So, a few days ago I shared this quote about reading on Facebook. Sharing things on social media is something I do reasonably regularly – often things that make me smile, occasionally things that make me angry and other times things that make me think. I thought this quote was one of the former, because I found myself nodding in agreement and smiling, but later that night I found myself lying in bed thinking about the message and how it relates to parents and children.
See, I know that reading makes me a better person: happier, more well informed, more empathetic. I also know that most other readers know this. And yet I know many many adults who don’t read, and especially who don’t read for pleasure. Their excuse, if they are asked, is that they don’t have time to read. Often, they say this in a way that suggests that people who do read are somehow either very time-rich, or simply too lazy to be doing more important stuff than getting lost in a novel.
This worries me on their behalf. It especially worries me that it seems they have either never loved reading, or have somehow forgotten the magic of being lost in a story. But it worries me most when those non-reading adults are parents.
Very few parents fail to understand how important it is that their children learn to read. Perhaps some see this is as valuable simply so that they do well in (gah!) NAPLAN tests, or beat other kids in their class (double gah!) or, in the long run, get good jobs so that they can be rich and successful, rather than seeing the way that reading develops other, less measurable skills and attributes. Regardless, few parents would argue against the value of good reading skills. Parents spend hours listening to their kids read, and lots of money on trying to improve their reading skills, either through buying them books (yay!) or by investing in programs to improve their reading skills – computer software, extra tuition, whatever it takes to boost those skills.
The thing that makes me sad, then, is that so very many parents – and other significant adults – miss a wonderful (free) opportunity to engage their kids in reading: modelling. Modelling I hear you ask? Yes, modelling. Modelling to young readers, or future readers, the great pastime of reading. You see, every time an adult opens a book and reads for pleasure, they are demonstrating to spectators that reading is something fun/interesting/cool to do. We all know kids love to do what grown ups do. They watch us and they learn. We want them to eat veggies, so we eat veggies in front of them. We want them to brush their teeth, so we brush our teeth in front of them. We want them to read– we should be reading in front of them.
Instead, though, we tend to read TO kids, or with them (and these are both very very valuable and important things). But then, when we have time of our own, we turn on the tv, or we pull out our mobile devices, and we entertain ourselves with those. The message we risk giving is that reading is something solely for kids: adults don’t need/want/have time to read. And, in turn, kids then see reading as something boring, a chore that relates only to school, something to shake off as soon as they can.
So what am I saying? Please, read in front of your kids. Pick up a book and read it. Enjoy it. Let your kids see you doing it, preferably every day. Talk to them about the books you’re reading over dinner, or when you’re out in the car, and ask them what they are reading. Model to them that reading is valuable, fun, important, vital! And please don’t let them hear you say proudly “I don’t have time to read’ or “Books are boring”.
If you are not a parent, you still have a role to play, because you are still a model for the kids you come into contact with – as well as for other adults. You read on the train, people see you and perhaps realise it’s a cool thing to do (because hey, you’re a cool looking guy/gal aren’t you?). You sit in the sun/lunchroom/café reading over lunch, the same.
Parent or not, while you’re busy setting that good example, you’ll probably find something else happening: you’ll find yourself with new stuff to talk about, with new knowledge, greater empathy, a bigger vocabulary. Heck, you’ll probably even find yourself enjoying yourself! If you don’t, you’re reading the wrong book: find another, and another until you find the right one.
I could go on and on and on about how if more people read we could solve all the world’s problems. Perhaps that’s the subject for a future post. For now, though, I just realised that this whole post can be summed up, very neatly in its title.