What do you do when your kids abhor reading? Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal finds out
I STRUGGLE to get my second daughter to pick up a book, let alone read. She can just about muster the energy to lift her school books out of her bag.
You can see her body visibly stiffen and her pupils dilate in fear at the mere suggestion that we’re heading within a 10km radius of a bookshop. Unfortunately for her, reading is a passion in our household, even if it is just newspapers for my hubby, so she normally loses out when it comes to voting where to spend a fruitful Saturday afternoon.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this predicament. There are many parents out there who worry that their kids are not reading enough. Then there are those who worry that the books their kids are reading aren’t good enough. And there are probably many who worry about both.
“It’s OK,” said Dr Elsie Chin, CEO of Cambridge English For Life (CEFL), one of the leading providers of English language courses in Malaysia, when I shared my concern during a recent chat about tomorrow’s Unesco World Book and Copyright Day, also known as International Day Of The Book. CEFL is organising a series of educational activities in conjunction with the annual event, which aims to promote reading, publishing and copyright.
The mother-of-two says reassuringly: “I’m sure she’s reading different things. Choices of reading material have progressed and evolved. So while kids may not be reading the kind of books we hope to see them read, they’re still reading, whether it’s comics or news online. These are just different materials and different ways of reading.”
If you want to see your children holding a book, you need to know what interests them, advises Chin. Be sure to offer them a variety of options.
“Take them to bookshops and let them browse to their heart’s content. Once they get into the habit of holding a book and training their eyes on print, then that’s where they’ll discover the joy of flipping through pages and reading. That’s the beginning of their discovery,” explains Chin.
Her two sons started reading the popular Lord Of The Rings books while in secondary school.
“I took them to bookshops very often when they were growing up,” recalls Chin. “Once in the bookshop, they were free to explore and read whatever they liked. I used to stand at the corner just to see what kind of books children enjoyed reading, especially those who came with their parents.”
It’s important that parents never impose on their children to read the kind of books that they want them to read, or those which they think will delight their children, says Chin.
“Often, reading gets associated with one format — usually fiction and chapter books. Some kids respond better to other formats such as magazines, non-fiction and even how-to manuals.”
Another thing is, never force children to read. “If you pressure them too much, you’ll turn them off. Try not to make reading seem like a chore. Instead, you want them to read voluntarily because they see the fun and benefit of it,” says Chin.
What’s the biggest challenge in getting kids to read? “Getting the adults to read with them!” replies Chin swiftly.
If the adult is a natural reader, the child will be able to see the value in doing it, she explains.
“It will be a challenge to expect the child to read and to discover the joy of reading when the parent doesn’t read. The best teacher a child can have is the parent. Even if you just read Reader’s Digest or the newspaper, the child must see you reading.”
Sipping delicately on her latte, Chin says reading had always been her childhood passion. Growing up in her grandparents’ house in Penang, she was bombarded with Othello, Romeo And Juliet and the like, as most of her aunts and uncles were students of literature.
“They were written in English that I could never understand,” she says with a giggle. “But the person who inspired me to read was a visually impaired teacher who taught me in my teens. He could visualise things that he read on the braille. He used to tell us about the joy he derived from reading. I think we need to train kids to find joy between the lines.”
Start them young
IT’S not easy. Many parents want their children to grow up with a mastery of English, spoken and written, but are unsure how to expand their vocabulary. At the same time, they don’t want to put too much pressure on them.
The Lorna Whiston Study Centre, an English language centre that adopts a creative and interactive way to teach the language, is organising an Interactive Early Reading Workshop especially for parents of children aged up to 6. To be held on April 26 at Eastin Hotel, Petaling Jaya, it will offer tips on how children can succeed in early reading.
The centre believes that nurturing a love for books and reading in children when they’re still very young will open the door to a wonderful world of knowledge and enjoyment.
Speech usually starts to develop when children are between 18 months and 2 years old. By age 3, they will often ask many questions as their interest to discover more about the world around them grows. This should be encouraged and parents need to be patient when answering their questions.
Also at this age, children are most interested in themselves and their immediate surroundings. They’re not too good at sharing yet, or interacting with other children, though they’re beginning to learn these skills. They’re also beginning to understand concepts such as size, shape, colour and numbers, so it’s a good idea to encourage them to develop this knowledge by exploring, matching, counting, comparing and discussing. Discovering the world of books fits nicely into this developmental pattern.
The fascinating world of reading can begin even before children start to recognise words and sentences. An important lesson that parents and teachers can teach young toddlers is that reading is all about understanding. This is key to unlocking the mystery and eventually motivating a child to read for pleasure.
Storytelling is a great activity for nurturing a child’s desire to read. Get them to take part in a discussion about the plot, characters or even the illustrations. Encourage them to use their imagination by asking them what they think would happen next. This exercise will make the book more exciting and ensure comprehension.
Whenever an opportunity arises, show children how reading and later, writing can become a part of their lives. When the child hits 3, you can share the menu in a restaurant with him, show his name and read to him the messages on birthday cards, let him add his scribble to a letter to Grandma, or help Dad “read” the newspaper. Interest in books will grow if parents enjoy reading and if books become part of the home environment.
By age 4, children will be able to recount the story in a book even though they might not be able to read the words, or they may even recite a short book by heart. These are signs that indicate they understand that what’s important about a book is the meaning.
By age 5, most children are confident communicators and parents can extend language, vocabulary and thinking skills by sharing ideas. Foster that love for books by reading a variety of stories and poems to your child. You should be reading with your child for 15 or 20 minutes a day.
Allow the child to set the agenda, though, and resist the temptation to progress too quickly. The aim is to build a strong vocabulary by reading widely at each level and to enjoy the books, and not fast progression. When the child senses pressure and anxiety, reading will cease to be pleasurable.
Continue to read and tell stories to your child daily even when he has begun to read. In the early stages, his reading ability is limited but he can understand and enjoy far more complicated plots and longer stories. If he gets stuck on a word, ask him to read the rest of the sentence and have a guess. Don’t let him struggle. If he’s hesitant or doesn’t seem to be understanding or enjoying the book, chances are that the book’s too difficult. Choose an easier one.
Most importantly, praise the child’s efforts, even if he doesn’t always get it right.
Storytelling sessions also encourage bonding and provide further opportunities for sharing experiences and oral interaction. Parents can help their kids discover the magic in stories and reading when they play an active and positive role.
To register for the workshop, call 03-7727 1909 (Taman Tun Dr Ismail) or 03-4147 3229 (Taman Melawati). Visit www.lornawhiston.com.my for details.
How to get them interested
• Provide a print-rich environment. Keep plenty of age-appropriate magazines, books, newspapers and other print items in an area where your children can access them on their own.
• Hold a family reading night. It’s a great way for the family to bond while getting your children motivated to read. You could then encourage them to actively engage in discussion about the premise of their current book and the characters.
• Teach your children to read well. They won’t want to read if they can’t do it, or if they can’t do it well. Teach them how to read better in a positive environment. Additionally, compliment their reading ability so that they will be confident of their reading.