Published: 12th February 2021
This Kerala mom can help if you have trouble getting your child to read
Neesha John talks about her new initiative Rising Readers and how she plans to guide parents to teach their kids to read
Be it those magical bedtime stories that your mom or dad read out loud to you as you quietly wandered off to dreamland, those picture books with small words and phrases that taught you about the world around you or those novels that you hid under your textbooks because you couldn't wait to find out how the story ended, books were a way of life.
If this sounds familiar and if you've loved reading as a child, you would know how much of an impact it has made on your overall development. Reading, without a doubt, is a crucial skill that applies to every area of life. Even in an era of heightened digital distraction.
But not every child today has the right nurturing when it comes to reading, and that is what Neesha John decided to address through her new initiative called Rising Readers. Through this platform, she will provide guidance to parents on how to inculcate the habit of reading in their children and also help children who have trouble reading.
Neesha explains how her passion to help kids read began, "From the time I was in college, I knew I wanted to work with kids. A friend put me in touch with the Madras Dyslexia Association. She asked me to spend some time there, get some perspective and see what I want to do. So I went there, and it was a whole new world for me, because I was seeing kids struggling to read - something that was very normal for me as a child and for everyone I was associated with. The realisation that this is not something that comes easy for everyone caught my interest."
The experience of reading came to her when her son entered her life. "Later, after my son came into my life, reading to him became a very natural process. I would pick up a book, put him on my lap and show him the pictures. It was a beautiful bonding exercise. From there to reading bedtime stories to him and simultaneously stopping him from getting into the habit of using a phone before falling asleep, reading with him had become a regular thing," she adds.
She adds, "I started seeing him respond in different ways to the stories. I experienced first hand what it did to him in terms of creativity, his vocabulary and him being able to express himself, I started seeing the impact much later, although when I started it, it was purely a bonding exercise. Once schooling began for him, it just made it so much easier. It reached a point where I never had to force him to read. Now that he is going to grade VI, I've realised that was a good thing, because reading is that one thing that helps us think out of the box, expand our horizons and push us to pursue our dreams."
Neesha's experience with her son piqued her curiosity about why some kids can read and some kids can't. She was curious about why the brain does that. So she started reading a lot of neuroscience and realised based on research that unlike sitting and crawling that comes naturally, the brain is not designed to help kids read naturally. Your brain needs to be trained to read. She realised that what is possibly happening is that the lines between educating a child as early as kindergarten and allowing a child to play and learn are getting very blurred. "A lot of children are falling through the cracks. From what I've seen, not all children who are struggling to read are dyslexic. There is a percentage of them who are and need help, but the larger percentage of children just don't have the environment and aren't nurtured to read. What we take for granted is something so pivotal for one's development."
Neesha's goal for Rising Readers is to help children start reading and help parents start reading with their children. "Parenting is hard, people don't mince words when they say that. But we, as parents need to look for those moments where we can do things with our kids that we can enjoy. My little one has to see me reading. I could be reading the recipe book, the newspaper, the flyer or a signboard on the street, something as simple as that needs to happen. Parents need to realise that education is not just about sending your kids to school. The understanding that the learning process begins at home, from the time the child is born has to happen. Reading to an infant does have an impact on their development. As a family, take turns, read to your child at least 15 minutes a day. It's not about reading for the sake of making your child smart, but just do it to bond with them," she explains.
For now, Neesha plans to share knowledge about why they should read, how they should read, how long and what type of books to read depending on the kids age. She would need to get a good understanding of their home environment, who the primary caregiver is and what a typical day in the child's life is like, after which she would give advice on what can be done to encourage reading. If a child is showing signs of dyslexia, she hopes to establish a bond with the parent, make them comfortable enough to open up and then encourage them to get the child tested. If the child is tested positive, she will then guide the parent to help the child manage the condition and come up with a remedial reading programme plan.
There are also a lot of children who have the desire to read, but don't have the resources or a person to read to them. This is another area Neesha hopes to address. "Everyone has devices today, but listening to an adult read to you cannot be compared. Kids learn from us how to express emotions. I want to make these resources available. I have content available with me if the parents choose me as their special educator, both for those who have dyslexia and those who are just lackadaisical readers. I will be charging Rs 500 per hour. It's mainly for children aged 4-8, but if there are older children who are struggling to read, I am willing to help them as well," she concludes.