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Language and Literacy Series: Reclaiming the Joy of Reading in the Age of Distraction

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for The Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University. This piece was originally published on HMH’s blog

My own love of reading was cultivated in an era with fewer distractions than today. At that time, all of our play was physical and concrete – we played with hands-on toys and games, we rode bicycles and played outside (which held opportunities for all sorts of mischief). I recall putting on plays, having visceral experiences with art supplies, some television, and boys readinglots of books. Reading offered both privacy and companionship, an opportunity to focus and contemplate, but also indulge the imagination.

I realize now that there was a special kind of innocence wrapped up in these memories. During my own childhood, distraction was the murmur of the radio or television, or the sight of something fleeting that simply “caught your eye.” Things are different today. Adults and children are caught in a blizzard of digital noise streaming from various devices that constantly compete for our attention, disrupting our focus. There is no doubt that this new reality has impacted the way we read and engage with books.

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist best known for spotlighting emotional intelligence, has noted that the deluge of distractions can have far-reaching effects. Speaking to KQED’s Forum, he explained “because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, [and] we have more distractions than ever before, we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention.”

According to Goleman, the neural circuitry that registers attention in the prefrontal cortex of the brain is identical to the circuits that govern executive functioning, which includes the ability to manage distressing emotions and to feel empathy.

Medical research has identified clinical conditions that may interfere with a child’s ability to focus, but to tackle real-world distractions, there are things we can do at home and in the classroom to minimize the noise and create an environment conducive to experiencing the magic of reading.

With this in mind, what can we do to foster a love of reading in our children that stems simply from the sheer pleasure and joy that a great story provides?

Here are five easy ways to create a distraction-free reading zone for kids.

  1. Create a Dedicated Reading Space: Create a reading environment free of clutter. The fewer objects that can capture your child’s attention, the better.
  2. Get Comfy: Have a comfortable chair or cushion for children and adult readers to sit on. The physical comfort helps kids relax their bodies, which in turn facilitates attention and focus.
  3. Start a Reading Ritual: Ritualize the opportunity to read. For very young children, the ritual of a bedtime story is the enchanting portico that leads to more reading. Consecrating the event early on acknowledges that reading time is special, even as children get older and read on their own. Having a special hat to wear or a pillow to sit on just for reading designates that reading time is distinct from other activities.
  4. Take Time to Share: Give your child ample opportunity to share what they have read. Remember, a joy shared is doubled! Ask some simple questions about your child’s reading experience to encourage engagement: Who was your favorite character? What did you like about the story? How did the book make you feel?
  5. Be a Reading Role Model: Model a love of reading. Whether you show your kids the stack of books on your night table, or point out how much you love to read the newspaper with your morning coffee, highlighting the ways that reading enriches your life will help them understand the importance and enjoyment of literacy.

It is important for adults to find some quiet space amidst the distractions as well. I heard a story the other day that offered a vivid reminder of this concept: A four-year-old girl learned how to make the color green in school, mixing yellow and blue paints to create a series of green hues. With carbonated excitement, she couldn’t wait to show her father. But when he came home, he was concentrating on his cell phone. He finished a call and then began to text. The child’s efforts to capture his attention were futile until, with her art work in one hand, she gave a good, hard tug on the leg of his pants. Her father then looked down and said, “Sara, what are you doing down there?” To which she replied, “Daddy, I live down here.”

To create an environment that is conducive to concentration, young children need our undivided attention. By finding and nurturing those simple moments of focus, we can enjoy “living” in our children’s worlds and be present as they share in ours.

Language and Literacy Series: What Reading Looks Like Together

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for The Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.  This piece was originally published on HMH’s blog.

Reading TogetherOne of my favorite sayings is “If you take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.”  I can think of no other moment more precious and invaluable to ensuring a strong foundation than reading with a child – whether in the classroom, at home or in the library.

Language and literacy is the foundation for all learning. It’s a major portal through which the other learning domains unfold including math, science, social studies, creative expression, proficiency with technology, social /emotional development, 21st century skills, executive functioning and healthy, physical development.

