Published: 19th February 2021
This Chennai reading club is getting kids to log out and read every single day without being forced to. This is how
My Chapter One is Ranjini Indrajith's brainchild and is well and truly en route to getting kids to read every day without being shouted at
Karate is an after-school activity. Reading isn't.
If you're someone who agrees with this then you're probably going to have a problem when you meet Ranjini Indrajith. In an era when everything is increasingly virtual (don't blame the pandemic) and after-school activities are limited to the pursuit of sports, dance or music of some sort, Ranjini is making a strong case for the humble book. And boy, is this an intervention our kids have ever needed.
Ranjini and Madhumati Narayanan, who founded My Chapter One runs a unique (and super fun) Reading Gym, which is hellbent on getting today’s kids off their X-box and Ipads that are readily waiting at home and getting them to read at least 20 minutes a day, wait for it, on their own. ”We are trying to build the culture of reading, inculcate the habit of reading and build an ecosystem that is convenient for both parents and children,” says Ranjani. They partner with women who can set up a home-based activity center for children to meet once a week. Here, the children pick a book, read and have discussions. “The idea is to combine a reading club, structured reading program and a library” she adds. The subscription-based reading program is for kids aged 4-14 years. Working in three distinct levels, this program also aims to help them get better at their academics, as well as become well-informed people.
It's a matter of class
When it came to locating the kind of group they wanted to work with, she identified how class disparity played a significant role in which kids got to read. “Somehow, only the very privileged thought it was necessary. The middle class or the aspiring middle class did not look at reading as a necessary skill; it was more like a value. Parents wanted their kids to have a reading habit. It was more like ‘I want my child to have it but I would not be willing to pay for it’” she adds.
And then the educator-turned-entrepreneur caught a huge break.
As India moved towards a massive overhaul with the National Education Policy being implemented, the move towards transitioning to comprehension-based learning began as early as 2019. That is when Ranjani realised that the time was right to introduce My Chapter One. So they “looked at a pilot school, set up the classroom library and started off”.
The vision was simple: “to make sure the kids read 20 minutes every day without the parent telling them to pick a book”. And they've managed it quite well. Around 500 students have enrolled for the reading program, reading 150 exciting books with the help of 20 qualified reading hosts.
Get that digital detox, already
One of the biggest problems the team faced was getting children to detach from the digital world. What they needed was something equivalent, more fascinating and exciting perhaps. And they needed to make books look, feel and read like all of that. In talking about the selection of books they offered to kids, Ranjani says, “We try to offer all kinds of genres. That’s an important metric for us. We’ve listed down a variety of genres — science fiction, non-fiction, biographies, fantasy and so on. So from the different genres, we give them one reading material every session."
She goes on to add, "The kinds of books we pick will not be very pessimistic. We make sure that they appreciate them, they see perspectives and understand the differences”. What they do not do is simply shove all kinds of books down the kids' throats but follow a certain curriculum to guide the children to get the right amount of exposure to books. “A variety of journals, a lot of different authors, a mix of Indian and International books — that’s the way we have built our curriculum,” says Ranjani.