Baby steps towards reading

By Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

On International Literacy Day, meet a child psychologist and educator whose book introduces kids to the world of letters in a way that aims to turn them into bibliophiles

Nafisa Moochhala. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Imagine the bafflement running through the mind of a child, who is just beginning to read, when he is told to remember "e for elephant". Why, the name of the letter is pronounced as the e in geese, but when used to name the gigantic mammal, it sounds like the e in egg. They don't say English is a funny language for no reason.

Mumbai-based Nafisa Moochhala has dealt with these and many other language-related conundrums in her 47-year-long career as a child psychologist and educator. Recently, she decided to document her experience in the form of a step-by-step guide to aid parents and teachers inculcate a love for reading in kids by making their first encounter with the written word an easy and enjoyable one. The result is her first in a series of three books, titled Learning to Read is Fun.

"Having worked with children of varying levels of learning difficulties, I developed my own reading material and techniques over the years. The method laid down in the book is applicable to all children who are just beginning to read. This age group in India is usually for kids aged between three and three and a half years, though it can vary with each individual," says Moochhala, who pursued her masters in child and clinical psychology from the Purdue University, USA, in 1962, when few Indian women went abroad for higher studies. She taught post-graduate students at the University of Bombay until 1988, and has also been a consultant at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre for over two decades.

The book explains how to introduce the phonic approach to reading, where the child learns the sound of a letter before its name

Next, it introduces short vowel sounds in a logical sequence, starting with ‘a’

The method Moochhala mentions takes care of the e-for-elephant dichotomy, for the book follows a phonetic approach to reading, introducing children to the sound of a letter before its name. Next come simple words that use short vowel sounds: A, O, I, U and E in that order, as the sound 'e' is the most difficult to acquire. Then, the words are strung together as short sentences and narratives for easy reading practice. To facilitate the process, she also includes frequently used sight words such as the, you, is, are, etc, in the book.

The book familiarises the reader with simple words that use the short vowel sounds

Each set of words is followed by short sentences and narratives

"Being able to read independently is thrilling for children. This is where their love for reading begins," she shares. But with the ubiquitous smart phone, wouldn't parents prefer playing a YouTube video that teaches phonemes directly to the child? "Reading shouldn't become an academic activity in the beginning," Moochhala reasons.

"Here, the parent has to pick up a book to read to the child, which is more effective, and also sets an example. What would you prefer? An automated voice that says 'very good' to the child after regular intervals, or a parent who says 'shabash' knowing that the child has indeed got it right?"

On International Literacy Day, Pratham Books is conducting a reading session at Kahani Tree in Prabhadevi at 11 am today. The book, A Cloud of Trash, introduces kids to the idea of how individual action can help protect the environment.

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