In Part 1 of this series, we discussed some tools to develop the parent in you. In this article, we want to explore the power of storytelling. Stories are very powerful means to convey messages to children. This is one excellent tool of healthy parenting, helping you connect with your children and instilling a sense of knowledge and exploration in them.
The stories in the Qur’an are brilliant learning tools to delve into with your child. Can you, as a parent, name a story from the Qur’an and highlight a key message to derive from it?
Let us consider the following stories, for example:
- From Surat Al-Kahf, the story of the man with two gardens (Morale: Don’t be greedy and conceited).
- Story of Prophet Dawud and Jalut (David and Goliath) (Morale: Be brave).
- Story of Prophet Musa and Khidr (Morale: Allah gives wisdom to whom He wills).
- Story of Prophet Sulaiman and the hoopoe (Morale: Be humble and you can learn from even the smallest creatures of Allah ).
- Story of Surat Al-Fil (Morale: Allah has power over all things. Small birds can defeat an army of elephants, if Allah wills it).
As you can see, every story teaches us a value or number of values. Through stories, we can derive morals that stick with our children throughout their lives.
Read aloud to your children
“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children,” according to the Commission on Reading Report released by the US Department of Reading.
The benefits of doing so are profound. Kids form much of their intelligence potential during the early years of their life, so much so that experts recommend reading aloud to your child as soon as he/she is born.
Also, an amazing insight is that Allah says in the noble Qur’an that the faculty of hearing comes before sight while the child is still in the womb:
“And Allah has extracted you from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He made for you hearing and vision and intellect that perhaps you would be grateful” [Qur’an: Chapter 16, Verse 78].
Reading to your children can actually help them with language and speech development. Here are some tips for reading to your child:
1. Use the “five-finger-rule”
Ask your children to open the book to any page and read that page. Each time they come across a word they do not know, they should hold up a finger. If they get to five fingers before they finish reading the page, the book is too hard. If they don’t hold up any fingers, the book is probably easy and can be used to build reading fluency. If they hold up two or three fingers, the book is likely to be at a good level for reading to grow.
2. Pick stories that develop curiosity, creativity and imagination
Consider reading the story of Isra’ and Mi’raj (the miraculous night journey of the Prophet ) with your child. You will come across stories of the peculiar animal, the buraaq, you will read how he visited Al-Aqsa Mosque and met all the prophets and led them in prayer. You will also read about sidratul muntaha (the remote lote-tree whose leaves are as big as an elephant’s ears!) and angel Jibreel with the 600 wings embedded with gems and jewels, etc. All of this will serve in rejuvenating your child’s curiosity and imagination.
3. Reflect on the story together
Try to reflect on important day-to-day life matters from the stories in the seerah of the Prophet . For example, you could reflect on the great bonds of friendship between the Prophet and his best companion Abu Bakr .
4. Reading aloud to enhance vocabulary
When researchers counted the words we use most often, the total number came out as 10,000 words. The most often repeated one is ‘the’. Beyond the 10,000, however, you encounter rare words that can only be developed when you read. So, reading to your children helps them accept those rare words as familiar words in their own vocabulary, thus enriching your child’s ability to express, experience and reflect upon life.
Try to stay off TV and video games
While many children and parents today prefer a babysitter called “TV”, the effects of reading are without a doubt far more beneficial and lasting than a diet of cartoons and soaps. TV is not necessarily wrong in totality. With control and monitoring, you can use it to explore certain things or initiate curiosity in your child. Here’s how you can do so:
1. Watch a cartoon from Tokyo, for example, and then challenge your child to find five new things about this city. It can be how their homes are different from yours, or the different language they speak, etc.
2. Have a book in hand that gives information about the respective TV soap you watch with your children.
3. Know that TV, unlike film or video games, is fundamentally a sponsor-driven medium paid for by advertisers that buy commercial space during a particular show. With this in hindsight, remember that your child is being ‘fed’ products while watching his/her most favorite shows. A book on the other hand, gives him/her the freedom to express and come up with their own thoughts. One can then claim that watching TV makes one ‘programmed’ while reading a book gives one ‘freedom’.
Exploring realities of life through stories
Children can be taught deep life matters like death, divorce and greed through stories. For example, you can teach your children numerous lessons by sharing the story that Allah’s Messenger narrated about the leper, the blind man and the bald-headed man [Sahih al-Bukhari].
You can have long discussions with your child after learning about or reading a story together. You can continue to ask him/her what they’ve learned or whether they’ve encountered similar situations in their lives and what they would have done. This will all engage your child and develop a sense of morality in him/her.
Read-a-thon: Making reading a daily practice
Get a membership in a library or a book club. There is no better way of reading than to engage in peer learning. Here are a few tips:
- The best way to utilize a library membership is to schedule a weekly exercise. Challenge your child to pick up a book and make it an evening task to read together.
- Prepare a quiz or a puzzle on what you’ve read to keep the child excited.
- Have badges for every book that you read.
- Organize a cake party after 20 badges.
- We’ve all heard of marathons, right? Now try the read-a-thon. This popular concept is all about reading. It is about quantity and as with a marathon, the more you read, the more vocabulary and reading stamina your child will develop. In Ramadan, replace that with Juz’-a-thon!
Storytelling cultivates good listeners
Reading aloud to your child also works to develop in him/her a sense of being good listeners. The way they listen to your story, try to see the message in it and then interact with you develop crucial qualities that live with them for life.
It is equally important to understand that children have different reading and listening levels. For example, a fourth-grader may be reading fourth-grade level materials, but he/she can listen to sixth-grade level stories.
Finally, remember the precious Qur’anic concept of “…“We hear and we obey”…” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 285]. Reading aloud to your children can help them actualize the noble concept of obeying and acting upon sermons that call to goodness. This can help children get even closer to Allah by being avid and discerning listeners to His words, inshaAllah.
Reading with your child not only educates them but enhances their abilities, intelligence and imagination. Most importantly, read with your child with the aim of reviving a culture that has long been abandoned by our ummah. Every time you read with your child, you are enriching him with knowledge and an array of skills, and consequently the ummah as well!
What other activities do you plan with your little ones to enhance their reading experience? Share them in a comment below.