How My Child’s Reading Habits Developed During The Lockdown
August 13, 2020
Reading good, thought-provoking literature during the lockdown turned out to be particularly difficult for me. It was an uncertain and stressful time, with the added realisation that work from home wasn’t as much fun as I’d originally imagined it would be. As a result, instead of picking up the heavy and intellectually-stimulating reads I normally opted for, I found myself destressing via quick and light reads since they felt more appealing. My TBR pile lay untouched and my reading habits certainly stagnated.
However, things worked quite differently for my daughter with her reading habits blossoming during this period. She discovered new books and series, new ways to read, and even different activities around reading.
A Book… Or A Play?
My daughter’s school shut well before the lockdown took place, and while they were excellent with shifting to an online parent-assisted model, she had ample free time on her hands considering all her playdates, painting and gym classes, and the dreadful birthday parties were cancelled. Being an only child, she naturally expected her ‘Mumma’ and ‘Papoo’ to entertain her all day. But little did she know that that wasn’t going to happen.
However, when a few tantrums and whine-whine-whine episodes didn’t give her the results she wanted, she got the gist. And, she decided that she was going to script, direct and act in a play instead. The next step in the process was to seek out some source material for inspiration. Thankfully, she has a well-stocked library, and opted to work with one of my childhood favourites, Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile.
Oh, what a time she had, figuring out the script, running around making masks and costumes and assigning roles to the rest of us. Yes, we were involved, but only for a short while. She spent weeks labouring over the script and getting her lines right, and finally put on her performance, her pièce de résistance, to loud applause from us.
Watching my daughter put her play together helped me realise that this was actually a great way for children to explore literature since it makes them go beyond just a cursory read and take a more detailed look into a book. It pushes them to dwell on the kind of personality the ‘protagonists’ would have, what the characters’ voices would sound like, imagine the scene and setting, and think beyond what’s there on the pages of the book. Besides, this was also a great throwback to my childhood where my cousins and I would enact scenes from the various books we read!
From Picture Books To Chapter Books
Now that this episode was over, my daughter began hunting for her next form of entertainment. It was around the start of the lockdown that my daughter’s doting older cousin learnt that she loved to read, and said-cousin sent across a series that she had enjoyed when younger. I didn’t think my daughter would enjoy them when I received the books. This was mainly because she’d only been reading short picture books like Princess Easy-Pleasy and Sadiq Wants To Stitch (books I cannot recommend enough).
The Rainbow Magic series, on the other hand, has over 50 books, broken up into sub-series of seven books each. I didn’t think my daughter had the patience or retention to actually read longer (each book is around 60-70 pages), non-picture, chapter books. But she took to them like a duck takes to water! She read them through and through, and then reread the whole series again. In fact, she’s asked us to order the missing books from the series for her birthday this year.
Don’t get me wrong, she still loves picture books (and even I enjoy reading them), but non-picture books challenge the child’s imagination more. In addition to reading, their brains are pushed to process more and imagine the book in their heads – similar to how adults do it. The descriptive nature of the series also helped me see her creativity at play where she’d sketch out her interpretation of what the fairies looked like or what the English countryside looked like.
A major advantage of the lockdown was that she had an extended period of time to sit and read these books without any interruptions or distractions (those play dates, classes, et al). It gave her the opportunity to really invest in this series, and I think that was essential, given her age. Now, she loves longer chapter books and series, and she’s moved on to the Wishing Chair, Jake and Ada Lace series, and she’s loving them.
Reading…Err…Listening To A Book
As much as my daughter loves reading, she also loves hearing stories. And each morning, she’d request (and request and request) me to tell her a story. While this was something I loved and didn’t mind indulging her in, I did it up to a point. Being pushed into tapping into my imagination to come up with fantastical tales as soon as I woke up, without my morning coffee, was just not possible every day.
Things got to the point where I began missing the usual morning rush of getting her ready for school where the pressure was on her to bathe and eat her breakfast, and not on me to come up with a story. One day, as I was listening to a podcast, boss baby sauntered in and asked if ‘my phone’ had a story for her. That was a major ‘aha’ moment for me.
It turned out, Spotify had a host of storytelling podcasts and podcasts where the hosts read children’s books out loud. Little Stories For Tiny People: Anytime And Bedtime Stories For Kids has lovely, moral, and imaginative tales, told brilliantly, with the narrators putting on funny voices and accents. This is probably her favourite and the lessons she learns are different and taught in varied ways that work really well. Besides, learning lessons of morality, generosity, humility, etc. is always a good thing! The Bookmarked Podcast has book-readings, including many of her favourites, such as The Berenstain Bears, and this certainly took the pressure off of me to entertain her!
I was also delighted to find interesting and educational podcasts such as Brains On!, Fun Kids Science Weekly and But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. There are only so many science and general knowledge books you can read with a child, and these podcasts do a great job of explaining complex concepts. I did feel sad though that I couldn’t find any good Indian podcasts which featured Indian children’s books or Indian stories.
Technology cannot replace a parent reading their child a book, telling them a story or doing a science project with them, but let’s be honest, it’s not practical, or even possible, for that matter, for a parent to do it all the time. And that’s why podcasts are an easy hack, without the oh-so-evil screen time.
Rules Are Meant To Be Broken
The lockdown has also made us ease up on two strict rules we had for my daughter – screen time and sweets/junk food only twice a week. Unfortunately, both are happening virtually every day now – within limit, of course, but still, every day.
However, this has also had its positives. We read Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (despite my many misgivings about the book). Even though the reading was accompanied by my constant lectures on why Mr. Wonka is a nasty piece of work and on the many flaws of the book, my daughter enjoyed it (while also, thankfully, understanding and agreeing with my issues). Soon after, we were browsing on Amazon Prime for age-appropriate shows for her and we chanced upon the 2005 adaptation of the novel. Naturally, she wanted to watch it, and we did, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Not only did it help me take the conversation about the issues of the book forward (yes, Augustus Gloop was treated very badly, and I won’t hear it any other way), but it also made my daughter appreciate the novel in a visual format. She spoke about how she imagined Willy Wonka would look different (she kept wondering why he didn’t have his goatee), and even commented upon (and appreciated) scenes that the movie had added in, such as those that focussed on Wonka’s sad childhood. It made her empathise with him more. It also made me realise how screen time could have positive results.
There is no denying that we’ve all had a tough time dealing with the lockdown and the pandemic. And yet, I have to appreciate how it has helped my daughter (and me) discover new ways to explore literature and think of different ‘uses’ for it. It’s made us look at books in a more rounded fashion, helped us allow the literature we consume so happily to seep into our daily lives, and go beyond just the pages of the book.
We’ve had plenty of time at hand and I’m glad to say that we, quite by chance, ended up using it constructively and ‘literary-ly’.
As a young boy, Nirbhay had the annoying habit of waking up at 5 a.m. Since television was a big no-no, he had no choice but to read to entertain himself and that is how his love affair with books began. A true-blue Piscean, books paved the path to his fantasy worlds- worlds he’d often rather stay in. Nirbhay is the co-founder and publisher of The Curious Reader.
You can read his articles, here.