How to raise a happy reader

Writer George R.R. Martin once said, "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one."

If you've gone through worlds where dragons rule, lovers travel back and forth in time, and chocolate factories are run by vertically challenged men from Loompaland, then you can see that, indeed, truer words have never been spoken, and books can make one's life so much more beautiful and richer.

Parents who realise this would want their children to become avid readers. For many parents, such as myself, reading is its own reward, and passing on a love for the written word is one of the best gifts we can give our children.

As an only child, I spent hours losing myself in pages where I could find sisters to laugh with, secret gardens to explore, and romantic adventures to dream of. Long before I set foot in countries on the other side of the world, I was already walking through their ancient temples and watching their ancestors presenting sacrifices to their gods.

As the years went by, I discovered the wisdom in nonfiction as well, and soon, memories of interesting men and women became a part of my world. I lived through their experiences and remembered valuable lessons from both their mistakes and accomplishments.

But if you are looking for more reasons to pick up a book with your child, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that books have so much more to offer. It's not just about firing up their imagination and creativity.

More than an escape into worlds previously unknown, learning to read properly can help your children make the most of the world they live in, especially when they start going to school.

There have been many studies done over the years on the effects of consistently reading to children at a young age, and it is hardly surprising that they all have the same results. Some of the benefits that parents might want their children to enjoy are the following:

1. Overall increased cognitive skills and function-Cognitive skills basically cover our memory, ability to learn new information and our method of processing and understanding events, surroundings, written material and speech. This is measured by IQ tests, and studies have shown that children who were consistently read to by an adult and guided to read during their childhood and on to adolescence, generally have higher scores. This is not to say that reading will automatically make your child a genius, but it is safe to assume that reading develops a child's mind in more ways than we can imagine.

Ability to concentrate

2. Stronger academic foundation-Healthy and good reading skills are not just for Language and Reading classes. Good comprehension skills are necessary in all subjects, and without them, learning would be difficult and tedious. Reading enhances a child's ability to concentrate, and with it, memory retention.

Children who can understand what they read in their science textbooks will be able to make sense of the experiments done in class, and the scientific explanations on how our world exists. Children are also able to develop their sense of critical thinking, and to grasp abstract concepts necessary in mathematics and the many subjects built on the foundation of math.

3. Speech and communication skills-Contrary to the image of readers being quiet and antisocial bookworms, many of the most eloquent and articulate speakers I know are also voracious readers. Reading allows one to master a language. And I don't mean simply by increasing one's vocabulary or perfecting grammar rules.

A reader experiences so much with just a turn of a page that, by the time they are faced with the actual experience in real life, they are better equipped to know exactly what to say to describe how they feel and communicate their sentiments.

4. Teaching concentration and discipline-We live in a world where multitasking is the norm and speed is necessary, both in people and in the things we do. Taking time out to accomplish only one item, such as to finish a book, seems almost passé in this time and age. Yet, that is exactly what reading is about, and in doing so, it reminds us of the value of having the discipline to concentrate on what you have at hand and the importance of finishing what we start.

Reading builds self-discipline and develops patience and a longer attention span- things sorely needed in the world today.

Recently, a story came out in Inquirer Lifestyle about teenagers still getting bored despite the numerous gadgets and technological advancements they have at their fingertips. Perhaps slowing down and picking up a book is the answer to teenagers' boredom today.

5. Bonding time-At the end of a long day, what could be more relaxing for you and your child than to cuddle in bed with a good book? There are many ways to bond with our children, but one of my favourite ways is to let them curl up next to me as we read and learn about new friends and adventures.

Whether they are quietly listening to what I read aloud, or not so quietly asking a million and one questions about why the characters say this or that thing, it is always a joy to have that special time of the day to look forward to.

Other benefits

There are many other benefits that come from picking up a book with your child. The only problem is how to ensure that our children will actually discover them. Here are some ways to help you raise a happy reader:

1. Read to your child for 20 minutes a day consistently-I recently picked up this tip from a friend. It's simple and precise, which is helpful for those who are wondering how much time you really need to read to your child. Twenty minutes is the recommended average time for parents to spend on reading to their children, as it is enough time for them to settle in and really pour their attention and concentration on the story.

It may seem long, but really, once you get started, you would be surprised at how quickly it goes by and you might even find yourself reading far longer than just 20 minutes.

2. Let them see you read-As they say, actions speak louder than words, and if your children don't see you reading anything, you can't expect them to naturally pick up a book or newspaper on their own.

3. Start young-They are never too young for books, and there are different kinds of books available for the different ages and skills of children. But bear in mind that it is not advisable for very young children to be forced to learn how to read, unless they actually learn to do so on their own. Simply read to them and allow them to learn at the developmentally appropriate levels of learning.

4. Make books accessible-Many of the people who love books do so because there was always a book around the house that they could pick up just as conveniently as a remote control. Kids will always go for what is easier to access, and as parents, we have the option of choosing what to expose our kids to in our homes.

Stock up your book shelves and put them in places where your children can easily reach them.

You don't have to buy all the new books in the market and fill every nook and cranny in your home, or you'll break the bank. You can borrow books from friends and family and look for bookshops that sell used books at very affordable prices. Or you can even go online.

Better yet, teach your children how to use the library at school.

5. Make it fun-Who says reading is boring? Make storytelling time your moment to shine and give your kids a full show when you read to them.

Be OA (overacting)-sing, dance, whatever it takes to get their attention until they realise that reading is fun. Try to make your storytelling time interactive, and choose books that involve subjects your children are interested in.