To be a Muslim who is knowledgeable and sincere, one must read both the Qur'an and hadiths. On top of that, the books that tell us how to be a Muslim are many, such as works of fiqh, prayer manuals, etc. A Muslim is a reader by nature.
So how do you ensure that your children become readers? After all, they need this skill for when they are on their own and do the proverbial 'seeking of knowledge' both in a secular and a religious setting. Imagine your child as a middle aged adult on their own. I know it's hard to do, especially is your child(ren) are small, but just try.
They are sitting in their living room, after a long day of work, and they have to do something to occupy their time. Their kids are playing. The spouse is off doing something. There is a quiet moment. Do you imagine your child looking over at a bookshelf? Do you dare hope it would be filled with books, especially religious ones? Will he or she raise their hand and pull out a Qur'an? A hadith book? A book of fiqh or Islamic poetry?
I think we would all be pleased if they took a book and started to read, but is that the reality for most Muslims, of any age? Does your average Muslim (or non-Muslim for that matter) read anything anymore, ever? Sadly, no. But there are still those who do, and there will be those in the future who will still want to, even if digital devices are hanging from our ears like lanterns!
So what tools does a reader need? How do you develop a love of reading in a child. Being a good reader is also a prerequisite for being a good writer, as well. Do we have a plan to help our children become lifelong lovers of the printed page (or ebook)?
I know there's a lot of books on the subject, but only people who read themselves can benefit from them. What about people who are so busy in life that they just need simple strategies? I didn't have time to read books about building literacy in children when my child was small. What did I do?
I say this because alhumdulillah, my child developed a love of reading. He doesn't always read all the time these days, for teenage years are times of distraction, but when he was young he read all the time and even now he likes books and will read them in his free time when the fancy strikes him.
For the curious minds out there, this is what I did, and it was all haphazard at the time, but the results were exactly the best I could have hoped for. I will lay out the timetable in bullet points below.
- About 1-2 years old: We had little board books like Kipper and Dr. Seuss and the like, many with tactile touching zones built into the pages. Not one or two, but about ten or so that we would 'read' to him, letting him touch the pages to engage in the story. "Kipper and the Egg" was his favorite.
- About 2-4 years old. We used a lot of Dr. Seuss, but also Richard Scary books. These two in combination were incredibly awesome. We started letting him watch Kipper videos, which I highly recommend. Barney made an appearance too, but he didn't seem to prefer them too much. He did like old episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
- About 4-6 years old: This is the time of more Dr. Seuss, Bernstein Bears, Emman Reading series and miscellaneous similarly sized and themed books. We also began to introduce him to comic books. Classic comic books from the 1960s and 1970s. Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, The Beagle Boys, the Chipmunks, etc). We also started to take him to Barnes and Noble Booksellers starting about the age of five or so to let him pick out books. Adam's World Islamic videos began to make the rounds in our TV along with Jay Jay the Jet Plane. We built up some computer skills by using Blues Clues video games for PC such as Blues Art Time and such, which were very, very educational. He liked Blues Clues as a show too.
- About 6-9 years old: He was addicted to the comics and would read them all the time. We never used those crazy superhero comics - only the animal character ones. (Gold Key, Hanna Barbara, etc) His vocabulary expanded exponentially because the older comics are from a more literate time in America. Eeman Reading series books were still in use. We also introduced him to Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck, which fascinated him and gave us great opportunities to discuss wealth and greed in the world. Thomas the Tank Engine videos and books also made an appearance. Our kid never really liked going to the library, because the book selection was old and never rotated, so we continued the bookstore. We would sit for hours in the kids section reading the books on the carpet, and he would select 2-3 we could buy and read at home. He liked Ripley's Believe it or Not books and some science books with cool graphics. He also became addicted to Peanuts and Charlie Brown comics, along with Sad Sack, Hagar the Horrible, Denis the Menace, Curious George, Winnie the Pooh, etc...
- About 10-12 years old: we let him have free reign in the bookstore. He liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (at the low end) to Judy Blume books. Geronimo Stilson held his interest for a short time, but he seemed to prefer to move towards chapter books. He liked the Popeye comic anthologies, the golden book comic anthologies and the Pink Panther comics. I made a conscious effort to steer him away from Archie comics, due to their racy nature. For some reason he also started liking Charlie Brown videos. As for computer activities, he liked Spore and the simple, cutesy games on the Wii like Scribblenauts, etc. We did limit his video game time greatly, and kept 'thinking' games in his reach, rather than mindless ones. Sometimes we took him to the movies to see thoughtful movies, such as "The Bridge to Terabithia." There were not really any Islamically-themed books for him at this age, and curiously enough, I couldn't get him to read the adventure stories I wrote. He thought they were too close to 'dad' and by this age kids want to pull away from their parents. (Sniff. Sniff.)
- These days he reads books far above his grade level. Like most parents of Muslim kids raised here, it's tough to find 'Islamic' books he will read, but I keep plenty around and he knows they are important. He has read some books by Muslim authors, though only the mainstream ones that talk about immigrant issues. My hope is that when he is older and more mature, he will migrate to some of the more core 'religious' books. At least he will have the built-in understanding that reading is an option for his leisure time. He no longer plays any video games, which is good because our aim was to only use educational or cute things to get him computer skills. He sees movies sometimes, but he seeks out 'brainy' movies, alhumdulilah, considering the alternatives.
The older materials were produced when this country still had some standards of innocence for young people. You can buy the comics in lots on Ebay! If I had any other little children I would follow a similar progression. Inshallah, you will find what works for you.