079 I Am Back!

Time to wake up

I have not blogged for months since last November. Out of nowhere, a friend TS texted me one week ago,

“Hi, William. Hope you’re well. I miss your blogs.”

I replied tongue in cheek, “I’m in hibernation. Thank you for waking me up!”

Sensing my humour, she retorted, “Wake up! Your friends and fans are waiting for you!”

“Text conversation with TS”- Consent given by TS

TS’s exhortation jolted me out of my inertia. Now that I know someone misses my blogs, it gives me an extra impetus to get back to writing quickly.

It’s so fortunate to have friends who encourage us in our endeavours, don’t you agree?

Was It Just A One-Hit Wonder Blogpost?

Over the last few months, so much has happened that I have scant idea where to begin.

Last year, the blog was gaining momentum with more viewers for every article I wrote. By November, there was a sharp spike in the readership. I had 15,000 more views in 2019 alone, four times more than the previous year!

“Wordpress Statistics”- screenshot from
personal account.

It was not just the figures that made me sit up. I was motivated by the responses from readers. In the last post, some parents told me how my personal anecdotes helped them to solve the impasse they had at home with their children over the choice of school. I felt good knowing that my article made an impact on some readers. I had helped some families out there.

I was flattered when a private tutor contacted me for collaboration. I told him my rates for writing advertorial and my principle of writing only things I had experienced, so I needed to observe his teaching and interview his students. And I imagined that I would be able to give him some useful consultation. After all, with two decades of experience working with excellent teachers in Singapore and abroad, I do know a thing or two about helping children to manage their studies and advising people on running a successful education business.

It did not bother me when the tutor asked for my viewer statistics. But he made a remark about whether my latest article was “just a one-hit wonder.”

Alas! I naively thought that he was my supporter. Too bad, we were not meant to work together.

“Disappointment”: WordPress Free Photo Library

Nonetheless, the attention garnered made me rethink if I should focus more on education topics. As a matter of fact, friends were surprised that I did not write more about education issues all this while. The reason was simple. I started this blog for very personal reasons – introspection and connection with others. I had been a little reluctant to talk about work in my personal time.

Can I Up My Game?

I have a change of mind, now knowing that my writing can touch lives. To up my game, I contemplated to start a YouTube channel to engage parents on educational issues.

Thinking that it may be a great idea to bond with my fourteen-year son, Conan through this collaborative project, I tried roping Conan in,

“I am thinking of YouTubing. I think it will reach out to more people than blogging.”

“YouTube”: WordPress Free Photo Library.

Conan nodded, but he was kind enough to stop short of telling me, “I told you that long ago, didn’t I?” As if he knew what I was going to suggest next, Conan said, “It’s a great idea, but I don’t know how I can help you.”

“Well. You will make a better Youtuber than me. I think people would prefer to hear directly from your study experiences. And your personality is likeable and you certainly speak English better than me.”

“Oh yes, Dad, you really need to fix your pronunciation.” Conan chuckled as he made a dig at me.

I said, “Well. That’s why I cannot do this without you. But I am good at creating content. Let’s collaborate.”

Conan grinned in agreement.

But it was an untimely decision. My workload at the workplace unexpectedly increased dramatically in November. There were occasions I had to bring work back home to work over the weekends, something that I have always refrained from doing since five years ago. I became too tired to hit the keyboard. I had had enough of screen. I had to shelve the idea. The idea of Youtubing with my son hit a roadblock.

Try something else

Instead I turned to doing something else with Conan- cultivate a common hobby of reading Chinese martial arts novels (武侠小说). I was so glad to see that Conan, who had stopped reading Chinese books entirely for the last three years, has taken to the books authored by Jing Yong(金庸), the titan of this genre.

Source: https://wapbaike.baidu.com/theme/
金庸小说“武器录”/47747882900?bk_fr=lemma

Week after week, we devoured books borrowed from the public library. To encourage Conan, I tried to read at least one book ahead of him. However, after a while, Conan asserted his independence by picking up books that I had yet to read. I ended up chasing after the titles that he had read. The shared hobby brought me and my son closer.

Conan gave his consent to use this picture I took.

The most obvious benefit was Conan became more conversant in the Chinese language. One morning during our regular weekend breakfast time, I intentionally prolonged the conversation to see how long he could hold the conversation in Chinese. Conan pulled it off very well! I saw in him a newfound confidence in the Chinese language.

