Dear Parent, Start Reading!

Dear Parent, Start Reading!

A couple of weeks ago, my wife received a message on WhatsApp from the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates. The mother – let us call her Mrs X, for convenience – had heard from her son that Kaavya (my daughter) is one of the better students in school when it comes to writing in English. Mrs X wanted to know how she could get her son to start writing better, and whether my wife had any tips for her. After a little back-and-forth, my wife mentioned the fact that Kaavya tends to read a lot, and this comes in handy while writing.

‘But my kids just don’t read,’ Mrs X texted back. My wife and I can swear we heard her accompanying sigh of despair.

It turns out that in the hope of getting her children to read, Mrs X had gone so far as to get a membership in the neighbourhood lending library, but to no avail. ‘They read a few pages but then stopped and didn’t pick up the books again,’ she texted. That is when my wife put a question:

Do you or your husband read?

No, was Mrs X’s reply.

This, in a nutshell, explains the problem that thousands of well-intentioned parents struggle to grasp. These parents have probably never ever read books in their youth, and even if they once did, they have simply let the habit fall by the wayside with time.

How can you seriously expect your children to view reading as a virtue / pleasurable pastime / desirable skill set when you yourself display zero inclination towards reading? How can you hope to get your kids to pick up a book when they never see you holding one? It is common knowledge that parental behaviour shapes the nature and habits of children, so is it any surprise then that getting children to read is proving to be such an uphill task?

Often, when I am introduced to someone at a party as an author, the person I have been introduced to asks me about my books. One thing leads to another, and I invariably end up popping the question, ‘Do you read?’ The answer – invariably, and sadly – goes, ‘I used to read quite a lot, but nowadays I just don’t get the time.’ Previously, I used to let the matter rest there, but of late, I have begun probing further.

‘Have you watched Breaking Bad / Game of Thrones / House of Cards?’ I ask a little later.

‘Oh yes,’ pat comes the reply, eyes bright, ears perked. ‘I have watched Season One and Two, and am eagerly waiting for Season Three now.’

I smile. I nod. I do a quick piece of mental math. Each episode of each show lasts 45 minutes to an hour. A season has 10 to 12 episodes. That is roughly seven-and-a-half to ten hours of viewing time, per season. Multiplied into two or three seasons. Which means anywhere between 21 and 30 hours of viewing time.

Now hang on; when asked about reading, didn’t this person just say ‘nowadays I just don’t get the time’? So, where did he manufacture these bonus 21 to 30 hours from?

The idea is not to knock TV viewing – hey, I am as much a sucker for these shows as the other guy. The point I am making is that adults have to stop fibbing that they like reading. Either you like it, or you don’t. If you like it, you will find time for it. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be distraught when your kids don’t take up reading. It is the absurdity of the equation of not reading but wanting your children to read that gets my goat.

Let us come back to Mrs X for a moment. Having established that she and her husband and her kids don’t read while Kaavya reads a lot – and having clean missed the co-relation between reading and writing – Mrs X asked my wife whether she knew of any good creative writing courses that she (Mrs X) could enroll her son in, from which he would benefit.

Aha, voila! A quick-fix solution!

Knowledgeable people tell me that such creative writing courses for kids are becoming quite prevalent these days. In fact, I recall seeing a newspaper flyer somewhere advertising one such course as part of a summer vacation programme for kids. Creative writing programmes for children – a truly magnificent invention. I am beginning to think they’ll catch on in schools as well. But if you pause to consider, isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Here you’ll have a bunch of kids with no conceptual notion of storytelling / narration spending two hours every week trying to produce something that they have never been exposed to before, and therefore fundamentally don’t understand. How is this even going to work?

International Children Book Day

Book Reading session conducted by Natasha Sharma, one of India’s best-loved children’s authors, for the tiny tots from section at The Somaiya School PC:

Instead, what if we had creative reading / reading appreciation programmes for kids? What if such programmes focused on exposing children to the joys of listening to / reading / assimilating stories? I intuitively realize that such courses would be less of a hit with parents – after all, there would hardly be a tangible and measureable ‘output’ to satisfy parents, inured as they are to a result-oriented outlook to life. However, I do believe there is long-term value in such initiatives. When children begin seeing the inherent beauty in reading stories, they are bound to pick up books on their own, and the more they read, the more they will learn to express themselves freely and confidently through their writing. This is the outcome that parents like Mrs X desire – what they don’t get is the process involved.

I, for one, would love to be part of a creative reading / reading appreciation programme for kids. Coming to think of is, I might just approach my daughter’s school and offer my time for such an initiative. Even if only three kids show up, it will be well worth the effort. Three kids who would potentially fall in love with books and carry on the affair for the rest of their lives. Three kids whose kids will grow up seeing a parent read, and probably take to books as well. Yes, it will be well worth the effort.

Coming back to those parents who would like their children to start reading – I have a small plea. Make a resolution to start reading books this International Children Book Day. Find the time, pick up a book. Any book of your choice. Half an hour every day. Let your child see you reading. Encourage him or her to read as well. Read together. Now and then, read to him or her aloud. Talk about the book you are reading. Discover the wonders hidden between the pages. You only have to kindle their interest long enough to hook them – thereafter, they will bear the burning desire to read inside them.

There is a widely held view among my daughter’s classmates that she writes well because her father is an author. There may be some truth in this, but the larger truth is this: Kaavya writes fairly well not because she is the daughter of a writer… but because she is the daughter of a reader.

Article Contributed by: Shatrujeet Nath

Shatrujeet NathShatrujeet Nath has sold ice-creams, peddled computer training courses, written ad copy, and reported on business as a journalist and assistant editor at The Economic Times. His first book was the spy thriller, The Karachi DeceptionThe Guardians of the Halahala was his second book, the first in The Vikramaditya Trilogy series. The Conspiracy at Meru, the second volume of the trilogy, is due for release in March 2016. Shatrujeet has recently co-founded JokerStreet, an IP & content-creation company.

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