"Stories help build social awareness and a deep understanding of another human’s experience" An expert's perspective: Divya Sehgal
Welcome to our latest instalment in our expert series
posts in which I speak to experts in a number of different fields, to get their thoughts on early years reading, sharing picture books and the benefits of black and white images.
Welcoming Divya Sehgal, mum of one, arts, culture and lifestyle copywriter, and self confessed bibliophile writing on how reading can build empathy and unlock a child's imagination.
Why Reading From an Early Age Builds Empathy
Some of my oldest memories of my childhood are of bedtime stories with my parents.
My mum, through oral storytelling, would pluck characters out of thin air, give them shape thorough her imagination and make them alive in my mind. On the other hand, my father regaled the tales of hilarity between Indian princes and their court ministers, or read me the fairytales of vulnerable little girls in enchanted forests. Needless to say, this laid the foundation for my love of stories and reading. When they were fairly confident that they had instilled a daily habit of reading in me, they plied me with books and left it to my own devices. I couldn’t have asked for better companions in those early years.
To continue that tradition, my partner and I started reading to our son when he was two months old. In the beginning, we read all sorts of baby books to him, gifts that our friends and family had given him (and us), building a mini library in his room. He soon discovered, as babies who start to teeth do, how great paper tastes, and we shifted to board books soon after. Babies that young see very little colour and high contrast black and white images can be highly stimulating visually and cognitively. The Little Black and White Book Project is a testament to that. Big black and white images stimulate the brain, thus triggering faster and greater visual development. And once they’re hooked on to the idea of books, you’ve opened a treasure trove of ideas to them, for life!
Perhaps, one of the biggest benefits of reading at an early age in today’s world is developing empathy. Books and stories open up a whole new world, and when you throw in a child’s vivid imagination into the mix, it’s easy to see how it can grow a child’s emotional intelligence. Author David Foster Wallace once said, “Fiction is about what it means to be human”. Stories help build social awareness and a deep understanding of another human’s experience, but this habit has to be nurtured from a young age. What better than to start as young as possible? My son is 15 months old, and while he flits from one room to another, playing with his toys, when he finds a book in a corner of a room, he will sit down and flip the pages on his own. We hope it’s the start of a great love – for you’re never alone when you have a book.
Other than being a mum to a little one and a big bibliophile, Divya is also a copywriter and freelance writer - she write on arts, culture, land lifestyle for online publications, and also co-writes a newsletter with her partner where they discuss life as it happens.
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