Today I’m going to write here about my children and their books. I’ve once written about how in the Netherlands’ school the children are exposed a lot to books – story books. When I was young and went to school, we didn’t have many good story books except the books that were translated from other languages. There were some local folk story books but they were not yet widely available like now. And most of the time, story books belonged at home, not at school. We were not allowed to read them in our school days, only when we had holidays. Every school day our lives were filled with so many tasks and homeworks and readings using formal school books.
Story books in our daily life
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In The Netherlands, people use a different approach. The children have been exposed to story books since they were babies, and starting from time they enter the playgroup, every single day the teacher would read them stories from different books. And story books are still widely used until the end of elementary school, even to the level of high school.
My children don’t have many homeworks, they are even almost non-existent. As parents I almost don’t know what their lessons are at school because they never bring their school books back home. When the first lockdown in the Netherlands was applied about one year ago, there was the first time the teachers sent the books home with the kids – and I got to know they did have some school books!😅 Because every single day I send the children to school only with a lunch box, a fruit box and a water bottle 😀
I found out then that story books still play an important role in the lessons of my children at school. Basically the teachers want us to read, read, and read with the children, for the children, and encourage them to read by themselves when they are able to read. The teachers always say, we have to set a minimum time of 20 minutes to read with our children.
It was not really easy for me to grasp this concept. With my limited Dutch language back then and also limited knowledge of famous books/authors, I often felt lost in the space of what to choose and how to introduce the love for books for my children. Only when I got advice from one school principal, I started to force myself to read more to my children (yes I forced them too, to sit and listen), and slowly we got to know more authors, more story characters, more books series, etc. And soon after my children were able to tell me which one their favorites were, which story they wanted to read again.
One particular book we read A LOT (and I meant it by saying a lot, we read it almost every night for years!) is this book called ‘de Dertig Mooiste Verhalen van de Sprookjesverteller’ – the 30 most beautiful fairytale stories. The book was illustrated and re-wrote by The Tjong-Khing, a Chinese Indonesian illustrator based in the Netherlands❤❤. He presents many classical stories in this book, like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and many more along with beautiful pictures that enchanted my children to read more and more.
Wordless picture book
The second book drawn by The Tjong-King that came to our attention was a wordless picture book called ‘Picknick met taart’ or ‘Picnic with a cake’ in English. It was a summer period where the library together with some schools held a summer activity for parents and children who still needed some help in the Dutch language. Both my kids and I joined the program and there we were taught how to tell the story to the children, how to engage them in the book reading; by asking questions, asking them to draw their favorite character from the book, or by acting out the story together with them.
This Picknick book has no story written inside, just pictures from beginning to end, and we have to tell our own story based on the pictures, and together with the children we observed all the characters and what happened to each of them.
This second book opened another type of reading for me and the children. While we don’t do it as much, but I think the wordless picture book gives the children more rooms for imagination and chance to develop the story with their own words and even their own storyline.
My children’s experience getting to know books and loving them is very different compared to mine. Here in the Netherlands we are blessed with many good book options from our local libraries. Every child has a right to free library membership until they turn 18. Usually the membership allows one child to borrow 6 books for three weeks time. My son is a member of two libraries at the same time, so all together using his and my daughter’s account we usually have around 20 books at home every time. All free of charge, except when we are late in returning them back.
My children love going to the library. Not really for reading the books because we read mostly at home, but to play because the library often provides a small place for little children to play, some computers to play interactive games or to listen to audio books. The library regularly organized reading moments for children, where a volunteer would read one book out loud for them, and after that they got to do some activities like colouring or drawing.
The library also organized activities for adults, like learning Dutch for foreign residents, help to learn read and write for illiterate adults, help for using the internet and computers for senior citizens, and many more.
Living in the stories
Besides going to the library, my children love to go to the museums. One of our top 10 museums is ‘Kinderboekenmuseum’, located inside the building of the Royal Library in Den Haag. It is a museum dedicated to Dutch language children’s books. Inside the children can play and experience the story books with their characters, all zoomed in to their size. Playing with Nijntje, being the butterfly from ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, rowing the boat with Kikker, and many more.
It was always exciting moments for the children, although naturally what was less exciting for the parents. But thankfully we always got to eat delicious things afterwards because Den Haag is basically the heaven of Asian and Indonesian restaurants ❤❤
The journey to introduce my children to books and helping them loving reading was not entirely easy. I had to force myself to set a time reading for them, and the first months were exceptionally difficult because they were still very young and had to be taught to sit still listening to my story. But nevertheless it was worth the effort, because all of us learned a lot from our books reading.