It’s our job to make our kids love reading
When I was a wild, young thing in my 20’s reading angsty poetry, I came across three poignant lines in Letters of Recommendation, written by the incomparable poet, Yehuda Amichai.
“I remember my father waking me up
for early prayers*. He did it caressing
my forehead, not tearing the blankets away.”
A simple concept articulated so beautifully: that the best way to instil enthusiasm (or at least willingness) for a task in your child is to approach its beginning with tenderness.
I remembered Amichai’s words years later when I started reading books with my little one, hoping as I did so, that the activity would act as a cross-pollinator, and that my love for the written word would grow into alife-long love within her too.
As parents, we are wired to help our children reach their milestones, and reading is a milestone that is laden with gravitas. “We want to get kids reading, but they are under increasing pressure to do so, and it can overshadow the joy of this wonderful shared activity,” says Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D., a professor emerita at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the author of Taking Back Childhood.
What I have come to realise, is that it is my primary responsibility to teach my child to love reading, and how to read is a distant secondary focus. Reinforcing lessons and obsessing about literary fundamentals does not feature when my toddler and I sit together with a book. Rather, I want our time spent together with books to be associated with fun and joy.
If I treat books as though they are filled with wonder, then she will grow up believing that they are.
Create a magical scene
When my daughter and I get ready to read, I try to make the environment as visually enticing as possible. I create a fort, decorated with fairy lights, or set a picnic blanket close to the Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow bush in the garden and invite her stuffed pony to come too. I always bring out the ‘reading blanket’, which is the softest blankie in the house whose use is reserved solely for this auspicious activity.
When she is older, I plan to decorate our reading nooks together. Perhaps she will choose a tea party or volcano island theme. Either way, I want to co-create exciting spaces where she and I will enjoy storytime together (along with the whiteblanket).
Being read to
Even now, being read to (at the tender age of 40) is still one of my favourite things. For this reason, audiobooks are one of my biggest delights.
The good news is that audio books count as reading for children as they can help kids learn how to do it better. Hearing someone reading a book with confidence and expression will teach children to read the text accurately, and playing with pace, tone and characterisation makes the words come to life.
What about the movie
Like many others, I watched the Harry Potter movies while I was demolishing the book series. A new movie came out and I watched it; a new book came out and I read it. I remember seeing Daniel Radcliff on the screen and from then on, my own imaginings of Harry Potter went out of my head. No matter which books I read, I saw Daniel Radcliff as Harry; I saw Radcliff’s expressions and read the dialogue in his voice, and my own imagination simply stopped trying.
In truth, reading properly is hard work. Envisioning a character and lifting them off the page requires curiosity and creativity, and so it’s easy to see why more ‘reluctant young readers’ would prefer to simply watch the movie.
As parents trying to instil a love for reading, we should defend the book! So, choose a book that’s been adapted for the silver screen- The BFG, Alice in Wonderland- and enjoy reading the book together from cover to cover. When you’re done, warm up some popcorn and enjoy a family movie night with the film version. There is a great sense of accomplishment for the young reader in finishing the book first, and it opens a number of conversation avenues when comparing the two artistic mediums.
Books, books everywhere!
Yes, I have a bookshelf, but I keep my toddler’s books in neat piles all over the house. I want her to be surrounded by books, to reach for them, hold them, walk with them and flip through pages as she wishes.
Model the right behaviour
I remind myself that my child is constantly taking cues from me. She brushes her teeth when I do, and I hear her repeating my phrases (which can be shockingly embarrassing!) and wearing my facial expressions.
When she sees me engrossed in a book, she mimics my behaviour by sitting by herself and flipping through pages of her own storybooks. I talk with her about the books we read together, excitedly pointing out things in our daily life that reminds me of a character or plotline. I want her to see how excited I get about books, that they bring me joy, and that they can bring her joy too.
It's not a task
Daily reading will always be a part of my home life, and I am working hard so that the activity is never experienced as being forced on her. It is my job to help my daughter love reading from the start and ensure that she looks forward to the wonderful hours ahead of her that she can spend with the written word.
*Amichai was an awarded Israeli poet, nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In this stanza, he is referring to Shacharit, the recital of early morning prayers in the Jewish faith.