Getting your child off the iPad and on to reading.

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Page time must match screen time
As a rule of thumb, I believe that screen time, page time, and outdoor time all need to be in equal balance (by screen time, I mean time in front of the TV, tablet, or PC.)

Yes, your children can use the library any time, but it is like a gym: if it’s not nearby, we get lazy and forget about it. This is why I advise parents to keep books and magazines within their children’s reach; even a cursory 10 minute read before dinner can provide fresh insights and teach new words.

There are few magazines suitable for children and – to be brutally honest – many children’s magazines are also not suitable for them. One of the best choices that I’ve found is National Geographic, particularly the spin-offs for children. You’ll want them to read these because…

Young Singaporeans are very insular as a whole, and the child who is not has a tremendous advantage
Many young Singaporeans are unable to explain Glasnost, the Berlin Wall, or the Cultural Revolution. The common excuse is that this kind of history is not taught in schools.

But guess what: they are not formally taught in many foreign schools as well. And yet the youth from China, Europe, and the Americas seem to be better versed in global and historical events. They learn it through exposure: rather than playing Candy Crush or all day, these articles are often read to them and explained by adults.

If you can do this for your children, you will give them an enormous head start. They will be better versed in cultural nuances beyond their own, and later in life will find it easier to understand subjects like economics or literature.

You can use National Geographic Kids or Little Kids if you want your children to read on their own. But in my opinion, nothing beats having some parent-child interaction as your read them the more complex articles in National Geographic Magazine.

Build your child’s vocabulary and grasp of sentence structure
National Geographic writers have to break down complex topics. This involves the use of crucial style elements, such as the use of well-structured sentences, minimal use of adverbs, descriptions of places, etc.

You will want your child to internalise and grasp these same techniques. In particular, National Geographic writers are good at describing place features: canyons, valleys, creeks, castle ramparts, etc.

This is precisely what a lot of young students struggle with in creative writing. Most will lack the vocabulary to describe scenes, and I think National Geographic articles are the best “word bank.”

National Geographic articles are great for home-brewed tests
Instead of using comprehension passages from assessment books, use articles from National Geographic. The wide range of the subject matter makes for better “inference” or “hypothesis” questions (e.g. this article says that Peruvian tribes preferred hilly areas. Why do you think that is?)

As I mentioned in point 2, this is also a great vocabulary builder.

The visual images in National Geographic are great for continuous writing exercises. I have often used pictures of famous landmarks (the Pyramids of Giza, Neuschwanstein, the Louvre) as creative writing prompts.

I find National Geographic Traveller is better for continuous writing prompts though. It’s more visual, and there are usually references and links to follow up online.

Teach your child to have an opinion, and how to make reasonable arguments

National Geographic covers world events in a fairly timely manner. Many of these are not reported in our local media (like the recent story about vaccination being considered a Western plot in Pakistan.)

When I taught in Tanjong Katong Girls School in 2011, some of the best argumentative writing pieces I received were drawn from such prompts. It helps that the journalists already provide structured arguments (e.g. giving statistics, referencing materials, and supporting evidence), so students have an example to draw from.

This is useful for Secondary school students, and you should use National Geographic Magazine or National Geographic Traveller.

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– National Geographic Traveler, 6 issues per year at $40
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