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Why I encourage my kids to read for fun

Image credit: KC Wong

Dad Talk is a fortnightly column where our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.

Like most parents who are on Facebook, I sometimes share stories and pictures of my daughter and son, who are 11 and nine respectively. Out of five photos I post, maybe three are of them lounging on sofas or sprawled on the floor, with a book in their hands. The photos are usually snapped from the same angle, which is where my work desk is (I work from home a lot). Over time, these images become a visual documentary of their seemingly simple and “boring” childhood.

Since I started working, I have always yearned to live a simple life – a life not defined by material riches, desires or transient sensations, but a life of inner peace and physical health. But, what does living a simple life have to do with reading? Renowned author Annie Dillard best defined it in The Writing Life:

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”

A person who loves to read is someone who pursues a life of the spirit. An avid reader will always find happiness, joy and inner peace throughout his or her life.

I knew immediately the best gift I can give my children is the gift of a simple and “boring” childhood, wrapped with a ribbon called “reading”. Ironically, the biggest benefactors of this gift are their parents.

There is no sight more comforting than my kids’ wonder-filled eyes as the words in the books stimulate their imaginations; there are no sounds more soothing than their sudden giggles and exclamations as they lose themselves in the stories. Sometimes they discuss the plots and characters excitedly, giggling and laughing. And there we are: father, daughter, son and occasionally mother, in the same living room, each doing our favourite thing in silence, yet enjoying and treasuring every minute of it.

Thankfully, my wife and I do not need to deal with the usual issues other parents face. Long waiting time for food? Our children will take out a book and nourish their minds. Caught in a traffic jam? They can cruise on the information highway with a book. Feeling bored while daddy and mummy are busy buying fruits at the fruit stall? Out comes a book to quench their thirst for knowledge. You get the point. What iPad? What screen time? I don’t restrict the types of books they read, except that one time I asked my son to cut down on comics because his English compositions began and ended with conversations and contained no descriptions.

We never have to rack our brains over where to take the kids on weekends. On sunny days, the priority is to have fun outdoors. If the weather is too hot or too wet, visiting libraries always perks them up. In the past, we would library-hop – Jurong, Woodlands, Bedok, Marine Parade, etc.  After a while, they more or less discovered which their favourite libraries are, based on ambience and their collections. If my wife and I are feeling lazy, we can always drop them off at the library while we enjoy a cup of coffee. Till this day, I am still tickled by what the boy said early last year when asked why he likes to visit Johor Bahru. I was half-expecting “Legoland”, but instead he quipped: “I like to go to [sic] Jusco (he meant Tebrau City) and its big Popular bookstore (named Harris there)!”

Like all siblings, these two have fights, and usually over laughably trivial issues concerning – yes – books.

“Hey! I was reading this book, you know? Why did you take it? Now I don't know which page I stopped at!” one would scream.

“But you left it there.”

“Didn’t you see me going to the toilet?”

Lately, we have new house rules stating that no books are allowed at the dinner table as meal times drag on when they read. Reading is also banned inside moving vehicles to prevent their eyesight from deteriorating further.

Reading for fun benefits everyone in the family. It makes life so much more enjoyable and stress-free. It leaves a lot of room for children to enjoy their childhood, and parents to enjoy parenting. To conclude, I would like to quote another writer, Bali Rai: “Reading for pleasure is the single biggest factor in success later in life, outside of an education. Study after study has shown that those children who read for pleasure are the ones mostly likely to fulfil their ambitions. If your child reads, they will succeed – it's that simple.”

 

KC Wong is a photographer and father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.

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