Why books matter: We should be encouraging our kids to read more
In this week’s Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa column, Aun Koh shares how a house filled with books stimulates a child’s mind – but discovers just how little Singaporeans read.
For the past couple of weeks, my eldest has been asking my wife and I to purchase him a new book. Asking is actually a really nice way of saying it. In truth, he’s been incessantly begging.
The book in question is The Meltdown, the latest from Jeff Kinney’s The Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series. While these books aren’t exactly educational (and some mothers have complained about the playground insults and antics the kids play on one another), I’m just happy T1 has a passion for reading.
I did look for the book in the National Library’s database. Every copy in the library system was checked out and appears to be reserved for time immemorial. Clearly, wimpy kids are popular. T1 also checked his own Primary School’s library; he reports they have not purchased it yet.
Amusingly, the other day he said that one of the older kids on the bus he takes to and from school every day had a copy.
“That’s cool,” I said. “Have you considered asking him if you could borrow it?”
‘I did,” T1 said, “But he said no.”
“How did you ask?”
“I just asked if I could borrow it.”
“Did you, um… introduce yourself, try to be friendly, and suggest you borrow it after he was finished reading it?”
“Do you even know this boy’s name?”
“Would you loan something you just got to someone you don’t know before you were done playing with it or reading it?”
Clearly diplomacy is not always genetic.
I did suggest he pay the schoolmate a compliment but my wife interjected. She objected to the idea of trying to win someone over just to get access to his things. “Not the right life lesson to be teaching him, Papa!” she remarked at me. Then, looking at T1, she said, “We’ll get you the book, but you need to earn it.”
How he earns it we are currently working out. It will most likely be a combination of chores done properly, being nice to his little sister, and managing some of his own responsibilities for a short period of time.
A HOUSEHOLD FILLED WITH BOOKS
In the meantime, I have already ordered the book from Amazon at a price below any I could find from local retailers. Ultimately, he’ll get the book. And I think he knows that. I think he and his sister both know that when it comes to getting books, their mama and me are big softies.
As we’ve grown older and especially as parents, the role of books has only become more important to us.
But that’s because both of us are voracious readers and ourselves love books. It’s something we bonded over when we first started dating. And as we’ve grown older and especially as parents, the role of books has only become more important to us.
In October last year, a study that assessed 160,000 people in 31 societies theorised that, in layman’s terms, growing up in a household filled with books is good for you. Specifically, those who had around 80 books at home tended to have average scores for literacy. Those that grew up in a home with fewer than 80 books were generally associated with below-average literacy.
For those whose libraries were greater than 80, literacy continued to improve as the number of books increased. But when the collection reached around 350 books, that’s the point at which the literacy rates became constant. And It’s not just literacy but numeracy and aptitude with technology and digital media that is enhanced through a larger home library.
Sadly, when this Australian National University Study, led by Dr Joanna Sikora, was published, and national average home library sizes in the 31 surveyed societies were revealed, Singapore stood out as second lowest, tied with Chile at just 52 books. The lowest was Turkey with an average of only 27 books per household.
A whopping 40 per cent of Singaporean respondents grew up with home libraries of only around five books.
Even more frightening is that, according to the survey’s results, a whopping 40 per cent of Singaporean respondents grew up with home libraries of only around five books, with another 23 per cent saying they only grew up with around 20 books at home.
In contrast, the national average in the United States was 114 books per household; 102 in Japan; 143 in the UK; 166 in New Zealand; 212 in Norway; and 210 in Sweden.
80 BOOKS IS CHEAPER THAN ONE YEAR OF TUITION
The study suggests that growing up in an environment in which reading and books are prized helps develop long term cognitive competencies, social skills and lays the foundations for learning, both in school but also eventually in the professional world.
These are things my wife and I have always believed in, so it was nice that our completely unscientific beliefs have turned out to have real grounding.
Books, of course, aren’t cheap. Which is why we are fortunate here in Singapore to have access to a fantastic library system as well as literacy programs like ReadAble, which I mentioned in my last column.
Interestingly though, one columnist for Big Think, one of my favourite thought leadership sites, suggests that purchasing 80 books for one’s home is cheaper than one year of tuition, so parents should consider the former.
Purchasing 80 books for one's home is cheaper than one year of tuition, so parents should consider the former.
He wrote: “The study's conclusions should be heartening to families around the world unable to provide higher education for their children. Having books around the house can substantially level the playing field in reading and math skills even without the expense of post-secondary time in the classroom.”
My wife and I have always been happy to spend large chunks of our salaries on books. Even before kids, we would spend hours browsing the aisles of Borders (anyone remember Borders?) and Kinokuniya.
Today, we love bringing the kids to Kino, as well as to Books Actually, Woods in the Books, My Greatest Child, Bookaburra, and Popular.
Bedtime in our house means storytime. It’s a ritual we take seriously. At around 7.15pm, I will crawl into bed with T2 and read her stories of her choice. I used to read to both T1 and T2, but ever since T1 started Primary School, he’s taken to reading to himself.
It’s a win-win actually. He gets to read the stuff he wants to read and doesn’t have to suffer through his little sister’s Princess stories. And I don’t have to deal with the arguments that used to ensue when choosing a story that they’d both agree to listen to.
He’s particularly obsessed with the Wimpy Kid series, but also enjoys the Treehouse series, Geronimo Stilton, Dog Man, Captain Underpants, and anything to do with Pokemon.
I keep leaving my dog-eared copy of Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone on his desk but it keeps getting moved back to the bookshelf. No matter. I think in a year or two he’ll get around to it. Right now, I am just happy that he’s happy spending time with a book.