Childhood stories! Who does not have some to tell, some that need to be heard and some remembered?! Maya Jain, a mother of two and an avid reader herself talks about how stories and reading has enthralled her family for generations.
One of my earliest memories is of lying in the dark in a 230 year old house surrounded by trees and listening to my grandma weave a tale with voice intonations and sound effects. At night, you could hear the insects, the rustling of leaves and the creaking and groaning of the old house in the wind. That night, she told my aunt and me this story of some mythological demon and we spent the night utterly terrified till we fell asleep. Some of my earliest memories of my parents are of my dad taking me to a book fair that sold Russian folk tales and my mom reading to me. Looking back, I grew up in places steeped in stories- old houses in Kerala, Ranchi and Chennai, a 90 year old boarding school, with people who had love of the written word and a grandmother who was a master story teller. It was a simple world filled with family, friends, books and playing outside.
A decade ago, after a rather stressful and complicated pregnancy, this mom was born- came out kicking and screaming and feeling completely overwhelmed and utterly unprepared. 10 years later, I’m still just winging it. The world was a different one than where I grew up. In a very fast paced world, I was raising two completely different kids. So I just borrowed heavily from my childhood and went with the familiar. I did the one thing I knew well - filled their lives with stories- books, movies, songs… anything that told a story. I let them read what they wanted- books, newspapers, menu cards, bill boards, etc. Long car journeys were about story games. We would create stories around the things we saw- trees, shapes of clouds, or just the road.
Children have such fabulous unfettered imagination and an out of the box thought process. They can spin some real fancy stories too. When my son was three he told me the story about his stuffed elephant Pha having a really loud bumpie burp (the word he coined for farts). My daughter’s constantly making up stories about things she sees. When she got mad at my son once- she called him a bucket dipper which resulted in a huge fight. Once everyone calmed down, I heard the story she had read in school. The world is divided into bucket dippers and bucket fillers. Bucket dipper is just a polite childlike way of calling someone a selfish arse. I love that she connected it to life!
What started out as going with the familiar to keep myself sane in the chaos that is motherhood ended up with my kids taking to books and reading, albeit at different ages. Since my daughter took longer, I gave my son the job of reading to her at night. And somewhere along the way she started to read for him, too, and then for uncles and cousins and friends who came home. She started with comics and slowly moved to other books.
My son is currently reading Michael Marpugo and my daughter’s current reading is Rebel girls and of course she’s discovering the absolute joy of Calvin and Hobbes. There were few things that worked for me in a world where it is so easy for kids to lose themselves in all the available technology.
Tell them stories: My grandmom never read to any of us. But she was so full of stories. About everything.
Keep a reading time that is sacrosanct. The last half hour before bedtime was story time. And now, reading time. The pleasure of listening to children giggling over a funny word or trying to sing the opera after they read about Maria Callas or when the discussion moved to make up rhyming lines on the spot.
Read aloud and don’t ever stop. We’re reading Harry Potter now despite the fact that my son has already finished reading it on his own.
Don’t force it: Some children just don’t take to reading. And that’s okay. Because as someone said, no kid really hates reading. They just haven’t read the right book for them yet. So just keep the stories coming. That they will always love.
It was Albert Einstein who said “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” I couldn’t agree more.
Maya is an obsessive reader, wistful blogger, doting mother and coffee addict. She lives in Bangalore, India. You can read her musings on her blog myawesomeeveryday.com
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