Yesterday I was asked a very interesting question by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, a friend. It was about my daughter Anusha. “How did you get Anusha to become such a voracious reader?” she asked me. I didn’t have an answer. Honestly if I look back at the last 13 years of Anusha’s life, the only thing that Dharini (my wife) and I did was introduce her to books, and thereon kept supplying her with a steady stream of books. We didn’t try to influence her choice of books though we did censor the kind of books she read. And now she gobbles up three books in two weeks. (Well almost …. because if a new Rick Riordan book comes out, she reads it so very slowly in order to make it last as long as possible)
In my opinion most children will read if introduced to books at the right age and time, and if they are allowed to read books that they want to. So here I am, giving my first parenting advice on how to get children to read. A lot of it is gut feel and common sensical. As parents, if you don’t agree, its perfectly fine, do your own thing. I am only outlining things which worked for me.
1. Don’t thrust the reading habit on children : Children these days have a mind of their own. And often they are smarter and quicker than their parents. They don’t like to be told things. If you try to thrust reading on children, you can be sure of one thing, they will not read.
2. Children learn by looking at their parents : If the parents don’t read, convincing children to read is going to be slightly difficult, if not impossible. If you want your children to read, start reading yourself. Atleast one of the parents must do so if you are serious about developing a reading habit in your child.
3. Make it cool : Children these days like to do things which are cool. Things which add value to their bragging quotient at school. While reading can be cool, it can be geeky too. The latter is a bit of a put off. Help children read books which are the “in-thing”.. which get discussed in school. A lot of parents cringed when Wimpy Kids came out, but who would have thought a few years back that the Wimpy Kids series will push Jeff Kinney into the list of highest grossing authors in 2012. A number of kids read them and liked those books. Same with Geronimo Stilton. Let children read contemporary stuff. Don’t push them to classics. If you have to… then negotiate. For every two Wimpy kid or Rick Riordan books, they will have to read one classic. I am not not sure that this strategy will work, but worth a try.
4. Do not draw up a schedule for reading : Library hour never worked in school, why do you think it will work at home? Many so called child psychologists have suggested that its best to set aside an hour a day for reading. Trust me, if you do that, the child will dread the ‘reading hour’. I have found that the best time to read is before going to bed. 90% of the reading population reads on bed. Why not children? Let them read before going to sleep. If they read, and are engrossed, let them knock off 15-20 minutes of their sleeping time and continue reading. Its a good habit. Yes they will lose a bit of sleep. But what the hell, there is more fun in going to sleep late, despite “mom imposed” sleeping time. And this fun element will also get them to enjoy reading. Long term gains. remember. (and btw Dharini will kill me if she reads this)
5. Sign up for a library and let children order themselves : This is exciting. I signed up for Librarywala, and Anusha ordered her own books. Yes, we censored the books to make sure that she read books appropriate for her age. But over the last two years, in our family, she is the one who has ordered the maximum number of books from Librarywala. This also becomes relevant because of the fact that children these days are very choosy. They have a very short attention span and very strong likes and dislikes. If you keep buying books, you will get frustrated with the fact that for every five books you buy for them, they will junk one or two. In such a scenario, a library works well. And there are lot of good ones these days : Easylib, Kwench, Librarywala, Justbooks are only a few of them.
6. If you are one of those privileged ones for whom affordability is not the issue, it might make sense to make your child future ready by getting him or her to read on the Kindle. Ebooks will rule the world in another five years (by the time your child grows up). No harm in making sure the child enjoys the benefits of technology. The instant ‘word look up’ option that most ebook readers give you will surely be instrumental in improving your child’s vocabulary. (in a paperback, its too much of an effort to pick up the dictionary and get to know the meaning of difficult words). And ebook readers are definitely ‘cooler’.
7. Encourage your children to exchange books: I have seen Anusha read some books multiple times.But these are books she loves. (at best 10% of the books she reads). The balance 90% are never read again. I am sure the same is the case with most other children too. Do not sell such books to the Kabadiwala. Either exchange these books with other children or else donate them to a library or a foundation which supports reading. It will help another child read and develop the habit. More importantly it will also develop the habit of sharing in your child.
People tell me that reading to a child works. I do not have much of an experience at that, so not sure if it works.
A few days back, in an interview with Radio City in Bangalore, I was asked if i have any message for the people of Bangalore. All I said there was that reading is a great habit, which our children must cultivate. It makes them develop as well rounded individuals and broadens their horizons. It improves vocabulary, and can possibly make them more confident. Hence if we have to pass on one trait to our children, let it be the habit of reading. Its like breathing, like walking, like swimming, like cycling. Once you develop the passion for reading, you will never get out of it. And what better an age to get into it, than your formative years.
God Bless all our children.
Pic courtesy: Guidingstar.ca