How to Encourage Our Children to Read.

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.

Tales similar to the one in this book were commonly told around the fireplace after a long day to caution and entertain the children.

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.

Be it a simple bedtime story, a comic book, fiction, fantasy, adventure or a historical biography, books will always have something new to teach our children.

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.

There is no harm in letting them read about the challenges in the world today. There are books addressing this written specifically for children, like these ones here.
Getting them a variety of books will keep them engrossed, informed and entertained.
There are also books such as these that help us teach our children how to be safe.

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.

Common fables such as these are a delight to read for the children, let them expand their imagination as they get entertained.

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.

Cute and colourful books are great for a child just learning how to read for themselves.

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.

Some books in different languages.

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.

This is a sample of my son’s weekly reading from the school library. At least one non fiction a week works for him. I especially love these Nat Geo readers.

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.

Check for age appropriate dictionaries at your local bookstore.

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?

School’s Out!

The kids have closed for the December holidays after two or so months of on site learning.

It has not been easy keeping in mind the risks involved, but we thank God there was no Covid 19 incidence on campus. We are not taking it for granted.

The pandemic has seen all of us adapt in many ways, most of all practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, washing our hands and/ or sanitising at almost every turn and avoiding physical touch. The latter is difficult for kids who have had to learn to play without touching each other, communicate without sharing – they have had to adapt to what was their normal language. Thankfully kids are resilient and can adapt much faster than adults, but it has also had a toll on them.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

We have had a lot of people question us on our decision to take the kids back to on site learning. It was not an easy decision to make. Luckily the school is not that big, and they were able to institute various measures to ensure they met COVID 19 prevention protocols as per the Ministry of Health and CDC guidelines. They also kept all the parents constantly updated on the plans to reopen and also took feedback and addressed our concerns adequately.

The school has done its part well. There is a “no mask no entry” policy, you have to have your temperature checked on entry and keep your mask on at all times, as well as practice the distancing rules. This is non negotiable. They have increased hand washing stations with soap around the school and all the classes, offices and accessible areas have “no touch” sanitiser dispensers. All the desks have clear plexiglass screens, are apart from each other, and the kids are not allowed to share any supplies or food with each other. They also do not mingle like before. Lunch, recess and games times are staggered so each year group is in one place at a time, the smaller the group, the easier it is to contain in case of an outbreak. There is an isolation unit on the compound in case of an incident too. Throughout the term there have been constant reminders to all of us to not linger or mingle on site, keep our masks on properly and sanitise constantly.

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

As parents, we have an obligation to teach our kids what the expected behaviour is once back in school, and the teachers have been reinforcing this too. I remember my daughter’s teacher preparing the kids during the online classes by having short presentations and Q and As on what to do and what not to do to keep safe on campus. I found it thoughtful of her asking the kids who were not used to wearing masks to keep them on in the house for a few hours in the week before going back to on site learning so they could get used to the feeling of having a mask on for a long time. We are also to report to the school in case we or our family members get infected at home. Sick kids (sore throat, or sniffles or coughs etc ) are not to be taken to school, and immuno compromised kids have been encouraged to learn from home.

I am proud of how well the kids have done in terms of their studies and psychological wellbeing during this time. Letting them talk about how they are feeling has helped a lot. It has been a confusing time for them. Having to be away from their school mates and friends throughout lockdown, and now back to playing without touching each other. Having to talk to each other through the masks that will hide the giggles…it is the simple things like this that matter to them. And we have to keep reassuring them that it is ok to feel sad about it, but it is much better and more important to be safe.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

I will not lie that I have not been anxious throughout the term, I am glad for them to have a break at this time. The Covid numbers here are rising steadily and will be sure to increase after the Christmas festivities as many people are travelling up country in spite of warnings not to do so. We also have general elections in the new year, so might be back to online learning for the first two weeks of 2021. An advantage of this is limited movement and one can self isolate and monitor their health during this period in case of exposure over the holidays. The school has also reiterated on the need to be tested and quarantine as per the government guidelines for those who may travel internationally, before reporting back to campus.

This pandemic has taught us the meaning and importance of personal and communal responsibility. We need to keep safe for each other. We are wearing masks and maintaining social distance not just to protect ourselves and our loves ones, but those around us too.

As we head into the festive season, let us remember to keep safe and set a good example to our children on our human responsibility to not endanger each other recklessly. We all want to be with our loved ones but the risk is not worth it.

Keep safe and enjoy the holidays.

Time for School.

The kids are back to school (on site learning) in a few days. I am obviously anxious and apprehensive, but to be honest we do need to get back to regular programming.

Photo by VisionPic .net on Pexels.com

Schooling from home has been an interesting experience for us. I have enjoyed watching the kids adapt to distant learning quite fast, and impressed by how much effort the teachers are putting in to ensure that no child is left behind.

The kids’ school is not so big, which I think has made it a bit easier than most to adjust. I will not lie that there have been no challenges, but I will give credit where due; they have done an amazing job.

For one, I like that the children do not have to be online for long hours. School work is sent in advance on a weekly basis and the children have been able to work at their pace.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

On an average school day learning from home, the teachers hold a live online session with the children for about 30 minutes. This is great as the kids get to see their classmates, do their presentations if any, and interact with their teachers. This is usually at 9.00 am. After the live class, they can work as per their individual timetables on what needs to be done, with two breaks, just like in school- For snacks and a bit of play and a one hour lunch break. Afternoon sessions may include live class sessions that are usually half an hour or less. These are for the special classes; art, music, French computer and the like. The Physical education teacher also sends videos for their weekly movement activities.

