Recently, I have come across many posts on social media lamenting the decline in reading in the younger generation. There is a lot of finger-pointing and blaming, and in the end it all falls in the lap of technology and gadgets. It is widely accepted that technology is the reason our children are averse to reading books, preferring to play games on their gadgets to picking up books. I disagree.
I have three living, breathing examples at home, who negate the fact that children don’t read because they are too busy playing on their gadgets. My children are obsessed with their iPads. Believe me, I’m using the term “obsessed” very lightly here. They are deaf and blind when they are playing Minecraft or Roblox, or whatever it is that has their attention at that point in time. I have to scream and shout to be heard, and there are many skirmishes during the day that drive me to the brink of insanity. I try to be strict with their screen time, but with long school hours, and little to do outside in the heat, they manage to get more screen time than they should.
You would think that anyone who is that involved with their games will hardly have time for anything else. Wrong. All three of them have their own bookshelves, almost falling down from the weight of their books, and yet they want to buy more books. Old-fashioned, printed-on-paper books. They are as obsessed with books as they are with their iPads. So, I for one, can never say that technology is responsible for the decline in reading books.
A few days back, a chance comment by someone made me think about what it was that made me and my brothers such voracious readers, while my cousins, who lived in the same house and had the same life experiences as us, could never be the readers that we were. The answer in our case was, our parents and our teachers. No one forced us to read, we just followed the examples of those closest to us.
A misconception about reading is that it needs to be nurtured from an early age, and if your child is not a reader early on, he/she can never become a reader. Age has nothing to do with taking up reading. I have seen teenagers become interested in books even when they have never read one out of school. All it takes is an interested adult, teacher or parent, who can offer them options and open a world for them that appeals to them as individuals.
Someone told me about an incident where a student was reading some book, and the teacher snatched it out of their hands because she considered it age inappropriate. I don’t know why, but hearing about it had a strange effect on me. I’m a big believer in giving children reading material according to their age. What got to me in this incident was the snatching away of the book. You take away one book, they will find another, maybe one even more inappropriate. You make them understand how they have better options, they will probably remember you all their lives.
In my life, I have come across two types of teachers. Those who take the whole class with them on the same journey, keeping them together and making them work towards a set standard. Then there are those who think that every individual has different capabilities, and not everyone can achieve the same standard. I have seen successes in both types of classrooms, but since we’re specifically talking about reading, I believe that it has more chances of being nurtured in the second type of environment.
Every child has different interests and different levels of reading. Making them read something above their level of understanding because others are doing it, creates in them a natural dislike towards books and reading. They need to take their own time learning to read, and they need to read about things that are interesting to them as individuals. Similarly, someone who is above the reading level of other students, will get bored with text that is too easy for them. They need the excitement and thrill that comes with challenging texts.
When I look back to my schooldays, there are three teachers who stand out, who I believe were different from all other teachers. One was my English teacher in grade 6, who encouraged us to set up a small library in our class with our own books, so we had an additional source of books, other than the school library. The second was our school librarian, who was an anomaly in a Pakistani school, being British and all. She got books for our library that other schools hadn’t even heard of. It was thanks to her that we had the full series of Anne of Green Gables in our library, which to this day is one of my most favourite series. The third teacher who left a lasting impression on me, wasn’t a librarian, nor did she ever teach me in a single class. She was the English teacher of the O’Levels classes, and I encountered her in the library mostly. She became the one who recommended books to me, never telling me that I was too young for a particular book. She is the one most responsible for my interest in books other than what the girls in my class were reading. To her, I remain forever grateful.
These days, I’m in a dilemma. I have always known that my children read much above their age levels, and have always encouraged them to do so. Now, however, my thirteen-year-old is reading at a high school level, and I find myself reluctant to allow him to read much of the Young Adult books being written nowadays. While it is gratifying to know that he can read books from my shelf, I don’t want him to grow up before his time.
And this is nothing compared to what the ten-year-old is up to! He has this thing about reading what his brother is reading, and has managed to con me into letting him read Agatha Christie! Actually, I’m having fun seeing him struggling with old English and settings that he can have no clue about. Seeing him read makes me feel proud and horrified at the same time.
As for the youngest, my nine-year-old daughter, she is content with her girly books, which are again, much advanced than what her friends are reading, but as she shows no interest in my books, I can breathe easy for a couple of more years, hopefully. But even she has not given me complete freedom. When I see the books being written for girls her age, I want to burn all these books! What is wrong with these books? Oh, let me count the ways! But I guess that would be a rant best left for another day!