Teaching Your Grandchildren the Love of Books

Teaching Your Grandchildren the Love of Books

Grandparents. They are the greatest people in the world. Especially when you are a tired parent getting home from work and the kids are in full zoo-animal-cry-and-make-a-mess mode. They are the (not always) grey-haired superheroes who treat their grandchildren like the small princes and princesses they deserve to be while mum and dad have a couple of minutes to catch up on washing or just have a moment. They listen to their own kids about how hard raising kids is while smiling as if to say, ‘tell me more about how a small version of you is a confrontational little madam/master who only makes a mess and demands snacks and TV.’

I’m a children’s author and primary school teacher, and I am lucky enough to get a front-row seat to what works with kids and what does not. I’ve seen nearly everything, from kids absolutely thriving to some who are just surviving. I’ve had some interesting conversations over the past 13 years of educating upper primary-level kids. From ‘I caught mum and dad wrestling’ to ‘my grandparents are coming this weekend, and my grandma always brings me new books to read!’ Kids tell teachers a lot about their home life.

When kids discuss their grandparents, their eyes light up. They are the ones who bring food their ‘new age parents’ won’t let them have, do marginally dangerous things while mum and dad aren’t watching, and turn up to sports practises, dance recitals and parent-teacher interviews. During the parent-teacher interviews, I’ve met many exceptional grandparents and parents and have gone out of my way to ask them what the secret is to creating such a great kid.

One set of grandparents I asked made it their mission to instil a love of reading with their grandson. Every time they went around to his house, they made sure they read his books, from picture books to novels. If he wasn’t interested, they would read it in front of him, not to him, and then point out the best parts to everyone else in the room. Then they’d leave the books lying around for him to find. Guess what? He has picked up all the books from The Little Yellow Digger to novels like The Hobbit. They never forced him to read. There was no, ‘Come on, come read to Grandad!’ It was an option they expertly sold to him. ‘Take it or leave it; your mum and I love this book.’

When you think of the phrase ‘monkey see monkey do,’ can you think of an example from your life where this was not just an expression? The grandchild knew they could read The Little Yellow Digger, so they wanted to show off that they could. I love this approach because the book is achievable for them. They are level with the grandparents and other family members. If you replaced the book with The Da Vinci Code, which is about 140,000 words of impossible sentences for kids, when the child picks it up, they could get the feeling of ‘I’ll never be able to do this’ and could be turned off reading. I’m not saying don’t read your books in front of them, though. It’s really valuable, but occasionally, on purpose, validate their books and read them in front of your grandchild. People want what they can’t have, especially kids.

Another child I taught had grandparents who lived in Gore in the South Island. The grandchild lived in Mount Maunganui and missed her grandparents like crazy. So the grandmother bought a picture book and sent it up to her granddaughter so they could do a video call. She had bought a second copy of the book and was reading the book in Gore while up in The Mount, her grandchild was giggling away at The Wonky Donkey. Technology can make a huge difference in a world where people live so far away.

That same grandmother would record herself reading books and email them up for the family. She would then courier the physical books up so the girl could read along with her beloved granny. They now have a bank of videos and books read by granny, which I am sure the family will treasure forever. It also made the granny a TV star in her grandchild’s eyes, making granny super cool!

There is no app to replace the lap. I’ve watched my own kids sit on their grandparents like they are the comfiest recliners on earth, and they giggle and roar and gasp at the stories they are reading. They run to their granny’s bags and dig for new books, which they know are hidden in the depths of their fabulous grandparents’ bags and shout and dance with eyes that shine brighter than grandad’s shiny new car.

Really, what I am saying is on behalf of parents everywhere, thank you for making the difference. Thanks for playing with the kids. Thanks for baking sugar-free baking because your daughter is trying to limit sugar. Thanks for taking over while we parents are tired from work and looking after the kids. And thanks for creating a world where your grandkids can do anything, starting with learning to read.

Mr Mac, author of The Super Weirdos and the Battle of Bash (RRP 18.99) and The Super Weirdos and the Royal Roodle Rumble (RRP 21.99). www.mrmacsbooks.co.nz