The love of reading is one of those things many parents wonder how to teach their children. How do we get them to love to read without it being burdensome? Which books should they read, and how can we encourage them from a young age? Where can we get the books? How can we know what they will enjoy?
Storytelling has been a part of human nature from time immemorial. Before humans developed written communication, myths and fables were passed on orally around the village fire. Through tales of legends of past times, dances, songs and poems, children were taught cultural and moral values, how society came to be, lessons in obedience and humility, caution and the importance of being safe, how to live in peace with nature, the cycle of life and death and many more important life lessons.
These days we buy our children books and magazines to supplement the language arts they are being taught in school. We may read or tell them bedtime stories, read religious texts together, but is it enough? We want our children to find joy in reading and boost their fertile imagination without it being a chore.
Some past philosophers compared children to a blank slate, ‘tabula rasa’, where it is upon us to determine what they should learn/ know. This idea has been challenged by later research findings, as we now know there are many more factors that affect how children learn. As parents, it is our responsibility to provide a proper learning environment for our children, that matches their capabilities. What and how a child reads is determined by their developmental changes, genetic makeup, their neuro diversity, and their environment. We have to keep this in mind as we teach them how to read.
Reading opens up a whole new world to us; it enables us to travel across time and space without leaving our homes. We learn new things, new words and phrases, improve our communication and become more open minded. We live in a world where we have to be well informed and up to date with what is going on around us. To do this for our children we need to let them read books that reflect the world around us accurately.
Reading not only entertains us, but also enables us to remember and treasure or discard different things from the past. We draw lessons we can apply in the present, learn how to be more tolerant and accepting of those that are different from us, learn the value of hard work, the sacrifices made by those gone before us, learn about the technological advancements made and understand life in general.
Books help us not shy away from topics we may find hard to approach with our children. Topics such as death, sex, war, violence, HIV- AIDs etc, can discussed with our children. “The Dead Bird” by Margaret Wise Brown, has been touted by many as a good book to approach how to talk about loss and death with our children. I also like this book pictured below that is great for talking to younger children about our bodies and to appreciate our physical differences.
We know children learn more from our actions. Do they see you read? My father was and still is an avid reader, we always had books, newspapers and magazines around the house. He read to us from a young age, and once we learnt how to read, he bought us different books as per our ages. I have fond memories of listening to him tell us old tales from our culture, read to us from “Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories” Collections, and Christina Rosetti’s children’s poems. Buying Dr. Seuss books alongside African folktales collections. I remember reading about Anansi the Spider’s trickster ways next to Enid Blyton’s classics. Watching us read can trigger the reading bug in our children.
Buy or borrow from local libraries books that cover various interests too, as well as books that match their reading capability, their reading preferences and developmental stage. My daughter is at the stage where she loves reading adventure stories; we have to keep that in mind as we get her what to read. My son is crazy about cars and dinosaurs, so we are also kindling that interest.
It is never too early to read to your child. Read to them in their infancy, buy them picture books, where they can look at the colourful pictures and shapes. I like cloth and textured (also known as sensory) books that help awaken sense of touch and sight in toddlers, helping them visualise and appreciate the beauty in the pages. Nursery rhymes, alphabet and counting books for the pre schoolers are great choices too.
Books in your mother tongue and other languages help children not only learn the languages, but also make them appreciate the diversity of different cultures, will assist in imparting cultural values and teach them to respect the differences we have. Let them read books by local authors too, they will appreciate reading from and about characters who look like them and in settings similar to their own circumstances.
There is no shortage of ways to cultivate the love of reading to our children.
If you do not know where to start, you can begin by choosing books that are at their level of understanding. For the younger ones you can read some short stories to them. It is a treasured moment they will look forward too, whether a simple bedtime story or an impromptu story time session during a long trip. Read aloud to them and pronounce the words well, and if it is a word or phrase that is unfamiliar to them, ask them if they know or can guess what it means.
When reading to them, make it fun and interactive to keep them interested. Make it lively when reading. Facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, voice inflections will capture their interest in the story.
