I was discussing books and kids with an acquaintance recently and I mentioned that all of my kids love to read, and that if they had to choose between a TV programme and a good book, the book would likely win. She looked at me with absolute disbelief and asked me how I did it! And I’m like hmm? How I did what? Got my kids to love books? Aren’t all kids book lovers? Okay, so maybe not all kids love to read but shouldn’t all kids enjoy a good book?
I’ve come across parents who complain that their kids don’t do well at school and would rather watch TV than do homework, and quite frankly, such parents amaze me. They act like they have no control over these children and I truly feel sorry for them. I cannot imagine my kids not wanting to read. I was a bookworm as a child and I believe that like begets like, if I loved to read as a young child, then my kids, barring major medical or other developmental challenges should love to read. Unless of course, I do something wrong in my parenting role.
You see, I’ve heard people say that our children learn more from what we do than what we tell them to do, so if your child never sees you enjoying a goods book his curiosity will not likely be aroused where books are concerned. If you never read to them as children or surround them with the wonderful world of books they will not be tempted to explore and discover the secrets between the covers of a book. If you flop down in front of the TV set every evening after work for five or six hours of programme after programme on TV you can hardly expect hem to go into the study and pick a book to read. No, dear parents, it does not work like that. I know from personal experience, after all, I have a home full of readers. So here’s what I did and how I did it:
First off, I read a lot, I started reading at an early age and it had nothing to do with a privileged background, in fact, very far from it. My home was as humble as they come but my father loved books and introduced me to the magical world quite early in life. And he didn’t do it by telling me, he demonstrated it. I was a typical Daddy’s girl and I believed my father was infallible and whatever he did was right. He was always reading, the Bible, Norman Vincent Pearle, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, The African Writers series, Readers Digest (he had every issue!) and a host of other authors that I don’t remember now. He read, so I wanted to read and I started reading. My first real novel as a nine-year old was Wole Soyinka’s “The man died”. It was a tough book that gave me adult-sized headaches and convinced me that WS was not for people of my ‘intellectual’ capacity. I had the perfect combination designed to turn me into a reader, a reading parent, a lot of books and a curious mind. If you want your children to be readers you need all three ingredients, and you need them early.
As a mother, I start my ‘get them to love reading programme’ going before they are born. I don’t know how true it is that unborn babies can hear but I read to them before I see them. When they’re born I continue the tradition. By the time my kids are two years old their love for books is well established and by the time they get to ages four or five they’ve become bookworms themselves. Something else I do which it appears a lot of mothers are not willing to do, is regulate TV watching. I don’t give my children unrestricted all day access to TV. When I feel it’s getting in the way,, of anything, I turn it off. No apologies! I do not consider it punishment, I just let them know who’s in charge. You can’t refuse to do homework because of cartoon network, instead you’ll cry because CN will be off for a long time. I know someone will argue that it’s because I’m always at home, not so; I work and have always worked, with a few breaks in between. I work but I’m conscious that my first duty is to my family so I try not to ignore or neglect that. One of the controls I put in place at a point in our lives was to ensure that we did not pay for cable TV during the school term. We would renew the subscription the first day of holidays and as soon as the holidays ended that was it till the next holiday. This meant that for the whole of the school term, they had to read for entertainment. They tried to protest at first but gradually they came to accept and respect it. To soften the impact and for variety, we had ‘movie night with Mommy’. They would pick any movie of their choice and I would sit with them and watch. Of course we had a lot of fun for a few usually ‘intense’ hours and everyone looked forward to these ‘breaks’ from reading. But all were usually happy to go back to reading. Our home was far from boring, we had/have days out and of course there’s the usual circle of friends and games and all but the point is that we love to read as a family and I hardly ever need to beg or cajole my kids to read. Of course I still wish they did better at school as there’s still room for a lot of improvement, but I can truthfully say my kids are not ‘functional illiterates’ like what we have today. Nothing annoys me like kids who can’t spell properly or who use social media language in everyday writing. Whenever I encounter such people, I know immediately that they are not readers. A reader writes well. A television watcher may not be able to write properly. The whole point is this: if you want your
children to read, you have to be prepared to do the work of turning them into readers. I read, and my children read. It’s not a big deal in our home, it is something we enjoy. And it has very little to do with me being a writer, all of my children are science students but still they love to read and yours can too. What is your challenge?