By Kartik Bajoria
A new generation of toddlers these days is extremely intelligent. Unfortunately, their smarts aren’t always channelised in the right way as they are fed an unhealthy diet of mind-numbing, screen-derived entertainment. As parents and guardians, we have an opportunity to initiate a movement where these toddlers could grow into well-informed, aware, well-read, intellectually astute and curious individuals.
Here are some simple ways to do it:
The atmosphere that parents create at home translates directly into what a toddler imbibes. If at home, the child is surrounded by Bollywood music, that is what he or she will naturally gravitate towards. Sharing rhymes, telling kids stories (even if they seem to not understand), is a great way of starting to build a literary foundation. Oral traditions of storytelling have stood the test of time and prove to be an immensely effective tool, not only to introduce literature to children but also of providing entertainment to them. If you feel that the child will get bored, that will happen only if the child’s exposure so far has been video-content. Eventually, they will be delighted and listen with rapt attention to anything that is orally spoken—be it a story from the Panchatantra, a moral story or a nature poem.
Try to vary the stories that you are sharing with your toddler. As the parent of a toddler myself, we try and intersperse our storytelling and rhymes with recounting incidents, outings, experiences that have actually taken place. For instance, if you have taken your toddler to a play area or met a few other toddlers during a play-date, recount that as an oral story later. They will absolutely love it, and want to listen to it over and over. It is this sense of reliving their most exciting activity that they crave. By recapping that experience, you give your toddler a real and identifiable sense of a ‘tale’ while also provides immersive storytelling. This activity can then be followed by asking them to tell a familiar story in their own words. While they may struggle to articulate sentences, they will try, and this will give encouragement, and more importantly, context and content to actually speak about. Through a simple activity such as recounting a fun experience, you will have introduced your toddler to the concept of a story, the fun element, entertainment value and a chance to speak for himself or herself.
It isn’t true that all technology is bad or harmful for very young kids. As long as one can avoid screens and phones, one is safe. In fact, technology can be used to harness a literary orientation. Audio stimulus is especially effective in this regard. If one is using a home-automation device such as the Echo, there are several skills one can enable on that device which can come in handy to introduce literary activities in a toddler’s activity scheme. All the various oral narrations can then by supplemented by more rhymes, poems and spoken stories through various apps on these devices. Additionally, there are many interesting skills such as Animal Sounds. These tools are entertaining for the child, at the same time, informative and educational.
Ultimately though, a child does what he or she observes a parent or an elder doing. If you make it a point to do your own reading in front of the child, chances of them being predisposed to the idea of books and reading are infinitely higher. So we must try and surround the toddler with activities that we would like him or her to participate in.
Finally, toddlers should be introduced to their own books as early as possible. There are picture books, where they can learn the basics about shapes, animals, colours. Books that can be read out to them with simple, basic, one or two line stories accompanied by interesting visuals. If we can get toddlers into the habit of a dedicated reading time each day, we would have inculcated the much-needed reading habit right from the outset. Books can also be used as rewards and gifts rather than other products. Visits to bookstores, book fairs, even when you may feel a toddler is bored or isn’t comprehending what’s going on, is encouraged simply because even kids that young are more perceptive than we give them credit for.
Ultimately, it requires an entire eco-system of literature to be created around the toddler for him or her to become familiar, start enjoying, and eventually fall in love with the world of literature. If only we are a little conscious about certain things that are to be avoided, and others that are to be facilitated, we can easily lay a robust literary base for toddlers who will organically grow up to love stories, poems, and any kind of writing.
(Writer, educator and moderator, Kartik Bajoria holds workshops on creative writing and personality development at various schools.)