While we depend on schools to help develop and strengthen literacy in our children, their love of books and reading is nurtured in the home. And it should be a family affair. In the spirit of Father’s Day, Hong Kong Mom Pia Wong, Executive Director of the charity and literacy advocacy organization Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, offers her advice on how to get dads involved in creating baby bookworms.
“My son LOVES it when daddy reads as he makes up a different ending each time he reads the story aloud!,” exclaimed a local mother from one of the schools where Bring Me a Book recently installed a library. And it was so refreshing to hear as reading bedtime stories is so often considered the “mother’s job”.
Firstly, reading does not need to saved for night! It is not always practical to expect fathers to come home for story time reading regularly. But there are plenty of other great times to read — at breakfast, at the bus stop, on weekends or simply while waiting at the dentist or other appointments with your child.
Daddy as a Role Model
Parents’ own reading behavior dramatically influences the child’s reading relationship. A 2008 Kids and Family Reading study by leading publisher Scholastic, found that parents who read frequently are six times more likely to have children who read regularly, compared to parents who read books aloud less than once a week.
In a recent survey in Hong Kong, Bring Me A Book found that 60% of fathers rarely or never read to their children.
The importance fathers play as a role model is especially acute for boys as there are not enough positive male role models for literacy. The majority of adults involved in children’s reading are women (including kindergarten and primary school teachers and childcare providers) and boys tend not to see reading as a masculine activity.
According to Co-Founder of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong and father of three children, James Chen, “Having children was a humbling experience. There was no manual or class that could prepare us for the overwhelming responsibilities and demands of parenting. Reading together was a simple tool that allowed us to bond, to laugh together and talk about many things.”
Studies that have shown that:
- Boys who were read to by their fathers scored significantly higher in reading achievement
- When fathers read recreationally, their sons read more and scored higher than did boys whose fathers did little or no recreational reading.
When fathers read aloud to their child, they are able to:
- Reassure their child that they love and cherish them as much as their mothers do
- Enhance their children’s literacy skills
- Spend quality time together with no distractions or electronic devices
- Communicate about a variety of topics
- Strengthen the bond with their child
What can I do as a Father?
As many fathers in Hong Kong work late and may not have time to read to their child every night, what can they do?
- Read once or twice a week or at weekends, even if its just one book (with a good conversation about it) — its not quantity but quality time together that counts
- Demonstrate that you enjoy reading in front of your child (even newspapers and magazines count!)
- Fathers who are away from home for long stretches can videotape themselves reading aloud so their children can watch them telling stories night after night and not lose touch.
- When you do read, have fun — be creative, make funny voices or be dramatic!
- Most importantly, read aloud with happiness in mind, not education. At school, it’s about learning to read, at home it’s about reading to learn (and love)!
Louis and Helen Chan live in the New Territories and have two young sons, Tam Kin Cheung and Tam Lok Hei. Two years ago, Helen attended Bring Me A Book’s “First Teachers Training” which educates parents (as first teachers in a child’s life) on the importance of reading aloud and provides practical advice on reading, such as how to overcome barriers and how to ignite a lifelong passion to read within the child.
After being inspired by his wife, Louis shares his experience of reading with his children.
Question: When did you start reading to your children? Did you find it easy or difficult?
Louis: My wife and I started reading to our older son when he was seven months old. In the beginning, we just picked a story book and started reading the text, word for word. As you can imagine, a seven-month-old child is really mobile with a very short attention span. He was not interested in the book at all. Then my wife suggested that I read the book in advance to familiarize myself with the story and to use a different voice and tone to tell the story. I felt very awkward and uneasy in the beginning as I had never tried to imitate another voice before. However, after making this first change, I was really astonished by his reaction.
Question: Can you describe how the reading habits with your son changed and his reaction to it?
Louis: I remember we had chosen a big, colorful picture book about environmental protection and saving a dolphin that was trapped by a fishing net. I used a different voice and changed the pace and tone for each character in the story. My son loved listening to my ‘new’ storytelling voice and started looking at the pictures very attentively. He was also eager to flip to the next page to find out what would happen next. To make it more interactive and lively, I made use of a toy fishing net and toy dolphin to act out one of the scenes. After reading the book, we also listened and sung along to the song that accompanied the book. My son wanted me to read this book to him for over a month before moving on to his next favorite book.
Pia Wong is the Executive Director of Bring Me A Book™ Hong Kong. Since joining in 2009, Pia has been driven by a deep desire to make a positive impact on society and to further the mission of the organization. Placing strong emphasis on redefining our notion of ‘success’, Pia wants less focus on test scores and achievement to bring a love of learning back to our children, including her own two sons who are thriving in a montessori-based upbringing. She understands she is fighting an uphill battle and hopes to see more collaboration amongst similar-minded NGOs and community-based agencies in Hong Kong.