Friday, August 1, 2008

Reading to Toddlers

While single and teaching first grade (1992 - 1999), I spent virtually every extra penny on children's books. Not very smart, when you consider that I didn't own a home until I was 35. But passions are passions. When is the last time you chocolate lovers were able to go six months without chocolate? How about six days? LOL See what I mean?

Books are spilling out of our shelves, but 60% of them are paperback, and a lot of them are somewhat worn; my first graders took them home to read for homework (parent-child reading). I was required to give homework, but didn't agree with it, in theory, for first graders, so I just sent home books. I lost a lot of them, but that's okay. My school was predominately low-income, with roughly 90% of the students on state assistance. Believe me, they didn't have any books in their homes. Everyday life was stressful for their parents, and the public library wasn't exactly beckoning them. Many didn't have transportation.

It always angers me when I think of the vast amount of money spent on textbooks in public schools, and the meager amount spent on books for the classrooms. What a waste! No textbook ever turned a child on to reading! I never cracked a single textbook as a teacher, and my test scores were good. The children learned to read well. Nobody complained about my methods. And yet I never had any control over how per pupil money was spent, even though I was the one in the trenches. It's yet another reason why I chose to homeschool. Teachers have no decision-making power, and money is spent wastefully.

Teachers are more aggressive here in Ohio. I've seen the list of school supplies sent out for K. Parents have to spend a small fortune, so that the teachers won't have to spend their own money, I suppose. In addition, there is a tuition cost of $120/year here for kindergarten. I know it is higher in other places. It's amazing how things can be so different across the country. At my school we never asked for a single thing from parents, except that they read to/with their children, and help in the classroom if they had the time.

Gosh, sorry. Didn't mean to get on a soapbox about public education.

What I wanted to write about today is learning styles. I've been somewhat frustrated over the past year trying to get literature (simple board books - not Charlotte's Web - lol) into my Emily Rose, who is now nineteen months. She doesn't sit on my lap for more than a few minutes, and always takes the book from me and gets down after I've read the second page. I've sincerely tried to turn her on to books; I displayed them engagingly all over my living room, and have them in tubs in many other rooms. I love literature and reading, and wanted all my children to love it as well. It wasn't until I got over myself, and my desires, that I began to make breakthroughs.

Through prayer, I realized that I had to accept my children the way God made them. My task was to discern and celebrate the gifts he gave them, and train them to go in that direction. Part of that discovery process was evaluating what little Emily's learning style(s) might be. They are not too different from Daniel's, it turns out. She's very auditory and somewhat kinesthetic. As she matures, my impressions may change, but for now, I'm going with auditory and kinesthetic.

Regardless of what her learning styles might be, books are important in preparing her for a lifetime of learning. I've made headway with her in the past three months, and I wanted to share it, and pass on what I think are very good descriptions of the main learning styles. These will help you decide how best to spend your toy and book money, and give you a leg up when you go into your first, or next, parent conference.

The descriptions:
Source: Ken Carder & Sue LaRoy

Visual learners: They think in pictures, quickly converting everything they read, see, and hear into images in their mind. Most visual learners can sit still at their desks easily, focus for longer periods of time, and turn in neat, organized work. Visual learners are more comfortable learning from books, workbooks and textbooks.

Auditory learners: These kids don't do what visual learners seem to do naturally. Auditory learners learn best by listening - being read to, listening to audio books, discussing a topic one-on-one with a teacher or within a small group, singing and learning with music and rhythm.

Kinesthetic learners: These kids learn best through a hands-on approach, body movement, activities, arts and crafts, and manipulating objects.

I had a prejudice for many years against showing any type of video in the classroom. Knowing how many hours most kids spent in front of TV's, I just didn't think they needed more of the same in the classroom. But a colleague of mine got on my case once, after I declined her offer of a pilgrim video for use in my classroom. She was an aggressive woman, and immediately asked why I didn't want it. I knew, with her, I couldn't get away with just any answer, so I told her the real one. She let me know that in denying the children learning videos, I was totally ignoring the visual learning style, and that it was a disservice to the kids.

Well, I wasn't immediately sold, but I could see she probably had a point. I evolved a little over the years, and now I do let Daniel and Timothy watch educational TV, in the form of PBS or learning media from the local library. In fact, I would say our alphabet videos are the main reason Timmy knew his letters and sounds by twenty-four months. I knew early that he was a VERY strong visual learner. Increasingly, I see more and more evidence that I'm right on with that assumption. For example, I like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (PBS) for its rich social studies content. The boys watch it a couple times a week. Recently Timmy was watching a fleet of trucks while we were on the road in the van. This was a few weeks after a Mr. Rogers episode about the farm-to-store route our food takes. Timmy rattled off the entire process for me, spontaneously, while we were driving along that day. He had mastered all the objectives from this required kindergarten or first grade social studies unit, from SEEING it played out on Mr. Rogers. He had previously heard it all, through discussions at home, but it took actually SEEING it for him to completely grasp the concepts.

The No-TV-Until-Two rule is a good one, for the most part, on the part of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It exists mainly because of what kids are NOT doing when they are watching TV. They need to develop the muscles in their little hands and fingers in those early years, and TV viewing generally means they aren't doing enough manipulating of objects and playing to facilitate that. Also, interactive language with family members, and with make-believe toys, is more beneficial than TV language, in developing the necessary expressive (what they can say) and receptive (what they can understand) language skills that later lead to reading, writing, and speaking success.

Then there is the exercise concern. Kids need one to two hours of exercise a day, to develop their other muscle groups, and to help them internalize the idea that our bodies need maintenance; they don't run on autopilot.

Having said that, though, if you're dealing with a VERY strong visual learner, I don't necessarily think it is beneficial to deny TV until two. Moderation is a better guideline, at least for this visual group of kids. I think if kids are up for twelve hours a day, and they watch TV for a total of 60 to 90 minutes of that awake time, and it's not all at one sitting, then they are probably getting what they need in the other hours, in terms of muscle development, language development, and healthy play and body habits.

Back to Emily Rose now - sorry for that digression. I now read to her when she is in her crib, ahead of nap and bedtime. And when she is on the potty, or in the carseat. I give her one book to hold and manipulate (the kinesthetic angle), while I read aloud from another one. Since she's auditory, she learns from the book without having to look at it the whole time. Afterwards, I talk about the pictures with her, and then give her the book to manipulate, while I read another. It's working. I feel like she is getting a lot of literature now, compared to a few months ago. I had to let go of the cuddle part associated with parent-child reading. That has been hard, but I had to do the same early on with Daniel. Timmy loves to snuggle for books, thank God, so we do get to enjoy that with at least one. Hopefully, the next baby will be a snuggler as well. I've learned that you don't really know whether they're cuddly or not, until they start crawling and walking. Independence really brings out personality traits that were previously hidden.

Anyway, if you love books, but have a reluctant baby or toddler on your hands, don't give up. Observe carefully what activities and pastimes your child seems to enjoy, and use that knowledge to experiment a little with what works best. Reluctant or not, all kids need books for optimal development.

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