I became a reader before I became a writer. If I have one regret in life, it is that I started reading regularly little late. We have all heard of cliché’s like ‘books are our best friends’. Since I didn’t start reading general books very early, my reading speed is awful. If I increase my speed, the comprehension falls back and vice-versa. Sounds familiar?
Most people cannot make up their mind on what to read. This problem is solved by reading a lot of random stuff and then figuring out what you like. But, the first step of reading a lot of random stuff doesn’t happen if we don’t have a reading habit to start with. So you figured out that it is classic chicken and egg problem.
Due to these reasons, if the child starts reading early in life, he or she will have a better sense of what they like and they will read it faster while comprehending better.
The process of reading itself is quite calming and soothing, much like meditation. I know few friends who can get lost in a book for hours.
Reading text-books actually doesn’t qualify as very useful reading as the person is normally trying to consciously remember or retain what is being read. Same history and geography books, if read like story books, will be much more fun. I scored very well in biology in std 12th examinations in spite of being clear that I will not pursue that subject later on. This was only because I read those fat textbooks as story books without pressurizing myself to cram.
Anyway, I don’t think more needs to be said about the virtue of reading.
If you are thinking about how to inculcate the reading habit in your child, following pointers may help.
- Figure out age appropriate stuff. There are books for all age groups, right from infants to adults. If you hand out a book that is not meant for your child’s age-group, chances of picking up reading are slim. Few exceptional children will read the books for their age-group quickly and move to next level, but the starting point has to be appropriate. Take help from English teachers, experienced parents or search online.
- Familiarity breeds contempt. This adage doesn’t apply to books! Kids need to be familiar with a variety of books. They also have a knack for picking up what they like. We take our children to large bookstores and let them browse through a large variety of books. The guidance is clear – don’t accumulate what you want to buy, but read few pages of many books to find out what you like. If the child collects many books just by looking at the cover and you oblige by purchasing them, those books may never get read after coming back home. Our trips to bookstores can last anywhere between three to six hours and we may end up buying only a couple of books.
- Read out aloud to children. Kids of all age-groups love this and this is the most common advice on this subject. Reading out aloud has several other associated benefits and it is a great bonding mechanism but the chief advantage is developing a love for reading and books.
- Create artificial scarcity. If you are buying lots of books for your children and pressurizing them to read, it becomes your project. The child feels that she is doing a favor to you by reading. Same thing applies to food, when you are running behind the child in a garden, trying to stuff a piece of the sandwich into her mouth. Let them figure out what books they like and supply one at a time.
- Institute a reading hour. For kids that just start reading full sentence books, it helps if you observe a reading hour couple of times in a week. This is the time when you and the kids read their own books and nobody talks for an hour. Exceptions like pee pee are fine but avoid general talking. Here, the child also learns from example as they need to see you reading. They learn to focus. Maybe you start with half an hour if one hour seems too long and increase gradually.
- Read and discuss. Other than the reading hour (where talking should be minimised), promptly answer the questions raised by the child while reading. You may not know all the answers but that’s why we got Wikipedia and Google. Slowly teach them to use these tools to reduce your own burden.
- Take periodic inventory of books. Any books bought for children that are not read in a month or two may never get read. Every month or two, take stock of children’s books. Whatever has been read should be given away to deserving or needy children elsewhere (unless you want to retain a classic or best seller). For example, other than Harry Potter series, we systematically get rid of all the books finished by our children. Give it to someone who is of right age now and don’t store these for a nephew who is just born. Children’s books nowadays are very current and go out of fashion quickly.
The habit of reading doesn’t come very easily to many children. If you follow these points right from the first year, the child may be more friendly to books but still there is no guarantee that he will like reading. As a parent, its your job to keep nudging, trying subtly and sometimes enforcing discipline but beyond a point you can only try. Don’t make it a do or die mission and let things take their own course. But never give up!
My book is available on Amazon.in – Happiness is All We Want!
Order here – http://bit.ly/Happiness-All-Want-Ashutosh-Mishra
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.