READING SPECIAL

Reading aloud forms bonds with kids

Parents who read books aloud to their children with varied vocal and physical expressions help to foster family bonds and a lifelong reading habit

Ms Kamini Ramachandran was never a slave to the text when she read books to her two sons.

To engage them, she changed the names of the characters to those of people they are familiar with, such as their grandparents, cousins or friends.

She also added sound effects to dramatise her reading and would read the same book multiple times, in the process spinning variations of the tale based on its illustrations.

 

The 47-year-old, who founded storytelling company Moonshadow Stories in 2004, used to be a freelance writer. She became a professional storyteller after her sons were born.

She says: "As a storyteller, I am always concerned with how to express and perform a text to my audience. I use facial expressions, hand gestures and modulate the vocals - the dialogue, sound effects, character voices and so on - to make the storytelling lively and engaging. So when I read to my children, I applied some of that too."

  • Fun ways to tell stories

  • The National Library Board (NLB) has programmes to educate parents on what and how to read to their young children.

    Jiggle, Read And Rhyme

    Songs, stories and rhymes will be shared during the session for parents and their toddlers aged one to three years old.

    Where: Bukit Merah Public Library

    When: May 17, 4 to 4.30pm

    Reading Is Fun: Start Now! Workshop For Parents

    At this workshop, parents learn to choose interesting picture books for children aged six and younger and how to make reading an engaging activity.

    The Reading Is Fun! Start Your Kids Young! guide published by the NLB comes with book recommendations and suggestions for parent-child activities. Parents can pick up a copy from any public library.

    Where: Tampines Regional Library

    When: May 28, 3 to 4pm

    Baby Lapsit

    Targeted at parents with babies up to 12 months, this programme introduces parents to songs, action rhymes and finger plays that they can use to interact with their little ones.

    Where: Jurong Regional Library

    When: June 17, 3.30 to 4.30pm

    There are also free storytelling sessions for children aged four to seven.

    Kamishibai Storytelling

    This is a form of storytelling that originated in Japanese temples in the 12th century which uses  picture scrolls. The tales Issun Boshi (The One Inch Boy) and The Old Man And The Mice are featured in this interactive session.

    Where: PIP's Playbox, Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive

    When: May 15, noon and 3pm

    Amazing Animal Tales

    Storyteller Kamini Ramachandran regales her audience with animal folktales from India.

    Where: Indian Heritage Centre, 5 Campbell Lane

    When: June 4 and 5, 2pm

She started reading to her sons every night when she was pregnant with them and did not stop till they were aged 11 or 12. Her sons, now 15 and 16, enjoyed the reading sessions so much that they would not go to bed at night without one.

Says Ms Ramachandran: "If I happened to be away, they would get their grandmother or even the domestic helper to read to them."

The years of reading aloud have strengthened the bond between them.

She says: "A lot of our common memories hark back to a particular book or story."

These days, she and her sons still read aloud to one another, swopping stories over dinner. She shares newspaper articles that have caught her eye and they, book and movie reviews.

While reading aloud to children can help build up their literacy skills, storytelling trainer Sheila Wee says the most important objective of doing it is to make the experience enjoyable for them.for their children, they are more likely to look forward to it as a special time they can spend snuggled up against their parents, all warm and fuzzy, free from any nagging or scolding. They are also more likely to become lifelong readers," says the 58-year-old founder of storytelling company Storywise, who runs storyreading and storytelling courses for early childhood teachers.

She adds that parents should start reading to their children when they are as young as infants. This way, reading aloud becomes part of the parents' daily routine and a child's world.

Parents should choose books they also enjoy.

Mrs Wee says: "When parents choose something they like, their vocal and facial expressions and the entire experience of reading will be enhanced and they can easily transfer their enthusiasm to their children. Through vocal expression, they can help the child enter the virtual world of the book."

Vocal expression includes varying the pace of your voice (speaking faster when the story becomes exciting) and changing the volume (for instance, speaking louder when a tiger is talking and softer when a mouse is talking). It also means allowing emotions to colour the voice and pausing longer at a particular point to create suspense. 

A good book for reading aloud should have many opportunities for the use of vocal expression, says Mrs Wee.

"The story should have some sort of drama or emotional highs and lows and contain exciting action, surprise and wonder.

"Children must be able to identify with the main character and his struggles and triumphs."

She adds that books that come with good illustrations add another dimension to the reading, by giving parents and children more to talk about.

Books rich in rhyme, rhythm, or repetition are also appealing to children and aid in the process of learning to read.

Mrs Wee suggests that parents read a new book once before reading it to their children, so they have a better idea of how  to  use their voice to express the actions and emotions in the story.

To draw their children in, they can also start the reading session by relating the book to a personal experience, linking it to their children's prior knowledge or asking them to guess what the book is about based on the cover.

While reading, they can encourage their children to reflect and think analytically by the way they react to and question a certain development in the story.

Mrs Wee says: "When someone in a story has fallen into a hole, they can ask excitedly what's going to happen. This will get their children to reflect and think analytically."

If the child just wants to get on with the story, the parents can save the questions for after the reading or during a second reading: What do they like best about the book? Which were their favourite characters? Is there anything they would like to change in the story and why? Ask open-ended questions and encourage the child to ask questions too.

Says Mrs Wee: "Be open to discussion. A  lot of conversation between parents and children these days is transactional, with parents telling their children to put on their shoes, brush their teeth and so on.  But conversation is essential for language skills. And deep conversation can happen around books."

And if children want their parents to read the same book over and over again, oblige them.

Says Mrs Wee: "Children have to hear new words a few times before they go into the lexicon of their brain and before they are able to start using them in their speech and writing."

But do not make recognising words a chore, she adds. Take the cue from the child.

She says: "When the child shows an interest in the text, parents can point out some words as they read."

Adjunct teacher Suriati Abdolah, 42, went to the extent of running her finger under the text of books whenever she read to her daughter, Safa Zara Atiya, six.

Ms Suriati says: "It helped her recognise the words visually, even those that were difficult to pronounce phonetically, such as 'here' and 'there'."

Reading together bonds parents and their children too.

Ms Rilla Melati, 43, read to her son, Nadim, every night till he was about 12 because "both of us got used to the nightly routine".

Ms Rilla, director of creative content at educational company Mini Monsters and author of several Malay and English-Malay books for children, read English and Malay books to him.

Her son, now 15, is pursuing an International Baccalaureate Diploma and higher Malay at St Joseph's Institution.

She says: "When he was younger, I was more concerned with making it fun and engaging for him. But as he grew older, I focused more on helping him with comprehension and critical thinking and opening up the room for discussion.

"If he came across words he didn't understand, I got him to look up the dictionary. If he were to read on his own, I don't think he would be motivated to do so.

"He enjoyed it and would remind me to read to him every night."


See Kamini Ramachandran reading Horrible Harriet at http://str.sg/446Z

More Reading Special stories here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Read to me, mum'. Print Edition | Subscribe