Recently as I had more time on my hands after leaving my last job and have been in self isolation and also staying at home, I decided to start our bedtime story routine again with the girls so that we could spend some quality time together away from our devices winding down over a book together every night.
Which book did I choose to restart our routine? I saw the Mulan novel at Kmart on one of my grocery runs and just thought to myself - this would be the perfect book!
Why is it so great for reading with the children?
First and foremost, it is not technically a children's book. I wanted to be able to read to the kids something that I would be excited about reading too, because my interest and reactions to the reading would enable my children to appreciate the book better. They would be able to either empathize or disagree with my sentiments and reactions, and it would make for good debate and conversation around the chapter.
The other key reason I chose Mulan was because it was about a Chinese girl who became a heroine - back in the day where equality of the sexes was really non-existent. This is such an important topic of interest for me as a Mum as I have 2 daughters. They are growing up in a "rebel girls" world where sexual discrimination is still present, but not as obvious as it used to be. I wanted them to understand that the world was not always like that. That it really took a long time, alot of effort and sacrifices and change to get the world to where it is now. And even then, that there was still more that could be done. I was also curious about how my girls felt about the ways men described women in the book, and how Mulan struggled with her self esteem in a world where being the stereotype woman was really not her thing.
As we started reading together, I rediscovered how precious it was to be able to spend time together interpreting the words in a book. It was like watching a movie together. My girls were raising their hands to ask questions when they did not understand certain adjectives or metaphors used. Or when they simply could not visualize what was described, because they had never been exposed to that context. Where possible, I was playing them the movie trailers on YouTube from Chapter 3 onwards to help them understand the movie better and also some parts of the story we read, so that they could not only grasp the storyline but also get to know the characters better.
MULAN was a really good book to help the children understand more about writing style as well. Since the book was a good mix of first person reflections and third person narrative, I could explain writing styles and why the book was written the way it was to help the reader understand the story better.
One tip to keep the routine exciting for the kids is to only read 1 chapter or maximum 2 chapters every night. Similar to the logic of watching a drama serial, focusing on a chapter a night means the kids will not know the ending or next climax straight away and will have to wait for the next episode. This will make them keen and eager and looking forward to the next quality reading time you spend with them.
I am also pretty strict with reading manners. If they start mucking around and disturbing me when I am reading, or do not pay attention, I will stop reading and make it clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated. If they are not interested, they can leave the room. If someone is reading to them, the least they can do is to pay attention and listen.
I love engaging the kids halfway through the story and asking them questions about why they thought the characters reacted a certain way, or what would they have done if they were the character. Their answers are always unexpected and entertaining, and sometimes I volunteer my responses as well which most often results in a room of laughter ending with "why would you do that, Mummy?"
For me, the key learning of reinstating the reading routine with the kids is that I've realized that they might be able to read the words, but their comprehension of the text might be limited since their world view and experience is limited. Therefore, it is such a good opportunity for parents to share their worldview and opinions, as well as get closer to their children by reading with them. Helping them understand what the words mean, why certain metaphors are used, why similes are used and why certain characters feel the way they feel - having these discussions will also help the kids be confident to ask questions about what they do not know and want to learn more about.
I'm a big advocate for active learning, and strongly believe that if the child yearns and thirsts for knowledge, parents can teach them what to do to try to get the answers, even if we do not have all the answers ourselves.
Hence, when there is a question my kid asks me that I can't answer, I admit that "Mummy doesn't know the answer to that, but shall we try to find out?" And we then ask Daddy, or Google, or the encyclopedia/thesaurus and debate about which answer is actually the right one? Because Daddy doesn't know everything either, and we really can't always trust the internet right?