I know I should’ve made a better clickbait title which will assure the reader they will be experts on the matter by the end of this post. If that’s you, I won’t be hurt if you turn away now because I will not be able to assure you. I haven’t got the magic formula nor any tried-and-tested strategies that will turn your kids into the next J.K. Rowling or Barack Obama. All I have are my theories, my frustrations and my experiments. I would be happy to share them with you here, but I cannot guarantee it will work on all kids. I am not a pre-K educator; not a literacy specialist. I am just a Mom who grew up bookish, awkward and strange. I am a book nerd who is desperately optimistic that my passion can somehow be transmitted to my son through osmosis and then some. Caveat emptor.
Are They Gone Now?
Now that we have gotten rid of the Tiger Moms and Dads in the crowd, I expect that those still reading this are the ones whose minds are curious or those who actually understood what Caveat Emptor means. (I will give you a minute while you switch panes to consult Google. Ok. Welcome back.)
It’s good to be wary, you know. I am wary of articles that says “Raise a Reader in 10 Easy Steps!” Inside my head, I am screaming “Screw you!” I have taken 2,999 steps since I became a mother, and 60% of them were steps backward. But it’s the other 40% which keeps me going. I will take what chances I have to lead my child to love books as I have. I want my child to have many childhood and multiple lifetimes, as many as can fit in his imagination. I want to teach him that our present reality can be boring, oppressive, or incendiary, but your imagination can take you anywhere. It can help you escape, it can help you learn vicariously, and it will allow you to come back wiser. Sometimes, you even come back with a lit match that can raze society to the ground and start a new world order. People who think Bookworms are Boring, don’t get it. We happen to be the most dangerous people in the universe, truth be told.
So Your Kid. A Reader?
Tell me if you can check off any from the list below:
___ Learned his/her alphabet as a 1 year old.
___ Can quote favorite lines from their favorite book at age 2
____Can recite their favorite story from memory at age 3
____ Given a choice between a new toy and a new book, they choose book
____ Prefers books over TV or gadget every single time
____ Listens dutifully, in rapt awe and stillness when being told their bedtime story
Alright then, tell me how did you do? 2 out of the 6 indicators? Hey, not bad!
If you got 4 out of 6, you don’t need me. Give me a call because I need you.
You have 6 out of 6? That’s out of this world, Congratulations! Although I seriously recommend you visit a specialist, pal, because your child is …. Half-Vulcan, probably.
My point is, we are drowning in supposed milestones for raising smart babies and the competition to raise the brightest, smartest reader can get very toxic. I too was caught up in the rat race of raising the next Einstein. I really thought that if I do everything just right, my child will love books too. The first of my tips, if I can call them that, is that you need to remind yourself that you are being a Fool of a Took. Try to avoid my mistake. The love for reading suffers the more we try to induce it --- it becomes this high-anxiety, time-pressured game that makes our kids feel bad, and makes us parents feel bad too.
The Heart Wants What it Wants
I had to dig deep and ask myself how I fell in love with books in the first place. The natural answer is because books, stories, words --- they speak to me. I had early exposure from a mother who is an educator, a father who likes books as visual objects, and ample family resources to sustain a reading habit. My sister, who grew up in the same environment, is still reading the first chapter of a book she started 2 years ago. She happens to be the more successful one between the two of us too, in case you were ready to jump into conclusions. So it just can’t be environment, then.
I figured, my job as a parent, is not to make my child fall head over heels in love with reading. It is to show him the world and to guide him as he tries to find what it is in this world he resonates with the most. It could be books. It could be the mandolin. It could be flags. It could be pink flamingos. Or it could be some combination of these (see pic below).
We shouldn’t overly subscribe to age either. We just feel pressured as parents because reading is something your child will need to do sooner or later. Whoever thought that sooner was better must have been a world-class prick though. My earliest memory of reading was when I was 4 years old, and the grown-ups were at the dining table and I was seated nearby. I was trying to look smart so I opened one of my books and read. My dad took my photo; I looked up after the flash and saw him beaming at me with pride. Years later, I saw the photo. My book was upside down. All those years, I had been living a lie. So take a load off, sit down and read a book to your kid. Time will take care of the rest.
Ask Me to Read Giraffes Can’t Dance One More Time
Giraffes Can’t Dance is a wonderful book written by Giles Andreae that tells the story of Gerald the Giraffe who was afraid to dance in the annual Jungle Dance somewhere in the wilderness of Africa. He thinks he can’t dance, but soon learned that each of us actually can, when we find the music that moves us. As I have said, a wonderful book that teaches kids confidence and dancing to their own beat. I am a big fan. I am also utterly ill of it because my husband and I must have read it 90 times, each…in the span of three days. The moment we turn the last page, my son will demand, “Again! Again, Giraffe!” It was so painstaking that I fainted (or fell asleep… deliberately). I conveniently lost the book the other month, between our mattress and the bedframe, where it will stay for now.