It came as no surprise when his Chinese language teacher sang praises of his command of Chinese language at a recent teachers-parents meeting. The teacher said, “Conan is a rare gem who reads Chinese novels in his spare time. Hardly do I see any other students interested in reading Chinese books these days. I was therefore disappointed when he did not ace in his recent Chinese test like his other subjects.”

To this remark, Conan explained sheepishly, “Well, the reason is simple. I can read everything in Chinese these days. But writing the Chinese character is another matter. Those marks I lost were all because of writing.”

I laughed and said to his teacher, “It’s alright. Grades do not matter as much as his love for reading.”

The teacher nodded approvingly.

Stick To Purpose

Sometimes, we get derailed from the things we set out to do. But it’s not always a bad thing as long as our purpose remains the same, don’t you agree?

 

William W K Tan

8 March 2020, Sunday

 

 

064 What If Children Suddenly Dislike Reading?

Know Why Children Suddenly Dislike Reading

Parents are blamed for the things that their children do, and not do. When children do not read books, parents are told to read more books to them. And parents are questioned if they are setting a good example of reading books themselves.  But, has anyone observed children who enjoy reading up to a certain stage, but lose interest in reading all of the sudden? Surely, that cannot be the fault of parents.

Some parents are quick to point the fingers elsewhere. Electronic devices are pulling children away from books. School work is too much. Children have too many other things on their plates. For one reason or another, there is simply not enough time for book reading.  

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

Few parents, however, take a closer look at their children’s reading situation. Too often, the reason for children to develop distaste for reading is simple — the text has surpassed children’s reading ability without anyone noticing.

That causes children to feel the burden of reading, hence they grow to dislike reading.  

The Joy of Reading One Book after Another

I have a soft spot for children who are labelled as poor readers. Several years ago, I volunteered to read to such children in my children’s primary school before going to work in the morning. I was told that these children did not like reading, had problems coping with school studies and their parents couldn’t help them.

I would always read a book to them animatedly, and chose books for each of them to read on their own. Without exception, these children smiled and read with joy when given books that matched their reading ability and interest.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

I knew how they felt. Like them, I picked up book reading late too. I had hardly read any books outside school before the age of nine. In those days, parents worked hard to eke out a living, and public libraries were few and in-between. Raised in an environment where Mandarin and Chinese dialects were spoken, my reading was limited to English textbooks. And I lacked even a single English storybook at home.

The turning point came at Primary Three, when my mom allowed me to return home from school by public bus on my own. I started dipping into a bookstore near the bus stop. Inside the bookstore, I became mesmerised by the collection of beautifully-illustrated books (the Ladybird series) of classic stories and nursery rhymes— The Gingerbread Man, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs etc. Each day, I picked up a book, stood there and finished the whole book.

Photo: The Gingerbread Man. Source: ladybird books list

Then, I went there again the next day to read another book. Day after day, I would go to that bookstore, until I finished the last book. And after I ran out of books I could read, I searched for more books in the school library during recess. My journey as a young book reader finally took off.

From my personal reading experience, I know first-hand how children feel about reading.  Whenever I meet adults who deride older kids for reading books that they deem as too easy, I would speak in the latter’s defence,

“Parents today are reading nursery rhymes to their children before the age of three. But I only started reading them when I was nine. And you know what, however easy that might seem to others, the joy I derived from reading one book after another on my own was so empowering. I felt that I could read any book of my choice! Do not take that joy of reading away from children.”

Always have children read at a level that matches their ability and interest. Not the other way round.

Two Golden Rules to Nurturing Readers

Still, many parents worry if their children cannot read books expected of their school grade.  Here are two rules that have worked very well on my children.

The first rule is not to be overly-worried with catching up with school grade.

I understand parent’s anxiety completely. I had placed my elder son, Kyan in a mainstream school for four and a half years before transferring him to a school for special needs students. During those years, however hard-working Kyan was, and no matter much progress he made, the gap between the school demands and his reading ability was a rift that could never be narrowed.

Look beyond the hurdles placed by schools, and focus on the well-being of your child. For a boy who used to be restless and clueless in the library for many years, Kyan now enjoys browsing his favourite books quietly in the library.  And the most dramatic progress he made is that he reads aloud with beaming confidence when given the right books.

Photo: Kyan reading in the library

Do not let others impose their views on your children. Just continue in encouraging your children to read.

The second rule is to make a deliberate effort in strengthening your child’s reading ability.

Like many parents who read to their children when they were young, I read the same books my children were reading, while searching for more interesting books ahead. One difference, perhaps, is I set exciting goals for book reading. I was driven by ideas like “It will be great to see my kid reading that classic someday!”

