Nurturing the love of reading

January 19, 2018 17:35
There is no surefire way to get a child to enjoy reading, but some things can help when it comes to what the parents can do. Photo: Reuters

Growing up, I didn’t like reading, a fact that became a source of frustration and annoyance to my mother. She would buy all types of books for me to try and read and I had no interest whatsoever. I preferred dancing, playing with my dolls and spending time with my family over sitting and reading books.

Up to the age of about 8, I didn't want to read. But things changed suddenly when my mother found a book series on something I loved – ballet. The series about Drina the Ballerina enticed me to read and I haven’t stopped reading since. I enjoy reading now and want to nurture my child to make him enjoy the same.

But perhaps what I did was a little crazy. Starting in college (which was way before I started dating!), I started looking out for children’s books that I liked. I would buy them for my future children and also save up books from my childhood in preparation for giving them to my future children. So by the time I was pregnant, I had about 30 books to gift to my child.

And when I was pregnant, I would read to my child every night. I chose to read him the Storybook Bible and every night, I would read him a chapter. And this continued after he was born. Even before he was able to open his eyes properly, I was reading to him. He is now a year and a half and I don’t think there has been one night where I haven’t read books to him. His bedtime routine includes reading books of his choice and we will usually read 4-5 books and he’ll usually ask for more!

I’ve always thought reading was important but now that I have a child, I believe it even more. It is through reading that I can teach my son so much. And not just about learning things like what lions, planes and instruments look like (even though those are great!). It can also teach him about experiences.

As an example, we took a trip to Australia last week and I was very nervous about travelling long haul with him. Prior to the trip, we read a book about taking an aeroplane which included the whole process of checking in, going through baggage check, immigration, being on the plane and landing. It prepared him to know what was coming and during the trip, I would refer to the book. It helped calm him and also for him to know what was happening.

Or the time when he had to bring a present to give to a friend and we referred to the book about a birthday party and how the bear had to bring a gift for his friend who was celebrating his birthday. Or about how we shouldn’t jump in bed because we could "fall down and bump our head" like the monkeys in the story. Books and stories are a great way to teach, to bond and to spark creativity.

There is no surefire way to get a child to enjoy reading but I think some of the following can help:

Let your child choose the books

My son has a fascination with buses and most things on wheels as well as animals and music; hence, many of his books revolve around these themes. When we go to a bookshop, we let him choose his books (often guided decisions!) and when he does, he likes taking them home and reading them more.

Make books accessible

If books are on shelves where children can only see the spines of the books, it’s easy to get disinterested. Or if the books are too high up and out of reach. Put books in baskets on the floor, on eye-level bookshelves, and make it easy for the child to reach them.

Choose fun books

What a fun book looks like will vary with age but for young children, one with sounds, music, flaps and textures will be more exciting than those without. For older children, it may be ones with the look and find options and riddles. Don’t worry about choosing the most 'academic' books – nurture a love of reading first and then your child will want to read a range of books.

Make storytelling fun

This is probably the hardest part that requires practice and learning – storytelling. To sit and read words off a page is easy, but to make storytelling fun, it takes a little bit more work. It could involve using voices for the different characters, puppets/props to add to the effects, creating suspense during the story, using tone and intonation to highlight different elements in the story, asking questions throughout the book and making the experience interactive.

And for some active children, it may perhaps involve making them get up and move around or act out the actions according to the actions in the book.

Wishing you all happy reading!

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 11

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Founder and Principal at JEMS Learning House