We’re pretty sure you can’t get your child to read classics. Or can you?

I, like many of my friends, spent my childhood reading Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and others whose books are aptly called the Classics. Recently I saved myself Rs 100 that I offered as a bribe. When I told my daughter to read Pride and Prejudice, she read two pages and said ,”Sorry.” My bribe was rejected. By the way, my daughter loves to read books. There is always some book that she is reading. Of the recent books she’s read, her favourite is, I am Malala. However, most of the times she read what are, in my opinion, useless books such as The Princess Diaries, Dork Diaries, The Wimpy Kid series, and The Hunger Games series.

The Hunger Games series, voraciously read by adults and young readers alike, is at the reading level of a fifth grader (according to Renaissance Learning Study).  At this point, I really think that those parents who care about the reading life of their young ones need to look at things deeper to realise why our children are refusing to read the Classics. Today, adults and children alike want easy. From instant food to instant gratification of every sort, we want it easy. A lot of popular books that hit the New York Best Seller list are at a primary grade reading level. People want to flip through books and be done. Maybe if the Classics generation had had access to the kind of media and low reading levels of today, we may not have chosen to read the classics.

I’ve devised a little plan after thinking about it a fair bit. This is what it looks like. If you’re going to sneak the Classics on your kids, try these out and tell me how it went.

  • Set a reading time where every member of the family switches off all distractions, sits in the living room and reads a good book
  • Get abridged versions of the Classics for your little ones to expose them to that style of writing
  • Work out a reward system. You need to read 30 minutes of this book to earn your video game or TV time
  • Model good reading habits. If they see you only reading trashy novels and magazines, or if you’re doing all your reading on your phone/tablet, then, sorry, monkey see, monkey do.
  • Always leave a few books around that they can read, so that access is not the issue. You cannot run around looking for books in that brief window when they are bored of everything and can actually be cajoled into reading a Classic.
  • If they find electronic media fascinating, download e-book versions which they would be more willing to read.

Let’s be honest. When we want to kick back, today, many of us switch on the idiot box. Back in the days, when you wanted to catch a break, you grabbed a book, because you had no choice. Today, we are all burdened, overwhelmed and spoilt for choice. Four hours can speed by in front of the computer without accomplishing a single task and by totally jumping from one useless website to another, browsing everything from how Shah Rukh Khan celebrated his 50th birthday to whether you should vacation in Iceland next year. Is it any surprise, then, that our children are loath to spend the effort to read the Classics? If somebody today handed you, let’s say, A Tale of Two Cities would you pick that over watching Comedy nights with Kapil?

Actually, scrap that plan right away and first ask yourself: what are YOU reading?

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