Conan enjoyed reading the illustrated versions of “Peter Pan” from a very young age. I intentionally bought several abridged versions of the same title, to the bewilderment of my wife who thought that I had mistakenly purchased the same books. We started with various abridged illustrated versions of Peter Pan by Disney and other publishers. From read-along story book with CD, to stickers, flap-ups and other interactive books of Peter Pan, Conan was enthralled by the world of Neverland, where he joined Wendy, John, and Michael on an adventure with Peter and Tinker Bell to battle the evil but hilarious Captain Hook.

Photo: An abridged version of Peter Pan I read to Conan. Source: Amazon

I also remembered reading to Conan retold versions like the Classics Starts, which were written like a griping adventure that made fantastic reading-aloud for the boy, who laughed and giggled at every turn and twist of the story. Step-by-step, Conan successfully advanced into reading editions that were wordy and complex.  He was one step short of reading the original unabridged version, which I felt heartrending to put him through, considering his tender age. That experience of reading books of the same title with incremental difficulty paved the way for him to make a quick and complete departure from illustrated books at around six years old.

Conan recounted the day that I brought him to the Young Adult (YA) Books section, “I remembered that you grabbed a few books from the shelves at the YA section and showed me. I loved those books and kept going back for more from that day onwards.”

He was barely nine years old when he “graduated” from the children section of the library that catered to children up to the age of twelve.

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

Be a lighthouse to let your children show you how far they can go.

William W K Tan

10 May 2019, Friday

063 The Unfinished Business of Book Reading to Children

Are You Done With Reading To Children?

I thought the days of reading books to my children were over. I do not know how many parents still read books to their adolescent children. Like many parents, I read books to them when they were young. Now that they have grown up, the idea of reading books to them seems obsolete.

But that idea resurfaced recently when I lamented to a friend HJ that my younger son, Conan, only enjoys reading English books and displays scant interest in reading Chinese ones. Conan, who has just entered secondary school this year, dismissed Chinese books as “lame and boring” at my recent suggestion that he should read more.

 

Photo: WordPress Photo Library

HJ and I share a common concern over the low rate of reading Chinese books among children in Singapore. While I did nothing about the situation, HJ writes book reviews regularly to encourage her friends to read books to their children. She gave me a sound piece of advice,

“Reading books to children is highly important. Do not frighten them off with wordy books. Start with books that are filled with more illustrations and less words. Engage children with story-telling before passing them the book.”

The truth is I had done all that. Perhaps, a tad too much on English books and too little on Chinese books.

Conan could read books meant for pre-school children when he was barely three years old. By the time he entered primary school, Conan was making heads turn in school with the books he read. Today, Conan remained a voracious reader of English books, but the last time he read Chinese books was like in the yesteryears. That was when he was drawn to reading “The School Adventures of Cool Crawlies” 《酷虫学校》that I recommended him at Primary Three, more than three years ago.

Photo: “The School Adventures of Cool Crawlies”

“The School Adventures of Cool Crawlies” was a series of Chinese fiction that piqued his interest at that time. It was a delightful read written in simple Chinese prose that mixed science fiction, comedy and adventure all rolled into one for young readers. And every crawling creature was comically illustrated in the books.

Photo: A page taken from “The School Adventures of Cool Crawlies”. Source: https://item.m.jd.com/

But Conan’s appetite for Chinese books ended the moment he finished the twelfth and the last book available in the library. Thereafter, the boy had had a 3-year-drought of Chinese books. From time to time, I borrowed other Chinese books for him to read, but only to see these books returned untouched.  

I thought that the problem lies in the dearth of interesting Chinese books for children in Singapore. But HJ’s advice of “reading to children is highly important” kept ringing in my ears. Above all, her efforts to encourage book reading moved me. It takes time, money and efforts to find, buy and read books first in order to write those excellent book reviews.

Photo: A book review written by HJ

Instantly, I saw the problem differently,

If my friend can do so much for others, surely I can do no less for my children.”

It’s Not Easy to Find The Right Book

At the Central Library’s Chinese books section, surrounded by thousands of books, I was clueless over what to choose. Apart from reading books about the healing methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I hardly read any other Chinese books nowadays. I had no idea what to recommend Conan. I thought hard to myself, “What will interest Conan to pick up reading Chinese books again?”

It has to be something uniquely Chinese that is not found in the English genres that he reads. And it must be interesting enough to keep him wanting to read more. The idea of recommending him to read wuxia novels (武侠小说) emerged.  

Photo: A collection of wuxia novels written by Jin Yong. Source: https://item.m.jd.com/

Wuxia, which literally means “martial art heroes”, is a genre of Chinese fiction that tells the adventures of martial art pugilists in ancient China.   This genre of Chinese novels has become so popular that its presence has spread to television series, movies, comics and video games in the Chinese-speaking world. This genre would be a safe bet to choose for young people!

Randomly, I picked up a book authored by Louis Cha Jing-yong, better known by his pen name Jin Yong (Chinese: 金庸), who was arguably the most reputed and favourite wuxia writer of all times. But I frowned at the first page I set my eyes upon.

The text was printed in Chinese characters of the traditional form (繁體字), which is more popularly used by people in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Singapore, we are more attuned to mainland China’s simplified form of Chinese characters (简体字). To make matters worse, the characters had to be read from top to bottom along vertical lines, and from right to left for each line of words.  That made the text look too formidable for a beginner reader of a new genre.

Source: https://dlsdc.com/blog

Find Something Interesting and Readable to the Child

I cast my own preference of authors and stories aside. There is only one consideration that matters: the book must be interesting and readable from the child’s perspective.  

In a stroke of luck, I found a wuxia novel that is printed for mainland Chinese readers. The Chinese characters were in simplified form, the words ran horizontally from left to right, and the lines went from the top to the bottom of the page. This looked much easier to read!  The novel was titled “A Step into the Past”, xunqinji《寻秦记》 written by Wong Yik (黄易). I had neither heard of this author nor read this novel before.

Photo: “A Step Into The Past” by Wong Yip. Source: https://www.kanunu8.com/wuxia/

But I remembered vividly a 2001 Hong Kong television series of the same Chinese title. That TV drama told an intriguing story of a protagonist, Xiang Shao Long (项少龙), a top-notched special agent who was teleported into the Warring States period of ancient China some 2000 years ago. Armed with the knowledge of ancient historical facts and the modern world, combined with his intelligence in military strategy and prowess in martial arts, Xiang quickly became an invaluable player in a warring game to unite China under a single kingdom.

Photo: A poster of the television drama “A Step Into The Past”. Source: https://www.tvb55.com/video/detail/64.html

I borrowed the entire collection of six books under the same title without hesitation. Conan shrugged his shoulders when I told him these Chinese books were meant for him.  He beckoned me to look at the thick English books he had borrowed, “Look, I already have four books to read. They have to come first.”  

Turn It Into A Memorable Reading Experience

I expected it to be an uphill task, but I came prepared. I said to Conan,

 “No worries, I am the one reading. All you need to do is to sit back and listen. Then tell me if the book is a good read.”

To capture his interest, I had to tell the story well with plenty of expression and emphasis. I had read through chapter one beforehand and deliberated on how and where to modulate my voice like an experienced audio-book narrator. And I considered carefully where to place pauses and how to engage him.

Conan was at first sitting across me. But as the plot thickened, he quickly jumped to my side, leaning close enough to read the book along with me. Encouraged, I continued reading and chuckled along with him at the parts when Xiang walloped up the bad guys in a brawl. Then I hesitated whether to continue reading aloud. Conan gazed at me, puzzled.  

 “Are you sure you really want me to continue reading this?” I asked him intently.

Photo: a page taken from ” A Step Into The Past”

Conan sensed something amiss and quickly searched down the lines below. Before he could reply me, I deliberately raise my voice loud enough for everyone to hear me,

Xiang pulled the nightclub beauty queen Zhou out of the pub. Zhou asked him flirtatiously, ‘Where are you taking me to?”

Xiang lifted her into the seat next to the driver seat of his Jeep, and laughed, “Where else? Home, of course! I can’t afford to pay for expensive hotel room.”

Conan blushed and stopped me before I could read the next line. “Dad, I think it’s better that I read the rest in silence myself!”

I laughed heartily. Next, I found my son continuing to read the story on his own.

Photo: Conan continued reading the Chinese novel on his own.

And he continued to read the book over the next few days, taking it with him to school. A week later, we had a conversation about the book. I asked Conan,

“Don’t you find the storyline of this novel strikingly similar to the Games of Thrones? The plot surrounds powerful men and pretty women– playing a deadly game of life and death to seize control of an unified kingdom.”

Conan beamed in smiles, ” Absolutely so!”

Reading to children is an unfinished business. If anyone thinks that you have done enough, perhaps you might want to rethink.

William W K Tan

3 May 2019

Friday