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Feed The Reading Beast

August 9, 2019

Summer break, we are so excited in the first week. We make plans and are full of good intentions, we think, “yes, this is the time to invest, I shall practice marvellous parenting. I will be engaged, positive, imaginative. I’ll encourage crafts, sports, and activities like reading”. And we do, right up to the point where we run out of steam.

After the first bloom of enthusiasm, the holiday seems likely to descend into sibling teasing, boredom, and hours and hours of screen time in darkened rooms. Once this pattern is established guilt and self recrimination will set in. The guilt, that I imagine many of us will soon be marinating in, will have resulted from the lack of boundaries around gaming and screen time. Outbursts of frustration and fury as the young people in the house sink deeper into the bedroom pit are ahead. The fetid fug of rooms where half eaten sandwiches and apple cores lurk become smell of summer. The devil makes work for idle hands. In many houses the devils name is Gaming, once we have welcomed him in, it is very hard to kick him out.

 

So how on earth do we achieve our aspiration of encouraging summer creativity, and in particular, encourage reading for fun? I know the answer that works for us; feed the beast. The best way to change behaviours is to find the thing that they love and if possible find a way to enjoy it and work with it together. A radical thought, but it does contribute to everyone’s mental wellbeing.

In the world of gaming, there are many marketing spin offs and merchandise options. Minecraft has an abundance of magazines and manuals on subjects ranging from combat to redstone contraptions. If you choose to embrace this challenge you are in for an interesting time. Last summer I found myself sliding into a surreal conversation about how to best construct a Nordic hall. We progressed to the best structural approach to make a suspension bridge. Fortunately, the U. K’s Ironbridge museums are not too far away my home, so I was able to feed the beast with a trip to Enginuity to look at ideas for materials and structures. I even found myself engaging intently on the value of building a T Flip-Flop and the merits of piston doors, knowledge I’d never expect to acquire.

 

My trips and activities plan continued to evolve. From manuals we moved to menus. If he can craft a pig from furnace to pantry, he should be able to negotiate a real world looking and cooking experience. I planned a day with time spent with a real pig, sheep, and chickens. We visited a farm shop and asked the butcher about primal meat cuts. We collected our pork mince and planned our dinner of homemade hamburgers on the way home. In Minecraft, making cake is a technically challenging procedure. It requires many components including eggs, wheat, sugar, and milk. They are combined and crafted with the added benefit of not putting on any weight IRL, which I am reliably informed means “in real life”. This may be so, but cakes in the real world are wonderful. So many recipe choices, decorating options, packaging possibilities, and then the trips out to deliver cakes to friends and family. A whole afternoon of fun inspired from reading a recipe book, followed by real cake eaten virtuously. 

My how-to advice for this summer is this. Think about the hook, feed the passion, and engage with the subject. The most important thing is spending time talking, sharing, and listening. Reading can be sandwiched into activities inspired by current interests. You may have to move out of your comfort zone and into theirs, but the result will be that you all will have much more fun. I hope you all have a wonderful summer holiday.

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