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How to Cultivate the Love of Reading in Your Child

Dr Alex Tang


Francois de Fenelon, a French archbishop and spiritual director declares, “If the riches of the Indies, or the crowns of all the kingdom of Europe, were laid at my feet in exchange for my love of reading, I would spurn them all.” How we wish we will hear such declarations from our children. As parents we want our children to read. We know that reading is a beneficial activity for our children. Unfortunately very few of us actually take the trouble to cultivate the love of reading in our children. We hope that they will develop this love on their own. Very few parents will take the time and effort to help their children to love books. They prefer to spend thousands of dollars on piano lessons, ballet and art appreciation classes, and course fees in specialised teaching that may make their child smarter, yet begrudge spending money in buying books for their children.

Cultivating a love of reading, like all other good habits has to start with intentionality and action plans. Habits develop easily in children, especially bad habits. Parents have to decide that they want to cultivate a love of reading in their children. Once they have this desire, here are five action plans I suggest they implement:

(1) Have books around the house

It is hard to cultivate a love of readings when there are no books around the house. A child should grow up with books. The focal point in a living room should be the bookshelf, not the television. "So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall," writes Roald Dahl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Young children may like to eat their books. No matter, it supplements their carbohydrate diet. Children should have books within ready reach so that they can touch and handle them. You can keep your prized autographed first editions in a glass showcase under lock and keys but please allow children their tattered paperbacks and cardboard books. Arnold Lobel comments lyrically on his collection of books, “Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high. How I love them! How I need them! I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.”

(2) Associate books with warmth, love and intimacy

Children, like adults associate certain objects with certain feelings. If you want your children to love reading, then help them to associate books with good feelings. That is why reading to children is important because when you read to them, the child knows that their parents deem the activity important enough to make time for them. Even better is the snuggling together in bed of the parents and children for a bedtime reading of stories. Emilie Buchwald reveals a great truth when she writes, "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." A book or a rolled up magazine should never be used as an instrument of corporate punishment.

(3) The parents must be readers

No matter how many books you have and how much you read to your children, they will not love to read unless they see you reading. Reading the newspaper and technical journals do not count. Children are very perceptive and you are the role model for them. Unless you yourself love to read, it will be difficult to help your children to love to read. As with most things in parenting, it starts with you. Master of literature Harold Bloom’s observation that “reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you” must evoke a resonance in you.

(4) Let your child select the books they want to read

Initially you may have to select the books for your child. Waterproof plastic books for the toddlers to large books with pictures for the older child. Slowly let your children select the books that they like to read. You may recommend and I think you should, even for the teenagers, though they may pretend they totally reject your recommendations. In each stage of their life, they will have their own reading themes; planes, dinosaurs, pirates, spaceships and monsters. Help them to select age appropriate reading materials. Novelist E.M. Forster writes, "The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves." Expose them to other age-appropriate topics of interest.

(5) Read for pleasure

Finally let reading be for pleasure. There is a tendency for some parents to be really ‘kiasu’ and start preparing their children for primary school while they are still of kindergarten age. These poor children are forced to read primary school textbooks, and have to recite and memorise them by role. That is a guaranteed, money back way to kill reading for pleasure. “What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books,” observes Thomas Carlyle, a book lover and British novelist. Children must be allowed to discover the joy of reading. They must be helped to discover as Walt Disney did that "there is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island."

Ray Bradbury, voracious reader and science fiction writer once wrote in a story about book-burning, “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Childhood should be the time to develop reading with a sense of wonder, a sense of adventure and a preparing for a life of reading. There is no greater legacy you can leave your children than a love of reading.




|posted 19 September 2008|


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