Monday, June 15, 2015

How To Read To Your Kids

by R.S. Mellette

A recent critic of Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand stated that her son kept having to ask questions about what was in the book. She said this like it was a bad thing, which got me to thinking about my childhood.
I have a distinct memory from first or second grade of me flipping the blades of my little toy helicopter in front of the TV. I watched as the direction of blades seemed to go forward, stop, then go backward. I asked my Dad about it. That must have been around five or six in the evening. By eleven o'clock, he had explained stroboscopic effect, the speed of light and sound, Einstein's theory of relativity, and a myriad of other subjects that might bore me today, but which I found fascinating then.
Another time, I asked what the stars are, and where they go during the day. He explained that the stars are just like the sun, only bigger, and some of them might have died out millions of years in the past. That led to another long series of questions and answers, ending with our living room blacked out, a solar system of a globe, a tennis ball, a basketball and a flashlight for the sun.
Later, when I was an adult, a friend of mine complained that her son asked too many questions. "He asked me why the sky is blue, and where the stars go during the day. I don't know any of this stuff, so I just tell him not to worry about it."
That broke my heart.
Each question a kid asks is a spark that can start a fire of learning. Not the kind of learning that is force-fed in schools, but the kind that comes from feeding a hunger for knowledge. Everyone likes to talk about "teachable moments," but there is none better than when a kid asks "why?" or "where?" or "how?".
How to read to your kids? When they ask a question, stop reading. Answer their question. That will lead to more questions. Answer them. You might not get back to the book until the next day. That's fine. It's a book, it'll wait. That's what books do.
In this day and age, there is no excuse for not answering a kid's questions. Sure, Wikipedia might not be the best source for a master's thesis, but it'll get you started.
As for the mom on Amazon with Billy Bobble; it's possible she answered every one of her son's questions, and he just got bored and walked away. That's fine. Not everyone is going to like my book.
But I do take pride in the fact that… I made him ask.
R.S. Mellette's new book is Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand. He is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the anthologies Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge.