Reading aloud to children is an extremely important experience in their journey towards literacy. Those who are read books aloud by adults around them, become literate quite quickly – because they have seen live models of reading process. Such children are somewhat familiar with how script works, and they have an idea of what could be achieved through reading. Hence, children who know the use of print learn reading sooner and more easily than others.
Parents of the children, we are working with on the brick kiln, are not literate themselves. Even if some of them know how to read to an extent, they cannot afford to spend time reading aloud to their children. The only print visible in the surroundings is letters like ‘KBK’ or some such meaningless logo engraved on the bricks. It is therefore not surprising that children from this background face many difficulties in reading and writing.
Kishor wanted to add some print to this otherwise print deficit environment. He decided to write the names of all the family members and display the lists on the walls of their Bhongas. Kishor is a resourceful person. He had saved the transparent plastic covers of his students’ school uniforms. We had already made a list of the names of all family members during our initial survey. He printed out the lists, put them in plastic covers and stuck them on the walls to make each bhonga ‘literate’!!
Kishor and I were aware that these children would not pick up reading unless we read a lot of books to them. But we faced the challenge of selecting the right book – these children are of varying age groups, studying in grades 2 to 6. We needed to select a book that would interest all. The older children are not yet literate as per their grade level, but we wondered whether they would like to hear stories written for very young children. Finally we decided to try a book that had content directly connected to their life – ‘Bhakar‘.
I kept the book in front of the children and started reading. It contained a description of how ‘bhakar’ (flatbread) is made. During our reading we came across a sentence – Tai kneads flour into a ball of dough – big, round and soft. I asked the children, “What do we mean by soft?” Prompt came the answer, “Like clay!” I smiled. Who else than the children on the brick kiln would relate to the softness of the clay? When I was young, we would bring clay to make Ganapati idols, and we were told to knead it soft – like ‘dough’. Ultimately everyone looks at the world through the lens of one’s own experience!
The book contained pictures of people and utensils from rural homes – much like the homes of these children. Sure enough, they started taking an interest in the book. On one of the pages, there was a reference of the bhakar breaking.
I asked, “Do you think the bhakar will break?”
Chandrika said, “It will break.”
Promptly, Radhi said, “Mine doesn’t break.”
“Can you make bhakar?” I asked curiously.
“I can,” Radhi replied as if that was normal for her age.
The conversation shifted to who can cook what food items. All of them decided to write about what dishes they can cook. Now this seems to be a great opportunity to enter into the world of food culture of these children. Kishor and I are looking forward to read what these children are going to bring to the next class!