On morning trips, the Vehicle-for-hire takes me past a row of shanties. The slow-moving traffic affords time for watching people.
While mornings may find adults at their busiest, children are no less engaged in their enterprise. Naked, a tot scooped water from a plastic basin, which she sometimes poured on her head and sometimes sipped. While its mother read a paper beside a roadside stall displaying vegetables, a baby held on to the tail of a yowling cat.
Compared to adults automatically going through the motions of starting another day, children leapfrog, reinventing to make each day different from the previous ones.
For the past months that I’ve taken this route, I’m struck by one thing: I’ve never seen a grownup read a book to a child. Even when they seem to be trying out these things called legs for the first time, children are on their own. Many are minded by other kids, their attitude of watching traffic go by an unsettling imitation of adult pastimes in the locality.
Wednesdays, “Well Baby” day and the regular schedule for immunizations, insert little variation. Infants, carried by their mothers, spill out to the grounds outside the local health center.
Encircled by maternal embrace, each well-scrubbed young creature looks on while its mother chats with neighbors and health workers. Heat, noise and needle pricks set off the young. But no book in sight to catch all that wandering attention, silent absorption.
Why not introduce readaloud in these communal settings? Last June, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) asked its 62,000 pediatrician-members across the United States to promote reading aloud to infants from birth, aside from dispensing advice on breastfeeding and immunization.
A June 24, 2014 report in The New York Times noted that it is the first official stance taken by the academy on early literacy education. Studies show that important advances in learning occur during the first three years of life. Reading to children also improves their vocabulary and other communication skills.
With every baby visiting a doctor for immunizations and check-ups, health centers and clinics can serve as early libraries. It’s a crucial intervention, specially for the children of lower- income families, where parents may not have a habit of reading, don’t have resources to spare for books, or don’t see readaloud sessions as good for bonding and preschool literacy.
The same article reports that even well-off parents have to be won over to the basics of readaloud. Even though there are parents who play Mozart or read poetry to their children in utero, The New York Times repeated the AAP counsel prevailing parents to keep their children away from computer screens until they are aged two.
With price-sensitive smartphones and tablets engaging all spectrums of the economy, today’s parents may see it more as a feat than a liability that their children learned to swipe a screen first before they turned a page. Portable digital media can promote reading. It remains to be seen, though, if, like books, gadgets will prepare this generation for communication and its nuances.
As a reader of the old school, I was happy to read about the bags of books given to 75 parents of preschoolers of Guadalupe Elementary School. During the recent launch of the “Alimbukad: Basa Pamilya” program, the Zonta Club of Cebu II gave a bag of seven books each to the parents, who have promised to read these with their children. The bags will be rotated among the participating parents until all books are read.
According to the July 26 report of Sun.Star Cebu intern Nheru Veraflor of the University of San Jose-Recoletos, the Zonta Club of Cebu II hopes that the books in English and Filipino will encourage parents to bond with their children while nurturing a habit of reading.
It’s a shared dream: to come upon in communities everyday scenes of children and their parents absorbed in a storybook.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 27, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”