Nurturing the habit of reading

One key skill that every self-directed learner must nurture is the ability to read books of interest. I am not saying that reading is a skill that is more important than other skills like making friends, playing, etc. I am saying that reading is a critical skill that one must pick up as a self-directed learner.

Nandini has ensured that Advay (our 8-year-old) always has enough books around him that he can pick up from and begin to read. Since we don’t follow a specific syllabus, he is free to pick any book fromstorybooks, to science books, to national geography books, to cooking recipe book, to mythological books to anything.

Last year Nandini and Advay had been to the Books By Weight Fair at Safina Plaza. The whole process of going there, looking at the sheer volume of books available, the huge crowd that comes to the event, the kind of intent and interest people show towards books, the process of picking up books for ourselves, bringing them home and reading them – everything was great fun.

One big influence in Advay’s life when it comes to reading is his brother Avyay. Avyay is my older brother’s (Praveen) son. He is 13 years old and a voracious reader. Whenever he visits our home, he scouts for a book he has not read before and reads it cover to cover in almost one sitting. Advay looks up to Avyay so much that he had always wanted to read like his brother.

While Advay would read books it was not a preferred activity. We would have to either offer to sit down and read with him or subtly encourage him to pick up a book and read when Nandini and I also sit around to read. Surely there were times when he would pick a book and read by himself also. But I kept finding the need to push the boundaries of his reading.

One thing I have noticed about Advay is he loves to invest himself in any learning activity if it means bonding with or spending more time with his parents, cousins or friends. Building relationships matter more than just plain vanilla learning experiences. Keeping that in mind, I came with an idea to get him to “want reading.”

About two weeks ago, for two or three days in a week, I would sit at ~7 PM in front of my computer and write 4 pages (A4 sheets size) of stories for Advay to read. The stories would sometimes be copied from the Internet, sometimes I would create stories myself, sometimes write stories about Advay and sometimes about how my day went.

I would then print it out, using the brand new printer we had bought for home, and give it to Advay – “Putta, I have written these stories especially for you.” For Advay those 4 sheets meant several things:

  • “My father wrote these stories especially for me…”
  • “Oh, the new printer is being used for me also…”
  • “So we can print our own stories???? Interesting….”
  • “I get to read stories that Appa wrote for me, with Appa by my side and then narrate those stories to Amma…”

Reading these 4 sheets was personal and it would allow him to bond with his parents, spend time with his parents as he read & shared about them. He would not only read those 4 sheets but would want to understand it and enjoy it also. Around the same time, I introduced him to the distinction between “reading” and “comprehension”. Every time I printed 4 sheets for him to read, he would pester me for printing 4 more sheets the next day. Nandini helped Advay collate these sheets into a file.

He loved this idea of writing stories so much, that he decided to write stories for me. My friend Murali Krishna had loaned his old typewriter to us a few months back. Advay has since been typing on that. Now he found a whole new reason to type – “stories for Appa.” Notice how he is mimicking the format also.

Below is one of his stories for me. It has “Stories for Appa”, date and one story with morals!

For his birthday this year, one of my friends Gaurav Kapoor, his wife Priya and son Zohran gifted Advay a storybook from Devdutt Patnaik.

He loves this book so much that it has become his companion whenever we step out of the house. He reads it during our car journeys, he reads it at home. This has become his go-to-book. He loves the stories in this book. In just 16 days he read the entire 302-page book. The night he finished reading the book, he came to Nandini & I and shared his unbelievable sense of joy and accomplishment at being able to read a 302-page book. He simply couldn’t believe that he could read “such a big book all by himself.” The video below was recorded one day after he finished reading the book. It doesn’t come close to capturing his sense of accomplishment, but I have captured it anyway.

The end result of all this is that he has begun to show more interest in reading than before. I can see that if we can keep this momentum he will go on to becoming an independent and voracious reader, much like his brother Avyay.