I’m lucky to have a child that loves to read. My 5-year-old finds delights in books of all kind – stories, mythology, non-fiction and all kind of activity books. Yes, the latter are also important to mention. I meet many worried mothers with kids that won’t even touch a book – to read or write in. It’s almost like a book allergy or, worse, a phobia that these kids face.
Disclaimer – I certainly don’t see this as a “sad” or “shameful” situation. A child should be constructively occupied, with whatever he or she enjoys. But, yes, I do believe that being a reader holds many advantages for life. It chases away boredom, opens the mind to myriad ideas and helps one explore the many facets of being human.
I will mention here that I used to show my child board books when he was as young as 5 months old. That’s the age by which they can focus on large pictures, according to Dr Spock. So I gave it a try. The colours were appealing, the shapes were attractive and so the love affair began.
So many friends have asked me how my husband and I manage to get my child to like read books, in today’s screen-saturated world. Here, I openly share some ways to keep this wonderful practice alive. And, mind you, my husband doesn’t crush on books that much. But seeing his child’s keenness, he makes it a point to encourage the habit.
Any child upwards of 2 years learns almost everything by mimicking his parents or guardians he spends time with on a daily basis. If he sees you stuck to a gadget all the time, that’s what he will warm up to as well. So, be the change. Even if it means reading the daily news, hold a newspaper in front of you rather than your iPad. You will slowly see the change.
Of course, don’t make your child read out headlines of gory murder and crimes but maybe encourage participation by showing photos that a child would be interested in. Even if it’s the cartoon strips!
Never force your child into anything, especially once you start sensing resistance. Your pushing would only amplify the resistance. There may be a basic insecurity that might have crept in, so forcing a book down the child’s throat will not help. It could have been a scary illustration in one book, a funny smell or an uncomfortable texture in another. Figure that out first. Give your child some space and wait for a few days until you try again. Till then, you continue reading!
One of the biggest mistakes we parents make is to compare – even if it’s in our heads. See how nicely she’s reading the book. Why can’t you? No matter how sweetly you may say this, it could still not go down well with your child.
We all know that each kid is different and takes to activities at its own time and pace – reading, swimming, public speaking or eating independently. Can we please expand our minds to accommodate their individuality?
My child never cycles. He won’t pedal, only ring the cycle bell and proceed. Simply because he’d rather run around! Frankly, we’re OK with this. He’ll cycle if he wants to, when he wants to. So please, parents, no other peer is to be your bookmark when it comes to making your child read. Again, your child is still comparing himself to you, so continue reading!
Figure out key interests
May be your child doesn’t get fairy tales. May be cars or food are more a hot favourite. Work your way into books keeping this in mind. For my son, it’s always been animals of all kinds. When we figured that out, we kept buying animal-related books.
First they were just the picture-based board books, then short stories and rhymes, then more stories and lift-the-flap kinds. Post that, came the dinosaur books, encyclopaedia and of course, the Gruffalo series.
So, if your child likes vehicles, pick up stuff like The Little Blue Truck. If it’s food, try The Magic Rolling Pin. Even if it’s just a single colour, find books that have that as a major feature and binge on it. Yes, book binges are always valid! In the meantime, you continue with your reading, on your topics of interest.
Make it fun and helpful
If you’re still rolling your eyes in doubt, here’s my last tip. Keep the fun quotient high. We’re trying to get the kids into reading first and then books later. So read out hoardings with them, as you’re driving around. Read McDonald’s menus together. High five on “French fries”! Read what’s written on their favourite toys’ packing boxes, birthday party invitations – get fun-ventive!
You could also make their reading efforts seem like lifesaving ones. On a vacation, ask them to read sign boards or names of railway stations. In a huge mall, pretend like you would only know the right store if your child told you what it is. Let them spell to you initially. That’ll get the reading wheels rolling. As long as it’s fun, the job will get done!
I was fortunate enough to be encouraged to read by my parents, who bought me some of the best titles a child could lay her hands on. I have ruined many an afternoon nap for my mother, bringing her piles of books to read when I couldn’t do that myself. Reading is one of my greatest joys that I now happily share with my child. I’d be overjoyed to know that you do too!