I am among the luckiest fathers on earth. My wife is also among the luckiest mothers. Why? Our children prefer reading to eating. One is nine while the other is seven. Any time they have a novel in their hands, they cannot concentrate on whatever they are doing. I may get angry and reprimand them, but deep inside, I am overjoyed.
When our friends see or hear about it, they ask: “How did you do it? I have bought my children all manner of books, but they don’t like to read them.”
And the result is that our kids have got the fundamentals of language. They easily know when there is an error in tenses, which is the critical element in the English language. So, when you say something like, “I wish I were there,” you would need to explain to them why “were” should be used for “I” instead of “am” or “was.”
In addition, whenever you tell them anything, they think about it, and if it does not sound logical, they ask you questions. So, I am confident that they will not grow up to become adults that will be led by the nose.
Whenever they ask us questions about the galaxy, animals or micro organisms, we know we are in trouble. The reason is that they are always reading children’s science books and children’s encyclopaedia as well as watching animal channels and having access to children’s video dictionary.
So, the interesting narratives in story books and the fascinating information and pictures in science books made them love to read books. These are complemented by the cartoon and video games they watch.
One good thing this does is that it fills a child with stories and information to share with other children when they are together. A child who always has so many stories to tell is usually surrounded by other children who are eager to listen to him or her. That is leadership.
Reading for fun is the foundation of reading to pass exams. We were first concerned about making our children love reading. Even though they were performing well in their exams, our target was to first make them love books. We were certain that once that was achieved, topping the class would be a natural follow-up.
The best time to make a child love books is when the child is little. Even before the child is able to read, buy nursery books and stories and read them to the child. Even if you can’t read stories to them as often as you can, make sure they have story books with pictures that they can look at and play with. No story is boring for children. Some stories are meant to awaken their imagination, while some are meant to tell them about real people that existed and the feats they achieved as well as real events that happened in history and their implication. Therefore, it does not matter if you tell them stories about the tortoise and the lion, Perseus and Andromeda, Achilles and his heel, Isaiah and the prophets of Baal, King Jaja of Opobo and the English colonialists, Nelson Mandela and Apartheid South Africa, Gani Fawehinmi and Nigerian rulers, Julius Caesar and the Ides of March, or Shylock and his pound of flesh. What matters is that you tell them stories that excite their minds.
Most times when I hear, “Daddy, I will not sleep unless you tell me a story,” I find myself in a fix. If I can’t bluff my way out of the conundrum, I look up and down, and if nothing comes to my mind, my eyes would rest on the TV or fan in their room, and a story would start: “Once upon a time, there was a TV named Kadongo.” I would proceed on my story that has no head or tail, pausing to find the next thing to say. Any time I pause, I would hear: “And what happened next?” Most times, just in a matter of minutes, they would have been sent to sleep by my aimless story. I would heave a sigh of relief and tiptoe out of their room.
But sometimes I would not be so lucky, for the next morning, I would be asked: “Daddy, so what happened to the TV?” I would be wondering which TV the child was talking about. When I eventually understood what the child was referring to, I would start groping for words like a snail finding its way through thorns, all in a bid to complete my story. But sometimes when I don’t know what story to tell, I tell them that it is their mom’s turn to tell them a story. Even that excuse does not usually guarantee me freedom from them.
Two years ago, in addition to running out of stories, I discovered that our children were reading too much of foreign stories like Alice in the Wonderland, Snow White, and Cinderella as well as Enid Blyton’s books. I challenged myself to write 100 original African children’s stories in 100 days. Sadly, I ended up writing only 33 stories, which they devoured in a matter of hours and asked for more. We have since got many Nigerian story books for them.
We live in modern times where technology is available to children in different forms: cartoons, video games, computer games, phone games, etc. They need to use these, but the danger in them is that they are addictive and distractive. Children who immerse themselves in them excessively usually feel that books are boring, and these materials can never give the same value that books give. So, what we do is that we limit the hours and periods that our children watch cartoons and play video games. Sometimes, we limit cartoons and video games to weekends or when we are satisfied that they have read books and done all their homework. The rule is that whether we are home or not, our children must take permission before switching on their TV or the central TV for any cartoon or game.
I have noticed that a child that reads extensively and watches different types of cartoons, and plays video games has a mind that is loaded with information and ideas. That is a child that begins reasoning early in life, a child that analyses whatever he or she hears, a child that questions things and is not easily deceived.
Maybe, some children are naturally built to love reading while some are not, but my experience is that if a child is consciously and systematically introduced to reading early in life, it would be almost impossible for that child not to like learning as an adult.