Until my elder daughter was nearly five, she thought televisions were for cricket. She believed our television set had one channel that beamed only cricket because the only television watched in our home (by my husband) was cricket.
My daughter's only screen-based activities were the videos I chose for her and educational CD-ROMs.
That's still pretty much the policy at home though I have two daughters now and the elder one is 10 years old.
Occasionally, they watch the news or sports or catch some National Geographic and Animal Planet. Mostly, though, their screen activity centers around DVDs.
I buy them loads of DVDs, but I am very particular that they should be comedies, classics and stuff like that. Today, some of their favorite movies are oldies like Roman Holiday, Marx Brothers or The Party.
My kids feel these films are the best movies ever. They often compare notes with their friends, who are often bewildered as to how is it they have missed the latest, very cool hit called Barefoot in the Park or Pink Panther.
You may wonder why I have such rigid rules. Right?
These rules were the only way I could introduce the reading habit to my children. Come what may, I wanted them to be books-loving people.
I see too many children and young adults around me who do not read at all.
They are helpless at being able to entertain themselves without putting the television on. Here too, they don't watch any one program. Instead, they spend their waking moments with a blaring, burbling television set. Meals are eaten with heads craned towards the idiot box, forks frozen in the air. Little toddlers can sing you ad jingles by the dozen.
My mission was to bring my daughters up to be books-loving people. Make sure, at all costs, that they do not metamorphose into tube monsters.
I do believe that, mostly, I have been successful.
My elder daughter usually comes home from school and curls contentedly with a book, not requiring much else. Her world is peopled with Ramona, Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking and White Witch of CS Lewis Chronicles of Narnia. She may not have the reading pace of her bookworm cousin who demolishes seven large books in a week, but she is getting there.
My colleagues tell me I am cruel for not allowing my children to watch television and that I will make them backward. I feel that, in this era when life's pleasures come too easily, I have made them appreciate books and the movies they watch much more. The day we go to see a movie in the theatre is a big occasion.
I spend most of my income on books for my children.
I source unusual, long-lost titles from www.Amazon.com, pavement and second-hand stores and haunt book sales. We spend hours in bookshops -- all three of us -- uncovering the most unusual titles. An expedition to Crossword (a popular book store in Mumbai) is the highlight of the week. It never fails to cause a major dent to my wallet.
My kids today have a library of about 1,000 books, which are so valuable to us that I sometimes feel I should insure them in case of a fire. Interestingly, none of their friends who visit them have even glanced at their books.
A special relationship with books -- and no relationship whatsoever with Game Boys, violent films and trashy, junk television shows -- has, I feel, made my kids gentler, wiser and kinder. It keeps them busy and they do not rely on television for entertainment even when they are alone at home.
A few tips on making your kids healthy readers:
1. The early bird:
Start reading to them early; six months is a good age to begin.
You don't have to actually read from cover to cover. Flip the pages quickly, giving the gist of the story as you go.
Younger kids do not have the attention span to hear you drone through a long picture book (most parents read books as if they are dictating from a textbook of medicine!).
2. Surround your children with books:
There should be plenty of books for your children to get their hands on.
It is not really difficult to read 70 picture books a week to your little one if each parent reads five in the morning -- it takes about half an hour -- and, say, five in the evening. Believe me, your kids will love it!
3. Read to them:
I still read to my elder child, even though she is 10, if I am there when she wakes up in the morning. I read from interesting science books or encyclopedias -- little passages explaining the weather or Venus fly traps or geography quizzes.
She loves it and is irritated when I am not able to do it on some days. Believe me, it wakes her up in five minutes flat.
Half the job of getting your children interested in reading is your effort, not theirs. You have to read to them religiously and continue to read to them as they grow older.
4. Value books:
Teach your children to value books. Books are treated like gods in my home. They cannot be thrown on the floor or ever stepped on and must be handled gently.
5. The magic of the newspaper:
Interest your child in the newspaper. Even at a very young age, tell him/ her what's happening in the world. It will make them more compassionate and sensitive to their surroundings.
6. Variety is the spice of life:
Buy a diverse range of titles for your kids. Even young children love reading from science books or looking at paintings. I have discovered that my four-year-old often enjoys a book on plants or animals or nature or geography (which I paraphrase into little points) more than a story sometimes.
7. A book allowance:
Expose them to bookstores and pavement books shops. Allow them to choose their own books. Give them allowances so they can buy them.
But take care that they buy the right books and not useless Barbie comics, etc.
Make sure they buy enough books on your mother language and read those books so they equate it with fun learning too. I have to confess, though, that this is something I have not been too successful at.
8. Draw the line:
Limit your child's screen activities -- be it television, movies, the computer or Game Boys.
Your child may not take it well initially, but you have to be firm and not give in.
Eventually you will be teaching him/ her value -- he/she will appreciate the shows or movies he watches much more.
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