By Azuka Onwuka
Over the weekend, something instructive happened. A friend of mine saw me in church and took my three new books. While she was asking me how the book launch went, a little boy came towards us and greeted her. She asked him some questions. She noted that rather than always give children ice cream and popcorn, it would be nice to give them books occasionally. She then collected another copy of my storybook, Secret of the Egret, and gave the boy. The boy was not enthusiastic about the book. So, she asked him why. He responded that he would not have the time to read the book.
We opened our mouths in amazement and asked him what he was doing that would make him too busy to read a storybook that a child can read in an hour or two. He made some excuses about school work and the like. We asked him how old he was and in what class. He said he was 10 years old and in primary six. She told the boy to take the book, read it and give her a summary of it by the following Sunday. He took the book reluctantly and left.
We discussed the issue. Usually, children would be excited once they are given a storybook, especially one that has colourful illustrations. Children would be engrossed in storybooks and novels that they would read to the lunch table, leaving their food to get cold. They would be reprimanded by their parents to drop such books and eat their food. Some would read with poor light into the night, hurting their eyesight. At exam periods, some would overlook the books they should read for their exams and get carried away with storybooks.
She noted that parents were to blame for children’s lack of interest in books. She identified phone games as the major culprit. Parents assume they are showing their children love by frequently giving them phones to play games on. Most times, the video game is a way to distract and calm the child, so that the parents can do their own things.
Interestingly, a few hours later, I saw the “busy boy” with two other boys with a phone, excitedly playing a game on the phone, while waiting for their parents to be done with some matters in church. I knew the lady spoke based on what she had seen about the boy. I told him that I had seen how busy he was that he would have no time to read a storybook that was offered by a parent who liked him and wanted the best for him, reminding him that the summary of the stories in the book should be ready by the following Sunday.
Please get me right, there is nothing wrong with children playing video games on phones or TV. To have an all-rounded childhood, they are part of the knowledge and experience a child needs. But there is everything wrong with a child always being engrossed with video games to the extent that he hates to read books. The best time to make a child interested in reading is from the cradle. The first stage is to start reading stories from a book to your child. Then, the next stage is to start making the child read the books. Some children who have a flair for reading will start reading the books you keep in their rooms. Some will need some encouragement to read.
However, it is not a show of love for a parent to allow the children to always watch cartoons or play video games on phone or TV. It is an abdication of parental responsibility. There should be time for games and time for books. Storybooks should be fun for children. Children should be excited to read them. Your worry should be that they read storybooks a lot and get so carried away that they don’t remember to read eat or read their school books. It is a dangerous signal if your child hates to read a storybook. A child that is not excited about reading storybooks would hate to read serious school books.
A child who does not love to read usually has limited worldview and knowledge. There is a limit to what one can learn through video games. It is through books that a child learns things that are indelible. The child also sees the names of words, places, and issues and knows how to spell them. If the child does not understand something clearly, the book offers the child the opportunity to go back and read that part again. The usage of words and expressions is also learnt from books. During an argument, the child can pick up the book and open it to prove the veracity of an assertion.
In addition, a child who reads is less likely to feel bored in the house. That child is less likely to get into mischief once there are storybooks to read, because the child will be engaged.
There is also the interesting advantage of being more confident. Because the child reads books that focus on different aspects of life, such a child knows a little about almost every issue, and is therefore not shy to speak or answer questions in public. Such children are also not easily swayed by other children. They are the ones that sway their playmates, because they have a lot of stories and incidents to share. That is leadership.
The child who loves to read is also very creative. Whether the child is science-inclined or art-inclined, the child is always thinking of how to replicate in real life some of the things they have read, even when such seem farfetched at the moment.
Such children are also wiser and more reflective. They have a deep and wide pool of experiences to draw from when faced with life challenges. They grow up better equipped to face life issues and react to them appropriately.
Parents who deny their children the reading foundation have placed such children at a disadvantage in life. Such children grow up depending on whatever information they are given by others, because they believe it is too much work to read and discover such information themselves. So their gullibility rate is high. Such children end up as vain adults. They place more emphasis on how they look, how they dress, what vehicle they use or are carried in, what type of house they live in or are kept in, what class of people they are seen with, and the like. They usually lack depth. They cannot sustain a discussion on issues because they have abysmally little to share. They only feel at ease during a discussion if such a discussion is about people – who did what or said what; who is pregnant for whom; who bought which car; who had what party.
It is good to buy your child wonderful toys, games, and clothes and give them the best treats at restaurants and recreational centres. But it is crucial that children are fortified with books. Stock their libraries with storybooks, science books, historical books, religious books, etc. But also ensure that they read these books and summarise them for you. They will be grateful to you all their life for that.
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