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Friday, August 8, 2014

Reading Maketh A Boy

It started with a simple outing to our regular neighbourhood mall. Sue had a couple of errands to run, so I volunteered to take the boys to the small indoor playground there. About half an hour later, the situation in the playground started getting chaotic. A 5-year-old boy was running around wildly, and his actions prompted a reciprocal behaviour from the other children, including our older son Z. Things started to get slightly out of hand when the 5-year-old got into a minor altercation with another boy of his age. It was then that I decided that it was time to leave; I did not want our kids to get into a heightened emotional state and felt that by leaving, we would at least be able to regain some semblance of peace.

The library was just nearby, so that's where we headed - straight to the children's section. It was then that the unexpected happened. Little Z, who had previously been shouting wildly with the other children, picked up a book left behind at the table, and started reading. His younger brother E followed suit, also choosing a book as he sat at the table. I couldn't believe my eyes! My two energetic and rambunctious boys were seated peacefully at the table reading books! (If you know my children personally you would understand why this is such an astonishment to me!)
A spot of peace.
The peaceful scene lasted for slightly less than five minutes (before the younger one decided to get up and start exploring the library). But I managed to grab a couple of books from the nearby shelves to read to Z who was listening attentively to every word. Little E also decided to listen to me read, and he too sat down subsequently. This was truly a remarkable achievement given his short attention span!

Our adventures in teaching the boys how to read have been a mixed bag. We have been trying to inculcate a love for reading in Z since an early age. Ever since he was a baby we would read to him from the large board books with the lovely pictures. And of course Z's eyes would be rapt in attention, especially since these pictures were attractive to him. He would then proceed to put the books in his mouth, a behaviour not uncommon to most infants. 

By the age of 2 we had expected Z to be interested in reading, especially since we had exposed him to books at such an early age. But this was not the case, with the little boy's attention span lasting not more than three to five minutes at a time. Then when Sue started her unofficial homeschooling sessions with him at the age of 2/1/2, we hoped that things would improve, but Z continued with his habit of rapidly flipping through one book, tossing it aside for another, and repeating this process till he would demolish a whole stack of books without actually taking the time read a single one of them. We were very discouraged.
Reading expands the world of a child to experience new things for himself.
As educators, we are intimately familiar with the body of educational research which points to a love for reading as a key indicator of a child's success in life. That's because children develop a strong sense of language by reading good books. More than that, young minds are transported to worlds that are magical and alluring; and the thirst to explore takes them on a voyage of a lifetime - one filed with awe and wonder and a deep desire to learn.

B. C. Forbes, the Scottish journalist who founded Forbes magazine once said:

"Tell me how a young man spends his evenings and I will tell you how far he is likely to go in the world. The popular notion is that a youth's progress depends upon how he acts during his working hours. It doesn't. It depends far more upon how he utilizes his leisure... If he spends it in harmless idleness, he is likely to be kept on the payroll, but that will be about all. If he diligently utilizes his own time... to fit himself for more responsible duties, then the greater responsibilities and greater rewards are almost certain to come to him."

When a child immerses himself in reading, he immerses himself in a culture of learning; this fuels a lifelong quest to find out more about the things that matter. In today's world, children are plunged into twaddle as young as they develop a sense of awareness. Television, streaming videos, mobile devices, all these permeate the world of our children, and they are flooded with fast-moving images even before the brain is adequately developed to deal with these multi-sensory inputs. Children need simple ideas communicated to them simply. Only then can they slowly (but surely) distill the essence of what is important from what is not; and this is the foundation principle with which learning is predicated upon.
Our younger son E reading with his favourite soft toys Doggy & Bear Bear.
Reflecting on my own reading journey brings me much joy. I remember the first thick book that I read on my own - one about the adventures of Mrs Pepperpot. I don't remember what the story was about, but I do remember being very pleased that I could finish it. And the sense of accomplishment at completing the book drove me to desire reading more. Not long after I was reading the works of Enid Blyton and the entire series of the Five Find Outers, The Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair. Those books instilled a love of reading - and of writing; I was soon writing my own poems and stories, modelling much of what I wrote on the books that I was reading. And I did not stop there. I developed a love of Chinese history and strategic warfare after reading The Romance of Three Kingdoms, even beginning my foray into Chinese literature and the wuxia or martial arts world of Louis Cha (better known as Jin Yong).

Sue also underwent a similar reading journey during her childhood. We were therefore saddened that our then 3-year-old Z did not seem as interested in reading as us. However the incident at the library began an entire reading revolution for our family. It resulted in a major shift in the way we approach the subject of helping our children to read - and also in how we teach them how to learn.
Bedtime reading.
Not long after that incident, Sue and I went to a fair organised by the homeschooling community. At the event, we met a lady who is passionate about history. When we asked her how she helped her children develop a love for the subject, she shared that she would gather a whole stack of books for her children, each on a different subject. She would then place the books on her coffee table and allow her children to choose a book that they liked. This eventually resulted in her kids developing a love for reading about different subjects. Her actions formed the basis of interest-driven education. We have discussed how we are also adopting this approach in a previous blog post.
Our "Learning Wall" to emphasise the importance of early literacy.
These days, we have included a visit to the library as part of our regular family routine if we need to go to the mall. Once at the library, I will find a quiet table and choose a variety of books for Z to read. I will then select one of the books of his choice, and read to him. There are times when he has taken over the role of reading, picking up the book and "reading" it to me, asking me questions about the pictures on each page. After I provide an answer to him, he would then repeat my words, nodding his head emphatically as if he was the teacher and I was the student. An apparent reversal of roles; but one that works just as well as getting him to read the book.
Discovering the love of science.
Our son's appetite in reading books has increased substantially. Sue observed that just this morning alone, that he was reading his own books for at least 15 minutes independently; and that was just after Sue had finished reading a series of books on the sun and shadows as part of our homeschooling curriculum! We are truly thankful that our son has grown so much in his reading journey, and with a new love for reading, we know that he is ready to conquer the world!

"Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man."
- Sir Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman and author.

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