Teaching reading to children from print-rich backgrounds as well as print-deprived backgrounds has made me realise that there are important unnoticed and overlooked gaps that must be filled in for the second set of children.
Any child who comes from a family of readers and plenty of books, has a different introduction to books from a child who comes from a print-deprived background. Children from a family of readers see adults absorbed in reading and sense their irritation/impatience at being disturbed whilst reading. They wonder what keeps the adults so engrossed and soon begin to imitate the adults. The children whose parents read to them soon associate books with fascinating stories, wonderful adventures and they are keen to explore the wonderful worlds that books open up for them. They begin to imitate the postures and movements of adults much before they actually read. They soon figure out the right way to hold a book, not just by looking at the pictures! Over a period of time, even before they actually begin to read, these children catch on that we generally read from left to right, begin at the top of the page and read to the bottom of the page. They pick this up sitting in the lap of the adult/parent reading aloud to them. Their early exposure to books is a warm, pleasant experience/memory because of which they want to read. These children are motivated to learn as they see reading as an adult skill that they lack.
Children from print-deprived homes lack this initial positive introduction (that children from print-rich families soak in) before they are actually taught to read. The children from print-deprived homes tend to think of books as a purely school-related activity and rarely as a pleasurable activity. When we overlook this fact and rush into teaching reading without spending enough time building a motivation for reading, we lose more time than we gain. We need to build a positive exposure and attitude to reading and books before hurrying into teaching the alphabet. At a minimum, they need access to colourful picture books and adults who will read out fascinating stories to them.
The author is with Centre for Learning, Hyderabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.