Category Archives: Learning

Literacy – How it Begins

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“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oral language is the foundation of literacy. Within a few short months an infant’s cries become babbles, then, suddenly, talking! Soon, the young child understands the meaning of thousands of words. The acquisition of language happens at a remarkable speed. Every time a child learns something new, it becomes a part of his knowledge base. Since words are simply articulations of concepts and feelings, it is evident that a child’s vocabulary should be measured not by how many words he knows, but by what he knows about each word.

The more ideas that the child is exposed to, the deeper her understanding of certain terms: A child whose favorite book is Goodnight Moon understands the conception of the moon in a more visceral way once she has seen a bright full moonrise, or watched the moon disappear behind a cloud lined with silver. Thereafter, whenever the book is read to her, these images flood her mind allowing a richer appreciation of both the word moon and the familiar bedtime story.

One of the most giving words in the English language is the word, “Look!” When you invite a child to look, you give him the gift of your time, attention, and awareness. You joyfully invite him to join in a shared experience and with this simple word illustrate how communication bonds us. “Look! A dragonfly!” Fills the child’s mind with dragons, butterflies, fairies… “Can it breathe fire?” I have been asked. These opportunities to enlarge your child’s perspective happen daily, and books are a wonderful way to extend this rapid accumulation of knowledge. While the opportunity to see a rainbow doesn’t happen everyday, books, both fiction and non-fiction, can share the beautiful imagery of a rainbow with your child, reinforcing such basics as color recognition, but more importantly, encouraging him to see the wonder and glory of the natural world…and to look for rainbows everywhere.

Children are born scientists – curious and eager to explore. Knowledge is not a mere collection of facts, it is alive, pulsing-a process of discovery. Books provide an access to worlds that we cannot, otherwise, enter. From the bioluminescent depths of the sea to the mystical outer edges of the known universe, books satisfy the need and the love for communication that begins with the infant’s first cries.

Is an E-Book as Good for Your Child as a Traditional Book?

Mother and Child Reading Frederick Warren Freer 1849-1908
Mother and Child Reading
Frederick Warren Freer
1849-1908

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There are many delightful depictions of stories available electronically.But are they as worthwhile to your child as reading a traditional book? Childhood Development experts have not yet determined the answer to this question due to the fact that e-books have not been around long enough to collect the data necessary to come to a decision. The topic is of high interest to educators worldwide, and numerous studies have been conducted.

At best, reading to a child is not a static activity. Children feel warm, secure, and loved sitting next to a parent or grandparent with a book. They receive a not so subliminal message that books are valuable, and that so are they. This feeling can last a lifetime, conjuring pleasant and joyful memories associated with books.

Even very young children learn quickly how a book works; front to back, page to page, top to bottom. They see as they follow the story, that those strange shapes called letters have something to do with spoken words. More importantly, they are not distracted by the bells and whistles designed to enhance the e-book experience, they are free to comment, to ask questions, to ponder new ideas and make connections. The adult reader can extend these connections and make them personal. “Remember when we went to the zoo like Curious George?” “Was the lion scary?” “How many monkeys are in the tree?” “What colors are the flowers?” There are countless ways to extend even the simplest of books.

Only the parent knows the child’s most passionate interests. If your child is fascinated by anything from the solar system to insects, you can use this knowledge to make the book that you are reading a more interesting and individual experience….an illustration of a butterfly can lead to a conversation about metamorphosis, and, more importantly, it can lead you outside…to look for butterflies, to talk about what butterflies like…”Do they like snow or sunshine?” “Do they like gardens or city streets?” “Do you think that they would like to be caught and put in a box?” “Why?” Fiction leads naturally to non-fiction. There are a multitude of beautifully photographed scientific books for children. I like the ACORN series, published by Capstone Global Library, because it works equally well for toddlers as early readers.

E-books have their place, but use them sparingly. I see so many children sitting in shopping carts or at restaurants with their brightly colored devices. I’m sure that these children are mostly watching high quality applications. But, they are missing the grocery store! They are missing the myriad opportunities for language that present themselves outside of the home, starting with, simply, conversation.

Reading is not only about being entertained. A child can learn much about nutrition from seeing you read the ingredients of a cereal box. He can learn about choices, and how you used reading to make them. Most importantly, your child is present in the real world rather than a virtual one, absorbing, as children so readily do, the connections between the words they see everywhere, from street signs to menus, and how they are used to communicate important information.

