I still remember my childhood, reading books
I face fierce competition in my strive to get my son to start reading books. Since the age of nine months, the iPad has been the most popular toy in our house. He’s not unlike other boys though, toys with sirens (particularly fire trucks) are always cool, and I don’t recall how many times we’ve driven by our local fire station just to make him smile. Spiderman is his (and many of his friends in school’s) favorite superhero, and there’s always a train track covering the floor of his bedroom. Plus Lego etc.
At some point we had to limit his iPad consumption, and mind you it’s not violent slasher videos he watches, but Peppa Pig (which Daddy despises with a vengeance), Ben & Holly, the Cat in the hat etc. Good kids entertainment. And for us parents, the iPad is a blessing. He gets up on a Saturday morning, grabs his iPad and crawls back under his covers to watch his cartoons without waking us. Needless to say, Pappa and Daddy are happy for the extra hours of sleep. During meals, between ten am and noon and from one-thirty to four pm, and always after seven pm, the iPad is disabled thanks to an app we have installed. And the great thing is, we can increase that time on the fly, or decrease if needed (long car drives, plane rides etc.)
When I was a child, we had a handful of TV channels, and more often then not, in the afternoon or mornings, you’d see the “test screen” on your TV. There was simply no programming. Today, all channels broadcast 24×7 and there are more channels out there than you could ever wish for. At some point, my dad (he’s got a satellite receiver) had over 400 channels in his TV, making it virtually impossible to find anything valuable to watch. We’ve completely abandoned old-TV style watching, unless we want to watch NPR-news when something’s happened. Otherwise, we use our old DVD to watch one of our many hundred discs lying around the house, or it’s Netflix or something directly from Apple on our Apple TV. Books compete with a lot more media today than when I grew up.
But it’s not just more competition for books, it’s also (or so it seems to me) less time. When I was my son’s age, my mom was at home. A home maker she raised us until we “had to” go to pre-school at the age of six. My son began pre-school at the age of one due to both parents working. He’s already in his fourth “academic” year and he’s only four and a half years old. He has long days, starting at 6:30 am and he won’t be home until 4:00 pm today, often later. My school days began later, were shorter, which left me more time to play.
When I was able to read, I also began to read (and write). And while I can’t remember what books I read at what age, I recall the emotional impact of diving into different worlds, whether it was science-fiction with aliens and rockets and star ships, or to be transported across time and space to the old west and Karl May’s many books about cowboys and indians, with the Winnetou trilogy my childhood favorite, along with many others. It was that feeling of instantly being transported to a different place, imagining that place, the characters, living their adventures, following along on whatever track they were pursuing. It was so riveting, so fulfilling.
Reading books is still one of my favorite past times, even though I have less time for it now than ever before. But unlike TV or the big screen, where we get to watch one person’s imagination of whatever it is we’re watching, reading books allows us to fill the blanks ourselves. We get to design costumes, build sets, choose the actors to play the roles, we determine if the sun’s out or not in various scenes, and we get to hop from character to character and live vicariously through them.
I really want my son to experience that. I really do. And whenever we read a book together, usually before bedtime, it’s one of our best times together, as we both dive into a story, and you can tell which books excel at enabling children at this journey, and which don’t. My son goes to an amazing school, and every Friday, he brings back a new book from their library to read over the weekend. An amazing program for sure, and we usually send the book back Tuesday or Wednesday. We want to make sure he gets to read it at least twice and our weekends are often bookless, as he gets to stay up late because we’re out or watching a family movie together. But to read with Sascha, kid in my lap, even if we’ve read the same book one hundred times already, is always something special. And he already has a fair collection of books in six different languages: English, Swedish, German, Alemannic, Hindi & Raeto-Romansh.
Children have an almost limitless imagination. Once they reach scholastic age, that imagination is slowly but surely driven from them, until they are mostly grown-up automatons. As an artist, I managed to keep some of that imagination, that ability that allows me to think outside the box (to speak corporate for a second), to challenge status quos, see new ways to do things. I want my son to retain that ability, too, because it’s such a priceless gift. Just as he picks up a stick in the forest to be used as sword or magic wand, he can read books to transport him to strange new worlds or quaint places instantly, to learn and grow as a human being, to walk a mile in the shoes of those less fortunate, those utterly unlike him. And when he’s old enough, I hope he’ll read my books, too, including the one written specifically for him, because I have a hunch that his opinion is one I’ll cherish more than that of a Nobel Prize critic…
How did you get your kids to read? Do you find it hard to compete with TVs, phones and pads? Share your best tips here… If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.