17 October 2014 | By Sayoni Basu
Why do you want your child to read? I think that is a crucial question.
There are so many exciting things for children to do—why must they read if they are leading perfectly happy lives otherwise? There are many adults who do not—and have not read—and are leading successful and radiantly joyful lives.
Many parents want kids to read because they believe that this will boost academic performance. Perhaps, but if academic success is your goal, and your child really does not want to read, there must be other ways of achieving it rather than subjecting him/her and yourself to the torture of forcing a reluctant child to encounter a 200-page book.
But if you want your child to read, because you love books and you want your child to experience that joy, then don’t worry—it will happen.
First of all, I think the most damaging thing about getting kids to read is that parents encourage it. We read since our families discouraged it—I remember an aunt complaining vociferously to my mum that I was reading romantic novels at age ten—and kids like to do what families disapprove of. So if parents and teachers stop talking about how essential it is to read, more kids might want to pick up a book.
Of course the thing about picking up a book is that kids need to pick it up themselves. Maybe I am just an inept parent, but I find that my son will read the books he wants to read (found in bookshops, recommended by friends) and not usually what I recommend. (There are a few exceptions to this!) So if you want your kids to read, let them pick what they are reading—comics, fiction, motorcycle magazines. What is important is that they realize that pleasure can be found between the pages of a book, or that the iBooks app is as cool as the other apps on the iPad.
Parents who read will have kids who read. If kids see parents voluntarily seeking out and devoting time to reading, they will want to read too. So the first step to getting your child to read may be to get yourself to read too.
There is a huge range of books out there for children—Indian and international. I believe that there are books for every reader. If you want to persuade your child to read, you suggest books to him or her which might fit in with what he or she is interested in. Do not attempt to foist books that you might have read as a child, or—even worse—books that attempt to teach things (unless of course your child likes non-fiction!). In the best books, the message or lesson, if any, is so deeply woven into the fabric of the book that it is hard to articulate. But messages do not need to be articulated—they are absorbed any way! And children have far more subtlety of comprehension than we tend to give them credit for.
There are things you can do—watch movies and then read the book; go for book readings or storytellings (though listening to a story does not create a love for reading!)—but I wonder if we are making too much of a fuss about this. There were always kids who were readers and kids who were not, and the world worked perfectly well like that. Yes, I would feel horrible if my child did not read, but eventually, it is about the child’s choices. Do your best to make it seem exciting, but ultimately, you have to acknowledge that there is a limit to what you can do!
Sayoni Basu is co-founder & primary platypus at Duckbill Books
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