up the challenge of producing such books and published 35 such books, ranging from 8 to 20 pages, in the first year. The topics are varied and relate to the everyday experiences of an average Indian child. The book development process involved regular interaction with Pratham Balsakhis (teachers involved in working with children in the anganwadis and educational resource centers). Scripts were shown to them for approval of content and language. Their suggestions were conveyed to the authors, illustrators and translators for modifying the text and pictures. The books were again sent to the balsakhis for testing with children before they were printed. The feedback helped in the development of new books. We now have more than 80 books for early readers.

One of the visions of Pratham Books has been to create a platform for bringing together publishers of children’s books to create many, many books for children so that all children in this country have access to good books. Our attempts at creating books for early readers have brought in many other publishers who have also begun producing similar books. This will hopefully alleviate the lack of books for children in India.

How do books help in development of reading skills?

Pratham has found that children learn to read as a result of many factors. What exactly gets a child reading is a combination of many factors and is different for each child. As one balsakhi said, “Children seemed to pluck something out of the air and started reading on their own”. It is a recognized fact that learning is not a linear process. I think the same is true for reading. One of the factors that stimulates reading skills is the availability of ample reading material that a child finds attractive and interesting.

Importance of illustrations in children’s books

What is it about a book that attracts a child? The colourful illustrations – undoubtedly! The importance of bold and colourful illustrations in children’s books can never be overemphasized. Even children who do not know how to read will leaf through a book and spend hours looking at the pictures. This is not a passive process. The mind is constantly processing and storing all these pictures and making connections with incidents and situations that are present in the environment of the child. It is the formation of these cross connections that is of utmost importance in the growth of a child.

All this information together with incidents during the growing process is what is stored as ‘experiences’. The cumulative effect of all this is what we call – Learning!

Importance of relevant text in children’s books

This brings us to the next important feature of children’s books – content.

Children’s books must have content that a child can relate to. Pictures that are not related to a child’s sphere of experiences have little meaning for a child and will not induce a child to read. This is not to mean that the books have to be repetitive with no variety. A child can be introduced to animals or environmental features, that are not a part of his / her immediate environment, gradually while allowing the child to make the connections and conjectures with his/ her immediate environment.

The other aspect of relevant text is ‘sound’. The sound of words is very important as is repetitive text. All children enjoy hearing and reciting poems because of the rhyming words. Sounds of words linked to text evoke pictures of objects and events in a child’s mind like Ding- dong bell and pitter-patter raindrops. Indian languages have lots of such ‘sound words’ that make reading and reciting fun.

The next important question is whether all of the above are the adequate requisites for getting children to read. The answer is – No.

To get a child interested in reading, it is important that the child is read to. Hearing someone reading is a stimulus that induces a child to read. In this process the child begins to relate words with pictures. The Pratham technique involves the balsakhi reading to children and encouraging them to read ‘like her’. In due course of time, with repeated attempts at putting together words in a sequence, a child suddenly discovers word patterns. The child starts identifying written/printed words as pictures associated with objects or sounds or events. Once this happens, a child starts reading. After this, it is a matter of practice and time that will turn the child into a fluent reader.
Thank you all for helping us in our mission to provide 'A Book in Every Child's Hand'.

Image Source: Pratham Books


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