Today I ( SH) attended a workshop, on how to encourage kids to read.

Group photo

As someone who is obsessed with reading since young, it’s quite a pity to see that a lot of the younger generation no longer read. Sometimes when I walk through the shopping malls, or having meals outside in restaurants, or even in church, I always grimace when I see our younger generations– many of them must be many, many times brighter than me, and having much better opportunities– prefer to spend their time and energy and their brain cells on seemly-pointless computer games and mindlessly scrolling the social media feeds. Many regard reading as a chore, forced upon on them by their parents. It is no longer a pleasure, and they can definitely do without it.

I would not want the same thing to happen to my kids.

Which is why I was attending a home kid reading workshop, a workshop designed to help parents to better encourage the kids to read

The speaker is Michelle Hiong, the principal of PTCC, the daycare center that my kid is now going to.

Michelle Hiong, the instructor of the day, is the standing lady with red and black attire

The session started off with a ice-breaking session with the objective of knowing the participants better. The winner is the one who gets the most signatures and actually know other participants. But us were so caught up in getting the signatures that we failed to get the know the participants. My result was especially embarrassing because I knew exactly zero participants even though I managed to collect 8 signatures.

8 signatures collected, but knew no participant

Lesson 1: Read the instruction carefully!

Lesson 2: Don’t just read to your kids, must also check that they can absorb. There is no point in spoon feeding lots of materials to the children if they have to omit them later. What’s the point of getting 20 signatures but recognize no one? You still get 0% in the end.

The workshop started with Michelle talking about the different styles of Learning, Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Different kids come with different learning styles, so different methods should be applied. Sometimes a kid cannot do well in school, not because he is stupid, but because the learning style there doesn’t suit him.

Which brings us to the next lesson:  always encourage, don’t criticize, don’t blame, and don’t give excuse.

Sometimes the kids aren’t receptive to our reading or teaching methods. At that point, instead of giving up and saying “he is not cut out to be a reading material”, try to adjust your method. Maybe he is a kinesthetic person but you are coaching him in Learning style method?

Instead of forcing him to read the materials you want him to read, try to let him read the materials he is interested in, and encourage him for every improvement, however small it might be. Remember, don’t give up, don’t criticize, don’t blame and don’t give excuse. Always encourage, always be trying.

Into the workshop, Michelle also brought up the issue of children concentration. Children are getting harder and harder to concentrate nowadays, no thanks to the distractions like iPads and social media. Thanks to facebook and instagram, whose sole design purpose is to hook you into consuming the service and endless stalking your friends ( or your children), the attention span of this generation is a lot shorter than Goldfish.  You don’t have to believe me, try to read an article from New York Review of Books yourself, and you will know.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Done? I know you didn’t finish ( maybe you didn’t even bother to click on the link), because I had trouble finishing the article too.

(But I still hope that you do finish reading my blog post and give me your facebook like, please!)

Reading, especially with kids, has to be interactive. To encourage reading, parents should demonstrate to children by reading alongside with them. At the initial stage when the children can’t yet recognize words, parents should read aloud to the children, then at the next stage, the parents can read together with the children. Finally, parents can let the children do the reading, after they are sufficiently independent, and are sufficiently interested in reading . Lots of kids don’t manage to cultivate a habit in reading, because they receive no support from the parents.

When once in a blue moon the kids finally decide to pickup a book, the parents are busy swapping Facebook newsfeeds or watching Youtube videos. Hardly an encouraging role model.

You ask: I’m just too addicted to my smartphone, is there any hope for me? Yes, there is always hope!  You can always pretend to be reading in front of your kids by putting the phone inside a thick encyclopedia.

Michelle also gave the parents a test on Phonics, a system on how to correlate sounds with symbols in an alphabetic writing system. Phonics is especially useful when one wants to introduce correct English pronunciation to the kids. As a non-native English speaker, I didn’t do particularly well on the test:

According to the teacher, my 20 month old kid did better than me on phonics! Another reason why we shouldn’t look down on our little things, they always seem to know more than they care to let on!

Michelle also guided us through on the stages of verbal development, the stages of emergent reading and the stages of emergent writing.

We also had a book selection session: what kinds of books are suitable for the kids? How do you select what books to read to your kids? To me, there is only one criteria: how interesting the reading material is.

I remember that I developed the habit of reading by first reading the newspaper at the age of 5. Yes, at the age of 5, because I wanted to know the airtime of my favorite cartoon, Thundercats .

To many, reading TV programme airtime is really boring, but not to a 5 year old kid who is eager to find out how much longer he has to wait for his favorite show. In that process I also developed the skills of reading clocks.

Not really a bad outcome from a desire to see cartoons.

So I guess I have to modify my screen time rule for my kid: No TV or gadgets unless it helps her in reading. In fact, I think one shouldn’t be so strict with the children: just encourage anything that gets them into the habit of reading. If she is inquisitive and asking all sorts of questions, try to gently prod her into finding the answers by reading. If she likes to play chess to the point of obsession, don’t take away her chess– instead, give her chess books to consume and she might just develop into another Garry Kasparov. But If she likes to play computer games or just mindlessly browsing Instagram feeds, then maybe you have to stop her because doing so doesn’t seem to be able to lead to book reading habits.

What about kindle or black-and-white ebook readers ( not tablets or electronics gadgets)? Should we get the kids to use them? My takeaway is that we should only give them ebook readers after they can read books with very few or no picture. Ebook readers are designed to imitate the experience of reading paperbacks with a great many words, not children books that are filled with fantastic colors and pictures and very very few words. If you really, really want to give a table to your kids because you want them to read educational stuffs, try Fire Kids Edition, for at least it comes with proper parental control.

In Summary: It was a great workshop! I learnt a ton, and got to meet great friends!