Sharjah: With children nowadays hooked on to digital devices, what can be a good strategy to instil in them the habit of reading at an early age? This question was posed during one of the panel discussions at the ongoing 12th Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF) at Expo Centre Sharjah.
Addressing parents, award-winning Emirati writer Nadia Al Najjar said: “If your child loves to be on the iPad, download them books to read on their device. The medium is not important as long as they are reading digitally or listening to audio books.”
She further said: “What is equally important is providing children with the right book to read. If a child likes a certain animal or sport, pick a book that includes these aspects. Believe me, these things help encourage a child to read,” she emphasised. She added: “Parents must befriend technology. Another crucial element is for parents to pick books with vibrant illustrations as well as content that will resonate with their child.”
The first step
Another prominent author, Abby Cooper, who attended the event virtually from her hometown in Minnesota, United States, said: “The first step is to get children excited about reading. It is absolutely important that they hold a book in their hands and turn its pages, even if not reading it. Children need to form a physical connection with books and a fondness for them before the words in them take young readers on journeys to new places.
Both Cooper and Al Najjar said “another key reason why the habit of reading should be instilled in children from a young age is because stories provide children battling emotional issues to feel less isolated.”
“Letting them (children) choose their own books goes a long way in creating life-long readers out of children. It’s very important to give children a choice when it comes to reading. Whether it is the medium they are reading on, or what they are reading, giving them choice gives them ownership of the experience,” Cooper explained.
In another session titled ‘Understanding the World’, the panelists discussed how art can help children gain a better understanding of the world and their environment.
Psychotherapist Fransie Frandsen, who attended virtually from Geneva, Switzerland, said: “Art has an immensely therapeutic effect on children as it makes them aware of themselves. This subsequently leads to building emotional intelligence. When kids draw people, they have to decide whether to make them happy or sad, they have to choose their costumes and their colours, and so on. This detailed thought process that goes into conceiving and drawing characters from the animal and human world eventually sparks the child’s empathy towards them. There are plenty of skills the young artists will develop as they start expressing themselves through art,” explained Frandsen, who is the author of the Alexander Questions book series.
Frandsen advised parents not to overly criticise children’s output. “If you tell them that the horse they’ve drawn looks like a dog, that will silence a child’s creative and artistic spirit, more often than not,” she warned.
Magdy El Kafrawy, an Egyptian artist, illustrator and painter, added: “When children express themselves through art, they don’t think of boundaries; they just keep drawing. We should appreciate this undulating spirit of theirs and the artistic expressions that are born out of it.”
Best gift for children
Meanwhile, Fatma Al Darmki, an Emirati mother of three young girls, said books with attractive and beautifully detailed artwork are a big enticement for choosing books for her daughters. “As a parent, I am interested in developing their curiosity and knowledge about the world around them, and academic-oriented books that are full of colour and packed with fun activities and games are, I believe, the right way to do it,” she explained.
Jesudas Sanjay of DC Books, an exhibitor at SCRF 2021, also noted: “Fun, engrossing stories that relate to childhood, or books with a mixture of text and pictures, are what generally appeals to the young ones.”
He added: “No matter what books they buy, what is really important is the fact that children are reading. And it is heartwarming to see parents bring their young ones to SCRF each year. Inculcating a love of books is the best gift for children everywhere.”
Catch the reading fest
The 12th edition of SCRF will run until May 29 at Expo Centre Sharjah. Under the theme ‘For Your Imagination’, 32 authors from the Arab region and around the world will be speaking on the SCRF platform across 30 literary events, which will take place in Sharjah, Kalba, Dibba Al Hisn, Dubai, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah. A total of 172 publishers from 15 countries across the globe are also showcasing their books and other literary material.