We know that children acquire early, emergent literacy skills through various verbal and non-verbal forms. Books, in both print and digital form, have a well-earned and beloved role to play in supporting early literacy. They offer a unique progression of experiences.

While digital content brings its own unique benefits in terms of interaction and engagement, exposing young children to real books —so they have a full tactile and sensory experience of books — is always a good idea. Letting young children spend time alone with books, turning the pages and having an “up close and personal” involvement with the pictures and the letters on the page can stimulate their imagination and set the stage for self-driven exploration.

Reading books to children is equally valuable and establishes an especially positive and meaningful relationship as you read together. That meaningful relationship is the seedbed upon which a child’s confidence can flourish.

Interactive reading takes this a step further. Though it sounds like a tech term, it doesn’t have to be. It’s simply a style of reading with children that uses all elements of the book as a springboard for fuller exploration. That exploration might lead you to an app, online or real-time activity. For example, a story about baking cookies could lead to actual cookie baking; a story about finding a treasure could lead to drawing a treasure map.

Editor and author Jason Boog, is a real champion of interactive reading. Here he shares a list of print books provided by the American Library Association that are rich with opportunities for interactive reading.

Below are just a few examples of some great interactive reading books that support important skill development for early learners to get you started:big-green-monster

Social Emotional Development:

  • “Go Away Big Green Monster” by Ed Emberly

This book helps children unpack their fear of the unknown by literally taking it apart one page at a time.

Executive Function:give-a-mouse-a-cookie

  • “If You Give A Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff

There is no better way to understand process, consequences, and cause and effect than these delightful books.

  • “Curious George Saves His Pennies” by H.A. Reycg-saves-pennies

Helping young children learn and understand self-regulation and judgment are essential skills for lifelong success. Curious George explores through playful  trial-and-error exploration.

21st Century Skills:

  • “Jumanji” by Chris Van Allsburgjumanji

Innovation, creative problem solving, and collaboration are demonstrated through this amazing adventure where the world changes all the time.

Social Studies:

  • “Ultimate Weird But True,” National Geographicultimate-weird-but-true

Packed with tons of really cool, wacky facts that get little kids totally excited and engaged about the real world.

Over the next several weeks I look forward to discussing the power of language and literacy from some unusual points of view. What does gesture, behavior modeling, sound and vocabulary have to do with learning critical skills? How do you foster a love of reading with so many distractions? How do you use ebooks and other digital media and tools effectively to inspire a love of language and words? I will also provide ideas, recommendations and tips on ways to engage young learners.

Enjoy!

Five Simple Ways to Raise a Reader

Child-ReadingIt’s been said that reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Reading strengthens children’s analytical thinking skills, improves their memories and expands their vocabulary. Reading is also an excellent way to reduce stress. But how do you raise a reader? Here’s how:

1. Establish a story time. Ask your child to pick out a book and read it to him while he snuggles with you on the couch. Make time every day to read an age-appropriate book to him. He will remember the time you spent together even if he forgets the stories. 

2. Share your faves. Have favorite books from your childhood? Pick out a few, read them to your child and see if any of them click. She might not love all of them, but chances are that she will probably go wild for some of them. After all, books like Green Eggs and Ham and Curious George are classics for a reason.

3. Explore an author’s works. Did your child love Where the Wild Things Are and Chicken Soup with Rice? Find Maurice Sendak’s other books and read them to him. If you aren’t familiar with the author’s other works, you can ask your local librarian or do some research on the Internet to find additional titles.

4. Let one passion inspire another. Find books that speak to your child’s interests. Does she like animals? Check out a Berenstain Bears book from the local library. Is your little one into trucks? Get some books about construction. Got a baseball fan?  Well, you get the idea.

5. Lead by example. Encourage your child to be a voracious reader by showing him that you are a voracious reader. Planning weekly trips to the library with him, taking him to your local bookstore on a regular basis and designating a special story time will show him that you make reading a priority. 

Books for Creating Excitement and Confidence about Starting Kindergarten

The transition to kindergarten can be scary for children, even if they have been to play groups and preschool.  If your child will continue to attend The Goddard School®, the transition may be easier than the transition to public school or another private kindergarten program.  However, the transition from pre-k to kindergarten is still a significant step. Reading books to your child about the transition can help ease any anxiety about starting kindergarten. The sampling of books below touch on the challenges children and their parents face when children move on to kindergarten.