Encourage questions as you read. Let them interject and answer them before continuing with the story. Encourage feedback too, ask them what they think about what you read, or what they are reading for themselves. Did they enjoy the story? What did they think about the character and their choices? Would they like to read or hear more stories along those lines?
Buy them books as gifts. Rewards are always motivating, so get them books as a reward too. If they can read for themselves, get them books according to their reading ability and preference. Ask them what they enjoy reading. Stroll through the bookstore or library with them and let them go over the books they are interested in. It will give them a sense of independence and teach them how to make decisions. We should never under estimate the teachable moments all around us.
As parents, I know we want to expand their reading, and stay on top of what they read, so here is what I do; At the moment, my kids can borrow a maximum of three books a week from their school library, what I do is ensure there is at least one non-fiction book out of the three for each of them. A minimum of one non fiction will ensure that they will not only get entertained by their other selections, but will get to learn some factual information too.
Provide them with a variety of books to expand their imagination. From fantasy, to cultural tales, encyclopaedias, adventure stories, historical biographies, fables and legends to poetry. The list is endless. Also get them age appropriate dictionaries so they can know the meanings of the new words they come across while reading.
Let them read at their own pace. Do not rush them or force them, this will discourage them and make them feel like reading is burdensome.
Even 10 – 20 minutes is enough for them to read if you need them to improve on it. Remember, reading is fun, let us not turn it into an arduous activity for them.
A lot of children’s books these days have some interactive activities and questions at the back. Ask them if they need help to do some of the activities, which can be a great bonding session for all of you.
Do not shame your child over their reading preferences. Different types of stories expand their imagination. Every genre and tale has a lesson they can learn. You may feel fairy tales are ridiculous; The dashing heroes who come to save, the transformations of characters from animal to human, the characters’ suffering…but they offer hope and a happy ending when good triumphs over evil.
Personally, I like Winnie the Pooh and her fellow characters’ varying outlooks on life; they teach our children different perspectives. That it is indeed possible to have differing outlooks on life and still get along.
Books such as “The Magic School Bus” range and the “National Geographic Super Readers” Range, offer factual information in such a captivating way; your children will love knowing more about the universe, how our bodies work, the environment and many more interesting things.
It is very important to vet what our children are reading. What is influencing their current reading preferences? Check out the reviews of the books they are interested in and read the books themselves too. Not all books are good or written with the best intentions. Ensure they are reading books that go hand in hand with the values you want them to have.
We have to be proactive in encouraging our children to read. It is not enough to just buy them the books and let it be. Let us lead by example; let them see us read and talk about what we have read, even if it is a newspaper or magazine article. Have discussions with them on what they are reading and their thoughts about the characters or the storyline, or what they enjoyed most about their book.
Encourage them to write their own stories. You can even recreate some of the stories which might inspire them to do so too. My son turned his worn socks into sock puppets the other day and recreated a scene from something he had read with his sister’s help. It was quite entertaining to watch.
The best thing about books is we can find them almost everywhere. From ordinary bookstores, supermarkets, thrift markets, roadside sellers, online, garage sales, from friends, books fairs or local libraries, there are so many places one can access them.
You can also let them read online (with cyber safety measures in place, obviously). There are many websites and apps that you can download and create a profile for your child, and let them read various books. Try sites and apps such as Starfall, RAZ Kids, ABC and Adventure Academy, Mee Genius, Hoopla, Homer, and many more.
Reading nurtures patience, curiosity, tolerance, respect, humility, empathy and the most important lesson of all; that humans are equal. We just view the world in different ways.
Reading will make our children open minded, appreciate our diversity as inhabitants of our planet, learn how to solve problems, inform them of how the world around us works, learn to appreciate and nurture our environment and many more valuable lessons.
Before we know it, our children will be grown and out of our homes. The hunger to know and enjoy the process of learning new things, and seeking to understand the world we live in, are some of the important things we can teach them. A joy for reading will help us impart those lessons to them.
What else can we do to encourage our children to read?