When a child at age five or six starts reading parents make a scramble to get storybooks and activity books to enhance his reading skills, because that seems to be the obvious thing to do. But it is not always necessary to go out of the way; you just need to look around for innovative ways to make your child read. When you get a packet of microwave-able popcorns or some ready-to-cook snacks like 'Maggi Noodles', you can have your child read the instructions. Written information is always floating around in the house in some form or the other and a child should be made aware of this. A newspaper, though an adult preoccupation, is a good tool to enhance a child's reading skills.
Reading between the lines
Almost every household subscribes to a newspaper. For a child who has just begun to read, the heavy congested text will not make sense; maybe a few words in the big size headline may stand out. But children will certainly be interested in the pictures, photographs, illustrations and advertisements. By dwelling on the visual content, a parent can hold the attention of the child and initiate him into the practice of turning the newspaper pages.
A first-grader may be able to read, but he is still too small to understand the nuances of news spread in the columns of the newspaper. The parent needs to educate the child on the concept of a newspaper as a tool to bring information from 'faraway places' as opposed to the 'here and now' which the child may be more familiar with. This itself can be a lesson in geography where the child can be taught the concept of 'globe', which to him is an abstract thing.
News and views
If a news report says that it snowed in Switzerland, he can be shown the country on the globe vis-à-vis his own country. Newspapers are a goldmine where world-information is concerned and can be a take-off point to graduate onto atlas, dictionaries and encyclopedias for knowledge-building.
The newspapers project happenings and events, largely of political nature. Politics may be too dense for your child to assimilate, and you may want to reserve your judgment on what he should read and what he shouldn't. Often the front page news may be unpalatable for a child, but it can be turned into an opportunity for discussing the harsh realities of life. But if the news item seems to be beyond the pale of the child's imagination, you may need to gloss over it, so as not to traumatize him.
The kid's page
Luckily newspapers have many sections that appeal to children. The sports pages, comics or kid's page, and advertisements are some such examples. Pictures of racing cars or a football match are sure to hold his interest, a comic strip will be just up his alley and an interactive crossword on the kid's page may actually make him feel that newspapers are not for 'adults only'.
Information you can use
Though it may seem too soon to tell the child about identities of people, do so nevertheless; the trick is to be one step ahead of them. Telling the child about 'strangers' peeping out of newspapers, identifying them as real people is a great way of introducing professions to a child. This one is a 'politician'; someone is an 'athlete', while someone else is an 'oceanographer'. He can cut out photographs of newsmakers or celebrities – an Olympic gold medalist or a Prime minister - and paste it in his collage book or scrap book, this will help increase his general knowledge.
Older children can browse through the weather reports, currency conversion data, railway and airline schedules, and movie and theatre listings. They will learn that newspapers are forums for 'information-you-can-use' details, too. So the next time you suggest going out for a movie, you'll find him reaching out to the newspaper to check out the details!
Newspapers in education
If the newspaper you subscribe to has a neighbourhood supplement, even better. The child may read about a road show or cultural fest that he might have attended. It will be a good exercise to compare notes on what is written in the newspaper and what he might have seen. He may discover a few things he missed; the next time he will observe things with a keener eye.
Many leading newspapers in India have started a programme for initiating children into the habit of reading newspapers. These 'newspapers in education' projects also encourage children to be cub reporters and write about neighbourhood events in the children's newspapers. Many book houses which publish children's books also publish newspapers for children, which the parents can subscribe. So when you reach out to your newspaper with the customary coffee at the breakfast table in a daily ritual, ensure that your child gets his daily fix, too.