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“I immediately felt a sense of nostalgia that I haven’t felt in a long time. The scent of physical books—the paper, the ink, the glue—can conjure up memories of a summer day spent reading on a beach, a fall afternoon in a coffee shop, or an overstuffed chair by a fireplace as rain patters on a windowsill.”

New York Times Tech Blogger – Nick Bilton-on wandering into a West Village bookstore.

Read for Health

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While no good parent would feed a child nothing but junk food, unfortunately, many parents do not pay attention to what their child is ingesting through the seemingly always accessible electronic media. We all know that entertainment has become increasingly violent. It is not as often addressed that it has become alarmingly superficial and mean spirited. If a child is being fed these messages for many hours a day it becomes a daunting task to undo the damage. The average American child uses some kind of electronic device for 7 hours a day while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour per day for 3 to 5 year olds, two hours for 6 to 18 year olds, and none at all for children under the age of two.

Studies show that immoderate use of television and video games lead to attention deficits, anxiety, and difficulty with concentration. It is very important that parents monitor the time and the quality of all electronics their child is engaged in. Take the time to determine if your child, through this media, is being encouraged to develop the kind of character traits that you hope she will begin to emulate.

Books offer a respite against the frenetic world of electronic entertainment. They introduce characters that are more than just vehicles designed for bouts of combat. Books slow your child down and increase his attention span. They nurture imagination and creativity and, unlike passive screen time, make demands on your child to think deeply. They are an important part of a healthy diet for your child’s mind.

How Fiction Helps a Child to Develop Empathy

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Anyone who has read to a child has noticed the range of emotions that cross the child’s face as he listens raptly to a story. Worldwide, scientific researchers in the field of neuroscience have uncovered irrefutable proof that those who read fiction regularly develop a deeper understanding of others, which leads to the ability to see situations from different points of view – the quality of empathy.

Of particular interest is a study conducted in 2010 by Dr. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University, using preschool children. He and his colleagues discovered a direct corollary between how much a child is read to and the child’s Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability of an individual to understand his or her own mental states, and to realize that others also have minds with perhaps different beliefs and desires. It is believed that ToM is an innate quality in human beings that generally takes many years of social interaction to develop. Having a keen sense of ToM is an abstract quality, and while children learn more readily with their senses, understand the concrete, and live in the present, reading about other’s thoughts and feelings helps a child to take the leap from the actual to the abstract.

We laugh at characters who are silly, but we also feel concern for characters who are sad, lonely, afraid, or hurt. A child, while reading, “practices” these feelings, acquiring an early knowledge of compassion. In a book such as The Rainbow Fish, children are exposed to the idea of sharing versus not sharing. How does it make you feel when you share? When someone shares with you? When someone doesn’t share with you? Books can evoke powerful emotions that children can safely and securely contend with, creating a sensitivity to emotional nuance often missed in the heat of the argument over whose turn it is.

Stories help a child to learn that sad feelings can be soothed, that happy feelings can be shared, and that these feelings are universal. We all celebrate, over and over again as we reread, that Harold, wielding only a purple crayon, will figure out all by himself how to get home safely, that the little blue engine will make it up and over the hill, and that wicked witches can be defeated by little girls in sparkly shoes.

Words Connect Us

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The phrase “Use your words” in relation to encouraging children to express themselves has been around long enough to have become an iconic idiom. Normally it is used in conjunction with reminding a child that hitting, biting, throwing one’s self on the floor, etc….are not effective ways to communicate. But have you ever thought about saying to a child who is behaving properly,“Use your words”?

This blog is about the importance of establishing a love of literature early in life and the connection that reading has to the developing mind. Curiosity, creative thinking, imagination, attention span, and even social skills are all heightened through early exposure to books. Words connect us. Conversations, whether with a 3 year old or an 80 year old, inspire us and help us to see from different perspectives.

After all, what are books if not voices on the page…voices communicating stories to anyone who cares to listen. The author’s voice may tell stories of fairies, baby animals, princesses, dragon fighting, how to make a kite, or what lives under the sea…whether fiction or non-fiction, a book explores new thoughts that expand the heart as well as the mind.

All day long children are bombarded with peer pressure, expectations to perform, to obey, to excel, to be quiet when they feel like talking, to talk when they feel like being quiet. They are enticed with glossy packaging and advertisements designed to convince them that happiness lies in material possessions. Reading is free of all that. A book takes a child to a simpler, less intrusive  world. It sets their mind to dreaming and makes them smart.

What a beautiful gift to give a child, and it is as simple as using your words.