The Magic of Reading
by Kenneth Lyen
One of my pet topics is the decline of reading in young Singaporeans. How can we reverse this trend?
"Setting children off on the wonderful journey of reading requires careful planning", writes Anna Ciddor, author of a series of childrens books, Viking Magic.
The problem with modern-day children is that they are surrounded by exciting toys, television and computer games that give instant gratification. Reading is in direct competition with these alternative activities. Children are placed in front of the television or computer screen for increasingly longer periods of time compared to the time they are placed in front of a book.
Initially parents can and should read to their children. However, in time, they need to cultivate the pleasure of children reading for themselves. At the start, reading is slow and painstaking, and requires time-consuming, close, individualised supervision. Because of this difficulty, some parents and teachers do not give self-reading the priority and attention that it deserves. They therefore do not spend enough time to help cultivate this habit in their children.
Time for reading should be protected. For example one can limit the number of hours for watching television or playing computer games. Ideally television and computers should not be switched on because even if the child is not watching, the parents or caregivers probably are. You can reinforce the stories by playing games related to the books, but they too should not be a substitute for actual reading.
Ciddor said that in Viking times, people who could read were revered as powerful magicians. The Vikings considered the letters of their alphabet as sacred symbols bestowed to them by their god Odin. These letters or "runes" had magic powers, and brought good fortune, and were used during the planting of crops, going to war, childbirth, and even playing a game.
In present day society, the magic of reading has vanished. Some books even try to distract one from actual reading by having them make sounds when you press on a button.
The best way to encourage children to read is to start off reading a story aloud. Once children are hooked onto the story, you can then allow them to continue reading alone. Ciddor says, "Reading has to be a joy, a personal connection between a child and a book.... somehow we have to put the magic back into reading."