“Your kids read?” I can almost see the skeptical wonder in some people’s eyes as they ask me. The next question comes almost automatically, “But how do you make them read? Mine is so addicted to TV and games.“ And I am reminded of what Anne Fadiman mentioned in her book, ‘Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader’
“My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don’t read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children’s rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parent’s rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading, as I did every day of my childhood. By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says ‘PRIVATE–GROWNUPS KEEP OUT’: a child sprawled on the bed, reading.”
Actions speak much louder than words and kids know it much better than us grownups. Many a sermon goes right in through one ear and rush out through the other. Their eyes might seem glued to the TV but it is as if they have a third eye that watches and assimilates whatever their parents are up to and at the most unexpected moments you would be reminded of it too.
My answer to those parents is usually another question, “Do you read?” And no surprises, the answer is almost always in the negative. Now, how do you actually make them read, get them enchanted with the magical world that a book can take them into, tales of faraway lands, adventures, princesses, gnomes, ogres, animals and birds?
To start with, it really helps if at least one of the parents is an avid reader. Don’t lose heart if you aren’t one. But, you have to take the time and effort and it is never too early to start. I went a little overboard with the firstborn and started reading aloud to him even before he was born.Yes, I am a little crazy that way. A night-time ritual started from when he was around three months old, reading out small stories of animals and birds. Once he started holding on to things with his tiny hands, we bought him a few second hand board books with some lovely and colorful pictures. Initially, I was very skeptical about whether the baby would understand anything but as he was growing, I could see his interest developing over time.
The first step towards reading on their own can be extremely boring for the parent. Best choices for this stage are those books that have one sentence per page, in large letters. Be prepared to read and re read it more than a few times each day, for weeks and sometimes, even for a few months. Your reward will come sooner or later, that wonder in her eyes as she recognizes the first word and read it aloud and then another and yet another.
The key is not to push too much, too soon and not too obviously. Each child is different and the pace at which they pick up words would vary. Make it interesting for them with some sound effects, let the actor in you come out and go ahead, do a jig with the little on the bed, it will be a good stress buster for you as well. Once the interest is kindled, it will need continuous nurturing. Sometimes they might go into a no book phase, but don’t worry. Continue with the ritual, read aloud to them at least for half an hour every day without fail, they will soon start asking for just one more story.
As they grow, they would develop interest in certain genres; for some it could be animals, for others it could be sports or even technology. At home, I have noticed my now 12-year-old son going through Noddy first, ‘The Wimpy Kid’ series then, and onto Geronimo Stilton, The Magic Tree House series and the like. The preferences started to change around when he was ten years, with interest gravitating towards more knowledge based books – ‘The Horrible History / Geography / Science’ series is a boon, these are loaded with facts and with cheeky language that kids just seem to love. They might want to read some of the grown up books that are lying around, there is no harm in them trying it out. If you think some of your books are too adult for a kid to handle, it is always better to keep them out of easy reach. Banned things are always exciting, isn’t it? Better keep temptation out of reach or even better, not to give a chance to be tempted at all.
Should you buy books or lend it from a library? It is always better to have a few books that your kids can call their own. Buying first hand may seem a little expensive, but just compare it to what you would spend on one meal outside. There are sales galore – online and over the counter – and the second hand shops too. Tale the little ones along, let them spend some time there, at their own pace, leafing through whatever they like. It will improve your patience levels as well.
Does it seem like a lot of work? There is an easy way out. Switch that TV off, keep that phone aside and pick up a book and start reading yourself. Leave a few books around in each room, some grown up and others for kids. Then as, Ms. Fadiman says, you would start seeing some doors getting closed, and behind those, the little ones lost in a world of their own, that no gadget can bring them back from.
Bindu Manoj dabbles in numbers for a living, dreaming of words all the while. A mother of two, wife to one, sister to four and friend to many, she hoards books by the score. An arm chair traveler who does some real life off roading now and then, she prefers the moves and shakes of jeeps and trucks to the cushy comfort of normal vehicles. Her wandering soul muses at http://ruminateatleisure.wordpress.com/ and she reminiscence her reads at http://wanderlustathome.wordpress.com/