Before my first child was born, I read all sorts of pregnancy and parenting books and decided to do three things: 1. Have a natural, drug-free hypnobirth; 2. Breastfeed; and 3. Teach my child to read on his own as early as possible.
Two out of three ain’t bad. The Firstborn was fully breastfed for two and a half years. By the time he was weaned, he was also reading independently.
It was a hot, muggy afternoon and I was nursing the new baby. The Firstborn was tired of trying to get my attention away from the sibling — “Throw him into the dustbin and close the lid,” he’d suggested when the baby started to wail (for the billionth time that day) just as he handed me the book that he wanted me to read to him.
But as I held the wailing one in one arm and attempted to hold the book in the other, he suddenly took the book out of my hand and said, “No need to read to me, I will read myself.”
That crack we heard then was possibly my heart swelling, then breaking.
I was torn between being so proud that he wanted to read on his own, and being devastated that another of those umbilical strings was now broken. What if he never wants me to read to him again? Could he actually read or was he just looking at pictures?
Being a typical Singaporean parent, I tested him (of course lah!) asking him to read this book and that to me. Maybe he was just reciting the words from memory, I thought. After all, I had read each book about a million times to him. Then I passed him a book that he’d never seen before and asked him to read this part (see box below) to me. Turned out he could!
From this day he went on to devour books on his own, completing my old Famous Five, Magic Faraway Tree, and Wishing Chair collections by the time he was four. Reading has been the absolute best thing I’ve taught the child, and it remains his favourite thing to do. You can teach your child to love it too! Here’s what I did:
• Read to the Bump. They say that the sense of hearing is one of the first to be developed in the womb, as foetuses respond to sound from about 20 weeks of gestation. So talk to the bump and read to it. Books mine enjoyed (based on book-foetal kicks ratio) included Oh Baby, The Places You’ll Go! By Dr Seuss and On The Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier.
• Continue reading to Baby from day one out of the womb. The same books that you read to the bump will work as Baby will already be familiar with them. I added other Dr Seuss’ favourites, like The ABC book, The Cat In The Hat, Fox In Socks, as well as Sandra Boynton’s hilarious rhythm-y classics.
• Take advantage of Baby’s immobility to let him listen to words — that’s when he’s a fragrant bundle swaddled like a popiah — to read to him. I look back on those days with joy, the two of us lying on the bed next to each other as I read to him… from my favourite chick-lit or trashy novel of the moment. Don’t judge me until you’ve gone through that sleep-deprived, nipple-chafed, brain-fogged period yourself. And try reading War and Peace then. Don’t worry I skipped reading the sexy parts aloud so his delicate sensibilities were never soiled.
• Read when you run out of ideas for things to do the with baby. I have no domestic or family help so our days were spent together, just baby and me, hanging out like homies er, at home. Apart from nursing, napping, pooping, and crying, he did nothing much. Apart from nursing, napping, pooping, and crying, I prepared my own meals, did the laundry, cleaned up, cleared up, and… you get it, read to him.
• Make reading part of the bedtime routine. My babe thrived on routine, and would give me a “what do you think you’re doing?” look if we veered off his favourite sections. Our route to bedtime each day would proceed with a bath, followed by a massage, then a book, and finally, the breast, before sleep. If you start doing this the day you bring Baby home from the hospital, he’ll get used to the routine, and expect a book before bedtime. That’s what I call a great expectation (sorry, could not resist).
• Bring a book out with Baby. Just stick a couple into the diaper bag every time you go out, so you can read to Baby on the go. The bath/water-safe ones double up as teething and chewing toys as well!
Read! Fest 2016, organised by there NLB to encourage reading, is happening now (till end-July) and there are tons of reading activities that you can get your kids engaged in. See the festival guide and register for programmes at the NLB’s GoLibrary site.
No time? Check out these great kids’ reads from two of our favourite local publishers. You can order the books online and have them delivered so there’s no excuse to say “no time to go to the shop to buy leh” okay?
For Younger Readers (from age 3)
Breakfast At Granny’s by Micaela Chirif & Gabriel Alayna | $14.90, Epigram Books
Grandma’s preparing breakfast when some unexpected friends pop by to lend a hand. There’s only one short sentence per spread in this whimsical tale so hey, no pressure. Get the kids to play spot-the-details with the lovely images too!
The Lonely Boy and the Ugly Dog by Eliza Teoh | $16.90, Bubbly Books
Written by the author of the best-selling Ellie Belly series, this lyrical tale of will have kids rooting for the underdogs as they learn that appearance isn’t everything, while friendship and loyalty are.
Where Are All The Birds? The Extraordinary Mind of Dr Goh Keng Swee by Darel Seow | $14.90, Epigram, Books
It’s never too early to introduce the kids to our heritage. Here they get to find out about the man who spearheaded some of Singapore’s biggest economic achievements. More importantly, they’ll learn that it’s okay to ask questions, and that searching for the answers to them is one of the best parts of growing up!
What If Dinosaurs Still Existed? by Emma De Woot | $14.90, Epigram Books
“What if” are powerful words to use with kids. They trigger imaginations and let kids enjoy the process of wondering. Zoe and Leo are going to the museum to see dinosaurs. But what if dinos still existed? There’s lots of fun to be had with this book, plus a shot of dino dung (cue the giggles!) too!
For More Advanced Readers
Ryan & Rex: Bone Hunt by AMONster02 | $12.90, Bubbly Books
Ryan doesn’t want to go to school… until a new teacher arrives with a surprise that changes Ryan’s life forever! This is perfect for kids in lower primary levels. They’ll also relate easily to Ryan’s experiences in a local school: making friends, dealing with bullies, and boring lessons!
Danger Dan and Gadget Girl: The Animal Abduction (book 1) by Lesley-Anne & Monica Lim | $10.90, Epigram Books
This first book in a new series has Danny and Melody back together — in Singapore, year 2135! The future is amazing but there’s trouble afoot at the zoo and the two friends have to sort it out before things get worse. Can they?
The Travel Diary of Amos Lee 4: Quokking in Australia! by Adeline Foo | $12.90, Epigram Books
The Firstborn, a die-hard Amos fan, pounced on this when he saw it, and devoured it in an afternoon. In this travel journal, Amos, possibly the most famous schoolboy in Singapore, has gone Down Under with his friends to track down the Quokka. The what? You’d have to read it to find out!
The Fibonacci Revelation by Radhika D. Puri | $13.90, Bubbly Books
This is under the Young Adult category on Bubbly Books’ website. I’ve included it because readers at upper primary levels will enjoy it especially if they love maths and enjoy puzzles. This intriguing mathematical mystery set in Singapore has secret codes, Caesar ciphers, and number riddles in it. “Two thumbs up and squared!” was the Firstborn’s verdict.