Sometime back I had written a post (On role of a whiteboard in raising a child) which had got a huge response asking me to write more such posts on parenting. This is the second in probably what will be a series. Please read the disclaimer in the above mentioned post if you're new around here. If you already know me by now, read on!
A few years ago, when my children were much younger (my son was about 4 and my daughter was just a 6 month old baby) I joined a 'Reading group'. It was not a formal group but just a few of us, mothers, with children in the same group who had got together and formed this group. There were a few common factors which bound us tighter than Fevicol, apart from the common love of books.
Firstly we were all stay at home mothers, who had given up Corporate careers because we wanted to be at home when the children were growing up and secondly we were women who truly understood what it meant to take care of two children all by yourself, being on call 24x7, with no respite from sleepless nights, diaper changing, timely feeding, routines, vaccinations, illnesses, rushing to playschool of older child, managing school projects, packing lunches, taking care of a thousand unforseen minor (and some major) emergencies and still smiling at the end of it all. We all also kind of missed our single days when we could go out without checking if the restaurant had kiddie meals and without looking at any outing from the children's point of view.
The best part about the reading group was that it was for children, but the mothers involved had so much fun as well. The main requirement was that you, as a mother (or a father--though we did not have any fathers in our group) had to be present along with your child. It was not a dumping place where you left your child and came later to pick the child up. We met for about 2-3 hours (the duration depended on how much fun we were having) each Wednesday at one of the homes of the mothers who were a part of this group. We took turns. There were about ten of us --so it meant that your turn to be hostess would come only once in ten weeks and so nobody minded being the host.
The mother whose turn it was to host it, would take all the children inside to a bedroom and would read them two childrens books. The other moms would have a nice tete e tete, sans the kids, discussing a lot of useful stuff (as well as some fun stuff). The choice of books to be read to the children, depended entirely on the host-mom. After she read them the book, we would all join in. She would have organised an activity--usually a craft or a science activity--which the children would do along with their mothers.(she provided the materials as well) After that it was 'healthy' snack time. The host mom had to provide a drink and a snack for the children and the mothers. We were all, without a doubt or exception, totally against junk food and fizzy drinks and we learnt to have so much fun and learnt to innovate a lot and be very creative with 'healthy food'. Healthy food need not be boring. I learnt that stuff like tri colour sandwiches and carrot cakes could be as delicious as they looked.
On womens day, all of us mothers went for a girls night out, leaving our children with our husbands who babysat. We had so much fun! Reading group was not only about reading.
It was in this reading group that I discovered the importance of reading poetry to your children. I still read a lot of poetry to my children, apart from stories that I read to them, even now, almost every single day. (They both love it even though they can read on their own.) The poems I choose vary in range from fun poems to silly rhymes to profound poems and poems that make you think. A marvellous book that I recommend is
The Puffin twentieth Century Collection of Verse.
Each and every poem in the above book is worth a read. Some are zany, some delightful, some small, some profound, some crazy but each one is so rich!
One of my all time favourite poems is a short one called 'Squeezes' by Brian Pattern. To read this poem and many more by him, you can go here.
I have a large collection of more than 400 Children books (collected painstakingly over the years and all chosen with great care. In the picture above the cupboard on the left has the Children's books and the one on the right houses mine and Satish's favourites) The stories I read to my children are mostly stories of courage, stories from mythology, stories from everyday life and also biographies of great people and true stories from history. I have read them inspiring stories like the biography of Abe Lincoln and just yesterday I began to read to them, the life of Kalpana Chawla. My daughter wanted to know about the Partition of India (as Kalpana's father arrived in Karnal as a refugee from the Partition) and how it affected people and why couldn't people just stay instead of deciding to move.
The Montessori method of education (which I am a big fan of) says that Fairy tales should not be read to children. But I disagree. Fairy tales are important too. But the thing is there is so much beyond fairy tales. Life is not always a bed of roses like in the Fiary tales.(They discover this the first day that they are at school, where they are just one among 40 or 50, where as at home they are the undisputed little Kings and Queens.) One will be poorer if one reads only the well known fairy tales to one's children.
The other day I read a story by Oscar Wilde to my children. It was 'Nightingale and the rose'.
My son felt very sad about it. My daughter said she hated Oscar Wilde because he writes stories that make children want to cry. Tears are a part of life too, I explained to her. There will be sorrow along with the joys, and one should have the courage to face both. And the most important thing is that there isn't always a perfect ending. She nodded her eight year old head solemnly. It had sunk in deep.
Stories shape characters. Stories are very powerful.
So choosing stories with care and reading them out with love (and later discussing them patiently and truly listening to what your children say and more importantly listening to what they do not say) go a long long way, in raising a child.
Ps: Do you want more such parenting posts? Let me know.
Addendum: I have since then moved many cities and many years have passed. I no longer am in any reading group as my children are now 12 and 8. However it was very useful when my children were much smaller.