How can parents get their children to read for leisure in an era where their attention is being captured by sports and outdoor games, television, video games, smartphones and tablets?
The answer can be found in a new book, My Child Loves Reading, by Julia Kushemererwa Singa, which offers strategies, advice, and the skill that a parent needs to nurture a reading culture in their child.
“Children are no longer reading as much as they used to a few years ago. This is worrying,” Singa writes in her 148-page self-published book, illustrated by Simon Singa and Phillip Nsamba.
“We have moved from the days when children would remind their parents to buy them a storybook or novel with their favourite character, to now when children ask for the latest electronic gadgets. Why is there a change in preferences? Should we just blame it on technological advancements? Absolutely not.
“The issue is that many children are being exposed to so much else save for books. Many children hold a book for the first time on their first day of school. The rest of the time, books are hidden from them so that they don’t spoil them. Or the children never see books at home because their parents can’t afford them.
“Gone are the days when a bookshelf was almost a must-have in every home. These days many homes have stacks of movie DVDs. These video libraries are restocked more often than the kitchen pantry sometimes,” Singa says.
Children can also be destructive. “My heart was broken the day I went back home only to find my son had split open his two brand new board books. He was eighteen months old then. I knew I needed to teach him how to care for books. How to see books as the precious items they are,” she writes.
Singa recommends that parents read to their children. This results in bonding, attention and listening skills, visualisation and imagination, and language and literary skills.
“You can read to your children before bedtime, or when going to bed or at any other time. It’s better to establish a routine. That way you keep track of your own consistency,” Singa writes.
“Sit with the child on your lap or right next to you and read aloud to them while pointing to the images and running your finger along the text,” she adds.
“Having books around children prompts them to want to read. Children are naturally curious. They like to explore mostly everything around the house. When books are included in their environment, it’s easier for them to want to open them, look at the pictures and then read…”
Children imitate what you do more than they do what you say. Therefore, if you want to increase the chances of your child falling in love with reading you need to read yourself, Singa suggests.
“Children who see their parents reading or listen to their parents read to them are more motivated to read. One of the challenges is that today’s parents do not read books as much anymore. They read newspapers and tabloids at work and spend the rest of the time on smartphones and tablets,” she adds in the book, published in 2018.
Singa says that a parent will need patience, good modelling, a sense of humour and consistency to create a conducive reading environment for their children.
However, Singa notes that the first signs of your children being interested in reading in their early years are no guarantee of a lifelong love for reading.
“Reading for pleasure can only be encouraged, modelled and prioritised,” Singa says.
Singa is the co-author of Orombi: The Biography of His Grace, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda (2004-2012).
She is a poet and formerly a writer for The Observer newspaper.
She is currently working with Success Africa as a human resource consultant, leadership trainer, public speaker, and an advocate for reading. She is married to Simon Singa and they have two children.