Academic Nook: Raising a Reading Child by Prof. Stephen Acabado, PhD

We are again very privileged to have a highly successful and very-much-in-demand Anthropologist to visit us here in GatheringBooks. I bid a warm welcome to a good friend of mine, Asst. Prof. Stephen Acabado, PhD, or Boboy as he is known to his friends. Rather than share with us snippets from his groundbreaking research studies in anthropology, Boboy has chosen to talk about fatherhood and parenting. His piece, I believe, is important as it touches on a core issue among us educators and lovers of the written word: how exactly can we raise a reading child? So read on, folks, as I’m sure you’d learn a lot from our featured Academic.

Raising a Reading Child

Aside from good health, if there is one thing my wife and I are happy about, it is that we have raised a reading child. Our six-year old Jared loves books. He likes to look at books, read books, but most of all, he likes having us read to him. His bookshelves are stacked with the usual children’s books – remnants from when he was so much younger and could not demand what kinds of books to buy yet. Within the past two years though, he has significantly added his own book choices that include subjects on astronomy, geography, and yes, physics.

Some of Jared’s and Dad’s favorite books

A lot of people, including his teachers, have commented about Jared’s interests (at the age of five, he has decided to be an astrophysicist) and his reading skills. We were often asked if we had sent him to a special reading program that focuses on early childhood reading. Of course, this made us extremely proud of our little boy. Honestly, though, there was no special reading school. There were only us – mom and dad. Both my wife and I are big readers and we wanted to pass along the gift of books to our son. My wife constantly read to him from before he was born up until today. Their books evolved from Harry Potter, to Disney books, to bedtime story collections, to Jared’s choices of space, planets, and stars.

Jared at 5 months old with Mommy

Aside from reading to Jared, she also tried to teach him to read as early possible. After all, the best way Jared can enjoy books is if he can read his books, right? So, by the time Jared was six months, my wife has already introduced him to the alphabet – both song and letters. It was a classic example of learning through repetition. Everyday, they would look at the alphabet and before Jared was a year old, before he could even speak, he already recognized which letters go with what sounds. By the time Jared was three, he can already read sentences and enjoy several of his books by himself.

Jared at 7 months old with our featured Photographer this month, Jared's mommy, Blanche Berzamin-Acabado

As for me, I was taking my last core course at the University of Hawaii’s anthropology graduate program when Jared was born. I was registered that semester for a course that was to become the focus of my dissertation – the landscape approach in archaeology. Except for attending a weekly three-hour class, I was a full-time dad. So, I was writing and reading in between changing nappies.

Jared at 8 months old with Daddy

Even though I was then preoccupied with developing proposals for an NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant and a Henry Luce Dissertation Fellowship Award, I made it a point to read to Jared.  Most of the time, I would read archaeology articles to my days old son!  This lasted for a few months and I actually found out that reading aloud helped me better understand scientific articles.  So, Jared’s introduction to reading included his daddy’s archaeology materials. As a dad, I treasured our reading time. Of course, it worked both ways as I was studying while caring for my child.

When I got more comfortable being a first time dad (and when Jared was old enough), I started bringing him out to the zoo, taking him to my regular run around Waikiki, and of course, the beach!  What fascinated me most is Jared’s propensity to relate what we read to his observations and interests.  Since the zoo became one of his favorite places, he started spending a lot of time with his animal books. He also enjoyed reading books about transportation – books on airplanes, trains, boats, trucks, and cars. This was because he was used to riding on a bus and had experienced riding trains, airplanes, and boats. At a very early age, we already noticed that when he sees something that interests him, he would automatically search out a book on that particular interest.

Jared at 23 months old

As parents, we introduced him to a diverse collection of books. He was never forbidden to touch any of our books. It was lucky that Jared has always been careful with books. In fact, in six years, the only book he damaged was his Disney’s Cars. He ripped off a page because of excitement and not intentionally. He can look at any book he wanted and if he wanted us to read him a book, then we indulge him. While we bought him the usual kiddie books, we also bought him books that we deem will develop his interest in the sciences as well as the humanities.  We got him books about dinosaurs, Hawaiian myths, Philippine legends, but the turning point was getting him books about the Solar System. Today, he knows more about Stephen Hawking and the universe than an average person.

Jared showing a tourist girl from Wisconsin something on pbs kids (apple store Waikiki, 2008 dec)

Jared is turning seven next year. He is currently on the first grade.  His reading abilities and comprehension is beyond the average of his age group.  We credit this to exposing him to the habit of reading everyday.  Even now, he would read books on his own before going to sleep.

Jared showing another kid how to take pictures of flamingos (Honolulu Zoo, 2009 Jan)

We believe that exposing kids to reading is one of the most important responsibilities of parents.  Reading exposes children to information that are useful in their development, especially, if you are imparting citizenship to your child.   As Jared’s first grade teacher told his mom, Jared is the first 6-year old that she has met who is very politically-correct.

For some, reading might seem insignificant to a child’s development, but I personally believe that exposing children to the habit of reading provides them with opportunities that will be appreciated once they develop a sense of what they want to be.  As a case in point, I started reading about archaeology when I was about 5 years old, and voila, I chose anthropology as my career over an option to become an engineer.  Jared has expressed keen interest in astrophysics because of the books that he was exposed to, and we plan to cultivate this interest as well as expose him to other disciplines that books will provide.

Jared and dad at the bishop museum (dec 2009)

About the Author

I am an anthropological archaeologist interested in landscape and agricultural systems in Southeast Asia. I received my PhD in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii-Manoa and currently serves as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Guam.

My research focuses on the relationships between Southeast Asian agricultural complexes, self-organization, and the landscape. My investigations among the Ifugao of the northern Philippines integrates ethnography, ethnohistory, spatial analysis (through Geographic Information Systems), and archaeology. I am also engaged with the local community, through the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo – a local grassroots NGO whose main objective is to preserve the rice terraces and help document Ifugao intangible heritage) in developing conservation plans for their upland rice terraces. My long-term research goals include documenting Southeast East Asian agricultural systems and highlight the limitations of current intensification models to Southeast Asian production systems.


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  1. Vera

    Hi Sir Boboy! My friend Mayeen and I were in your Anthro class over a decade ago.

    I have a 22-month old nephew, he doesn’t read yet but he likes being read to, and looking at picture books. Too bad I don’t see him much :( I’ll share your story of raising a reading child to his parents though. :)

    1. Boboy

      Thanks Vera! I guess, you were in Anth 101, 1999 or 2000 — seems like another lifetime. :)

  2. Mbb

    Boboy spells out a great blueprint for encouraging a love of reading, which is really a love of learning, if done right. Some parents don’t like reading to their kids because they think the subject matter is boring, I guess. But what I found is that, like Boboy implies here, reading about things and linking them to the world around us, makes our kids sit up and take notice, we lead by example. Blanche and Boboy, our friend in HI, gave us a firsthand view about this, which now that my husband and I have a child, still guides me a little bit, so I enjoyed reading this very much!!! Bing, 22 mos., loves reading and constantly wants to read and talk about it, and see things..what a joy!

  3. Atoy

    Nice piece Boboy :)

  4. Kristina Torres

    Thank you for sharing. Reminded and reinforced the need to be active parents, to read to our children without feeling as if we’re being lectured to.

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