What has impressed me the most is all they would do in school is included in the home learning program. The librarians have also been sending readings of great children’s books, and one can still access the library and borrow books on a weekly basis.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I know we are privileged in this aspect, and we definitely do not take it for granted. A lot of children have missed out on formal learning. Some private schools have had to close as they could not survive financially in the pandemic. Now as schools reopen there are parents who have to search for new schools for their children. Schools that are struggling on how to maintain Covid 19 prevention protocols because they need to increase sanitation facilities, ensure there is running water, needing space to expand to accommodate increased social distance, desks, and the list goes on and on.

I also wonder how the children will re-adjust to face to face learning, after learning and adjusting to online lessons. Socialising in school will definitely change too. No more games lessons, clubs and sporting for now; it shall not be easy for them to get used to it.

I know the kids have missed playing so freely with others.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Adapting is not easy. But we can do it. We have to remain resilient and optimistic and keep learning on how to live with the presence of the virus in our communities.

I ask myself this daily.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Creamy Tuna, Courgette and Pasta salad.

Now that’s schools are open (virtually here), we are back to a different order. Being home with the kids makes me their teachers’ assistants and let me tell you I’ve been shuffling from one room to another to assist my little ones it’s hard to get a moment to just sit. I’m happy though. I’m not complaining as I know it’s a privilege to be able to do this with them.

We’re back to snacking between classes and school lunches. The kids used to carry lunch from home so I’ve been trying to make those meals too. Leftovers as well as quick to put together tasty meals that can be made ahead are always a life saver.

This simple pasta salad is well loved in this household when we go for picnics too. It’s simple to make, tasty and best of all, makes use of what you already have in the pantry or fridge. 🤗

Tomatoes, onion, dhania, grated courgette …
One can of tuna drained. ….
Also used some mustard and of course salt and pepper (not in pic)

I used shell pasta. You can use any short cut pasta you have. Remember this is to be quick and easy.

Prepare your pasta as per instructions on the pack, drain and set aside to cool as you prepare your other ingredients.

It’s a simple slam dunk affair!! Just be careful before adding salt. Taste and check if it needs extra seasoning. Mix well and chill till ready to serve.
Yummy..
I love adding chili powder to mine.
It’s so tasty and a great way to load on those colorful veggies right?

Do you like pasta salad? What do you add to yours?

Back to School!

The kids are back to school; albeit virtually. This pandemic has really forced all of us to scramble and look for ways to adapt to the situation. Governments have been caught flatfooted, which has meant many kids missing out on the completion of the school year.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

With community transmissions on the rise here, most probably  public schools will be opening in Jan/ Feb when the new school year is set to begin. 

Private schools have been engaging the government on reopening but one interesting thing to note is that even if the private schools were able to implement all possible Covid- 19 precautionary measures, the government will be reluctant to give them approval for the following reasons; it will be unfair to those in public schools, and there will also be immense pressure on the education ministry to reopen the public schools which are not ready. Keep in mind, some public schools are in such dilapidated states, one wonders where they till start. Some schools do not have running water, roofs, are dilapidated, classes are overcrowded, sanitation is pathetic, and receive little to nothing in terms of  government support, how then will coronavirus transmission be contained? 

As much as education is a basic right, the right to life is more important and our children’s lives must be protected by all means. 

How we educate our children is changing. Even with the emergence of (allegedly) successful vaccines, things will not go back to normal fast. It could mean we have to homeschool our young ones for the first few years before they join face to face classes, as how will they learn effectively via Zoom/ Google classroom? 

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

What does this also mean for the working parents or those with none or only one device between them and have more than one child?

My last born is joining Grade 1 and I am very excited but anxious too. This ‘new normal’ means his experience will be completely different from the norm as he has to meet his classmates online. Lucky for us kids adapt easily and I find they might cope with this better than we the adults. 

I am appreciative of the schools’ efforts to maintain learning through this period too through online activities. It is not easy for the teachers too; and we need to remember the hard work they are putting in to transfer the teaching material online, record the instructional videos or teach live. That is no mean feat!

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I have been following some conversations online and as much as some parents are feeling an extra burden, we should not forget the strain on the educators as well. 

I also acknowledge that it is a privilege for those of us whose kids are able to continue learning. We should not take this for granted. Luckily the school is nearby so for the young ones we are getting weekly printed school work packets that are great, as it means less screen time for the kids, which is another worry for many parents. 

For those having the kids home and not in class is also a great opportunity to impart knowledge without the confines of a classroom and rigid curriculum. Life skills; star gazing, learning through play or about nature, cooking, sewing, woodwork etc. There are so many ways we can still educate our children without the usual ‘schooling’. Let them plant flowers or trees, help in cleaning, baking, fixing the car or home repairs, they are still learning invaluable lessons.

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

Another important thing we need to do as parents is to mind our language and energy around our children too. Quit complaining about them being home or in class within earshot of your children. Watch the energy we give out too. Children learn more by what we do, NOT what we say. We are anxious but let us try to be optimistic with all that is happening. 

Safety is also paramount. Let us know where our kids are and who they are with. Also online safety, what precautions are we taking during the online classes? Do we sit with the kids or leave them to their own devices? Do we check what they are doing online? Do we talk to them about online dangers? 

Gone are the days when kids were instructed and expected to toe the line without question. These days we have to explain and discuss with them (at their level of understanding obviously) on what is safe, permissible and in line with our values. We are our children’s first educators, whether they are in school or not,  and this time we have with them is best to instil family values that they will never forget. 

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

We are living in interesting times indeed.