Guess what though. Repetition helps the kid. Gerald is still so fondly remembered every time he sees a picture of a giraffe. He has also started to dance when he hears music (actually, he shuffles side to side like a professional wooden pole). He is bringing the book to life, if only because it has left such an impression on him. But I guess that’s how you help kids love a book. You read to them, and read with them as much as you can. Read the books that they love over and over and over again, until your breath turns ragged, your gag reflex is activated, and all turns black.
Honey, I Know Where the Other Poopy Diaper is Now
When I was 24 years old, I read that the truly literate human should have read at least 1,000 works of literature by the time they are 30. So what I did was I counted ALL the books in my childhood home, and counted 3,200++ books. Our home was testament to how much we loved books and reading. We were probably inhaling dust mites and book rot most of our lives and never noticed. However, I lost my entire precious library in one fell swoop and I am still recovering from the loss.
It may be why I have an intense need to surround my child with books now. If I ever went back to my obsessive habit of counting books, we are probably hitting the high hundreds. But does it help? I think it does. I think it will. Books are special but it shouldn’t be treated as too special. I want my son to grow up thinking they are the commonest objects in our daily life, but with the rare power of transporting us, breaking us, molding us, and accompanying us through the stages of our life. Books are spilling over the shelves, on the tables, under cushions, over the counters, under the bed and inside the closets. I can’t always find my keys (or the early morning poopy diaper), but by Jove, a book is always only an arm’s length away.
TV is Not My Enemy, TV is Not My Enemy, TV is Not…
I know I am trudging through dangerous territory here. I have a number of friends who are staunch no-gadgets/TV-under-5 advocates. I respect their stance, and wish them the best of luck. Stay Golden, Rainbow People of the Sun!
I am not a fan of TV myself as an adult. I like TV shows, and I chill and Netflix as any Tita of Manila does. But I can go through weeks without opening the TV as a deliberate act. When I was younger though? I was addicted to the screen as any other 80s kid. Quality programming? I watched Batibot and Sesame Street as much as I watched That’s Entertainment, Inday Badiday and Buddy en Sol. Did it tear me away from my books? Yes, sometimes. But a lot of times, it has also aided me to understand what I read. I remember the first time I watched an antelope on TV. I know how the word is spelled, I have seen pictures of it in my book, I can use it properly in a sentence. But I’ll be damned if I knew how to pronounce it, or understand how fast they can really run, and how liquid their movements were. I remember the satisfaction I felt to lock in that visual of a running antelope, how it is no longer some vague animal in my books but one that exists somewhere I have never been before.
Now you’ll probably say, oh that’s okay, you were probably watching National Geographic or something educational. But you know what, I can’t confirm that. It could’ve been a scene from McGyver, for all I can remember. Sure, it would have been better to have seen a real antelope in its natural setting. I am 36 years old and haven’t seen one just yet. Until that happens, TV has helped me not look like a crazy person who hasn’t got a clue. So my vote is --- TV in moderation is okay. With proper guidance, Paw Patrol will not snatch him from the righteous path to intelligence and wisdom, I don’t think.
You Can’t Fake Love
Finally, here’s the harsh truth, Mom and Dads. My learning is if you want your child to love books, he has to see what love looks like. My son is always excited to go to the bookstore and would chant his high-pitched demand of “Books, Books, Books, Books…” the moment we hit our favorite air-conditioned paradise. But that’s probably because I also skip a little whenever I ask my husband to just meet us at the bookstore. I don’t think you can fake the excitement oozing from my skin whenever we approach our favorite shops, book spines waving to us from the shelves, the smell of inky paper making us hungry for more. My kid probably saw my smile when I settle down beside him with my new Bourdain book; probably saw my reverence for the beautifully illustrated Ultimate Watercolor Artist Guide as I gingerly lifted and turned each page. He was there when I laughed out loud reading Bombeck, and there when I hid a sniffle when I re-read Empire of the Sun. My son now hugs each book he finishes, because he saw me doing it once. He thinks it’s the right way to say thank you for a good story.
Guys, you have to sell it without knowing it, that’s the best way to go. You can search Google again if you really need a Scientific Formula for Raising a Reader. But at the end of the day, our children respond to what we love. And if you love to read, our little darlings will pick up on it. Hopefully, it will entice them to shrug off mediocrity and unfurl in all its majesty, their very own bookdragon wings. Here’s to that happy future!
Smell ya later,