Raising Readers

This meme has been doing the rounds for a while, now…

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And then, on a trip to the park, with Baby Bee, I had my very own ‘this meme’ moment. Now, those of you who follow me on Instagram, or who’ve met Baby Bee, however briefly, will know just how much she loves her books. Really, the easiest way to have her snap out of a tantrum is to start reading to her. She’ll read anywhere. That she can’t yet read, actually, be damned! So, she’ll read while travelling…

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Of course!

She’ll read while getting a massage…

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Because c’mon, are you really relaxed, if you’re not reading!

She’ll read in pubs…

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Heck, she’ll even read on a date!

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Recently, I took her to this delightful little bookstore, in Bangalore, called Lightroom Bookstore, and she went absolutely bananas!

Sometimes, her books accompany her to the park, as well, like on that particular day. We were walking around, trying to find a nice spot to sit and read, since that seemed to be the only thing on her mind, till we spotted another kid who seemed to be her age. He turned out to be a few months older, but they were talking the same language, so they were both happy, and his mother and I, as always happens when you have kids the same age, got talking. We exchanged notes about work, grandparents who help with the babies and baby food. And then, as our kids see-sawed, she said, ‘It’s so nice that your child loves her books so much; I really want mine to be a reader, but he just doesn’t seem to take to it!’

Before I could say anything, she started talking again: “I’ve never been a reader, but I feel it’s important to be one, and I really want him to read.” I couldn’t help but agree. I do know a lot of people who’re not readers, but who feel it important to raise readers. If you’re not sure why, please take a look at A Child of Books, by Olive Jeffers and Sam Winston.

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As the parent of a book-loving toddler, I can tell you reading is great for:

  1. Entertainment. Of any kind, any time. There’s puppet books, squeaky books, lift-the-flap books, puzzle books, sticker books. There’s so much you can do with it.
  2. Peace of mind. Your own, of course. Making a racket in the car, give her a book. Need to nap, leave her in the cot with some books. Need to work, give her books.
  3. Teaching. Anything and everything from body parts to words to concepts to thoughts and values to motor skills to animal sounds… ANYTHING!
  4. Discipline. Yep, you’d be surprised what disasters can be averted by bringing out a favourite book at the right moment; and what message can be driven home by taking away a favourite book at the right moment.
  5. Quality time. Really, what are my options? I can either play with her or read, and reading is playing, too. So we get everything in!

But how did I grow a reader? Here’s the big answer…

I READ!

Literally. And literarily. Ha! See what I did, there? But I have to add, you reading is only 99 and 3/4 per cent guarantee that your child will read. I have a dear friend who I’ve always known to be a voracious reader, and if her Goodreads updates are to be believed, she reads a book a day, sometimes two. Her son is in that 1/4 per cent. He spends most of his time with her, and he does not read. So yeah, there can be that, too. But in my limited experience as a parent, I have found a few things to help grow a reader, and in response to all those, apart from park mom too, who’ve been asking, especially on my Instagram DM, here they are:

  1. Start Simple. Hold off on all the Eric Carle and Dr Seuss till you have a toddler. As babies, they couldn’t be bothered with what happened to the cat or the caterpillar.
  2. Start early. The sooner you start, the better. If books are a part of their lives for as long as they can remember, chances are, books will continue to be part of their lives for as long as there is to remember!
  3. There is an age and a stage for everything. Kids love rhymes, textures, touch-and-feel, lift-the-flap, bright colours… But there’s a right time for everything. If your child is not reaching out for a touch-and-feel book, she may just not be ready for it yet. Bring out something that exaggerates it a little more. I put away some books, thinking they were a little too inane, but those turned out to be the first books that Baby Bee reached out for, on her own, because it was stuff she could relate to.
  4. Point out. Help them identify people and objects in books. They’ll engage more.
  5. Find something to do. Lift-the-flap books are great to start kids off, once their motor skills are developed enough to actually be able to lift the flap. They may have no clue of what’s going on, but just having something to do will keep them engaged.
  6. Be silly. Take out animal sounds, use voice inflections (Baby Bee’s favourite trick, these days, is imitating me talking like a parrot!), jump and dance around if you have to.
  7. Let go. If you’re a reader, chances are you’re fastidious about your books. Just breathe and release. If he’s chewing on that board book, just breathe and of course, make sure he’s not eating up the cardboard. If there are crayon marks across the book, breathe again. But do talk to them about treating their books well.
  8. Tell stories. I do this a lot. In an airport queue, or when she’s having her food, strapped into her high chair, or at bedtime, when the lights are off and she’s still slightly restless. Usually, the minute she’s reunited with her books, she’ll pick out the one the story was from and bring it to me to read to her.
  9. Limit screen time. Because d-uh! I suggested park mom try out No 8, but turns out, there’s no scope to tell stories because park baby won’t eat unless the iPad is in front of him. Not judging, but you can’t expect rajma if you’ve put chana in the cooker!
  10. Don’t give up. Babies have a short attention span. If yours is over 6 months but under 15 months, you may never make it past page 2. But don’t write off your kid as a non-reader yet. As long as your child knows those books are hers, and she reaches out for them, you’re doing OK. Honestly, page 3 of one of Baby Bee’s ‘favourite’ books has never seen the light of day because earlier, she was too impatient, and now, she’s found more interesting stuff!

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