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Reading aloud to children has many benefits. One, it's the best way to introduce them to the world of books. Regular read-aloud sessions stimulate brain development of pre-schoolers and help foster a lifelong love of reading and learning.

Rani Shirodkar principal of a private pre-primary school in Pune, who conducts various activities and book reading sessions for pre-schoolers says, "They will also learn how to listen, learn about the world and develop a rich vocabulary". Reading to your child is also a great way for a parent and child to spend time together, especially at the end of a hectic day.

When to start

Like always, as early as possible! Six or seven month babies like to watch pictures and colours. You could start with hardbound or cloth books (easily available in book stores) to introduce the concept of books, turning pages and handling the book in general.

Luckily for us, the market is flooded with books for all age groups. As soon as your child sits in one place for five minutes you could introduce storytelling. Start with short stories with colourful pictures and then move on as your child starts to enjoy the storytelling sessions.

Even though she may not understand the story or poem, reading together gives your child a chance to learn about language, enjoy the sound of your voice, and be close to you. Be vary of people, including grand parents, who would repeatedly warn you that its too soon to introduce books to the 'baby'. Insist this is the right age and soon your child will prove you right!

Make it interactive

Try and set aside a fixed time of the day when you can give your full attention to reading with your child. Start by choosing a cosy and comfortable spot and a favourite book. Clear all distractions, like music, television etc. Shirodkar says, "It makes sense to read with drama and excitement. Use different voices for different characters in the story. Use expressions and emotions to make the story interesting, or else it becomes a mundane activity." While elaborating on the techniques of reading, she states that pointing to the words as you read also helps the child connect the word with the sound. Read slowly so that your child can form a mental picture of what is happening in the story, Rani insists. "Make it an interactive session as the kids love to be involved in reading aloud," she remarks. This could be turning pages, supplying sound effects or simply asking you to repeat a paragraph.

Which books to choose

Though this may vary from child to child choose short stories with lots of pictures. Stories that are too long or have too many characters might confuse the child. If your child is scared of ghosts, monsters etc avoid stories involving them. For preschoolers, try to pick stories with clear-cut endings. While it's important to avoid titles that are completely over your child's head, encourage your child to pick slightly more advanced books for his age. Experts also add that parents must choose books they enjoy.

There are the Bruno, Bubbles and Pepper series of books, which are based on three characters by the same names. These are very entertaining even for two-year olds. Frank also has great books for pre-schoolers. Old time classics like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Three Little Pigs and Alice in Wonderland make for good reading for the kids.

Jataka Stories, Aesop's Fables and Panchatantra are stories, which children often hear from the grandparents and needless to say, they love to read books of the same stories.

After you read

Talking about books you read is just as important as reading them. Discussing a story or a book with your child helps your child understand it and connect it to his or her own experience of life. Shirodkar adds that one great way to improve your child's reading comprehension is to ask questions about the story later on. Having your child exercise problem-solving skills, draw conclusions, and form opinions prepares them for the real world in many ways! Go somewhere inspired by your books. This helps bring your child's stories to life. If you've just read a book about the zoo or market place visit one so that the child can relate to the story in a better way.

Make sure you have fun
Though there are techniques and methods to read to your child, make sure that you do not stick to the rules at the cost of enjoyment for the child. Four-year old twins Aditi and Shruti consider it an all time fun activity, says their mother Varsha Mungale, a homemaker. "All of us sit comfortably on mattresses. Both of them sit facing me and I hold the book in such a way that it faces them. In fact I have mastered the act of reading upside down," she remarks.

"There are lots of questions during a reading session. Sometimes, some books are rejected right after the first reading, while others are a must read everyday, even up to five times in a single day. During this stage I read only part of the sentence and they complete it, " she says.

"I do not point at the words while reading, which I think is the recommended technique. Right now it is a pure fun activity -- no educational aspect is being catered to. That is why, maybe why they enjoy it so much," she adds.

Tips to encourage your child to read

Set a good example. Let your child see you reading as often as possible; there's no better way to convey a love of books.
Have 'library time' at home, where in all the members of the house sit in one room with a book in hand for 5-15 minutes everday depending on the liking and time available.
Encourage relatives and friends to give your child books as gifts.
Take your child to the books library regularly and if possible have an independent library for him/her, where she gets to pick the books of his/her liking.
Surround the child with books. Make sure you don't buy expensive books, or else they will find their way to cupboard under lock and key. Instead pick some from the local raddiwallah and let them handle the books independently. Hardbound or plastic coated books are also a good option.
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