The Night before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing and Julie Durrel

This book is a twist on The Night before Christmas poem and shows children the fun of getting ready for kindergarten by packing supplies for school, setting their clothes out for the first day and taking first-day pictures.  This book also shows children excitedly exploring their classroom for the first time.

Kindergarten, Here I Come! by D.J. Steinberg

This is a great, poetic book illustrating some of the milestones children face as kindergarteners, including first-day nerves, new friendships, the experience of losing a tooth and hundredth-day celebrations.

Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis

This book addresses a child’s typical concerns about starting kindergarten.  With the help of a familiar face and fun learning experiences, the main character quickly learns to embrace kindergarten.

Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee and Harry Bliss (illustrator)

This story explains that children entering kindergarten don’t need to know everything on the first day. The main character fears she will be the only one who doesn’t know how to tie her shoes. She later realizes that she isn’t alone; other classmates are in the same boat.

The Twelve Days of Kindergarten: A Counting Book by Deborah Lee Rose and Carey Armstrong-Ellis

This rhyming story illustrates the experience of starting kindergarten and provides opportunities for children to work on skills that are necessary for school, like counting.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and Geoff Stevenson (illustrator)

Addressing the subject of separation anxiety, this story teaches children that they are never really alone.  This book is also recommended for toddlers and preschoolers.  It tells children that those we love stay with us through life’s challenges and experiences.

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff (illustrator)

This book shows what teachers may do to prepare their classrooms for the children and shares the excitement of starting a new year and meeting new faces.  Offering an opportunity to study the alphabet and rhyming words, this book provides a fun, educational read for children heading to kindergarten.

Sources:
mom.me: 10 Books to Get Kids Excited for Kindergarten
cozi: 10 Books Perfect for New Kindergarteners

Five Ways to Prevent “Summer Slide”

Summer is an awesome time of year. It’s full of family get-togethers, trips to the pool and vacations. With all that awesomeness, though, sometimes learning falls by the wayside. Research has shown that some children experience summer learning loss, also known as “summer slide” because their minds aren’t as engaged as they are during the school year. You can help to keep your child’s brain active and prevent summer slide with these five fun learning activities:

  1. Read, read, read. Read to your child or encourage him to read for twenty minutes every day. Taking a trip to the library on hot, humid or rainy days can be fun, too. Also, listening to audio books is great during car trips.
  2. Learn a new word every week. Make this a game by seeing who can use the new word the most times throughout the week. You can even make a scoreboard and stick it on the fridge. Encourage your child to look through a picture dictionary to pick out new words.
  3. Get cooking. Cooking with your child is a fun way to teach your child math and reading skills as well as how to follow instructions. Look through a cookbook with your little one, and ask him what he would like to make.
  4. Hit the road. Take a field trip to a museum, a zoo or an aquarium. Before you go, read a book with your child about the sights at your destination. When you return, you and your child can write a journal entry about your adventures.
  5. Go outside. Embrace the nice weather and go on a hike, nature walk or bike ride. Pack a magnifying glass and/or binoculars, and take breaks along the way to take a closer look at things. You and your little one can even take notes on interesting objects or animals and look up more information about them online or in an encyclopedia when you get home.

What Is STEM?

 

The Goddard SchoolSTEM is the acronym for the subjects science, technology, engineering and math. According to Dr. Sherri Killins at the Boston Children’s Museum, “What STEM does is give a label to what you (parents and educators) are already doing… helping children to explore, observe, ask questions, predict, integrate their learning.”

At The Goddard School®, we encourage children to use their inquisitive natures to explore, build and question. Through hands-on activities, children learn to ask questions, draw upon their existing knowledge, design experiments, make predictions about what might happen and draw conclusions, which is the scientific process. Lessons and play use math and technology every day. Children are natural engineers, and we encourage their creativity in our block, art and outside play areas.  

“There are no greater natural scientists and engineers then young children. Inquisitive learners who learn STEM concepts through play. Once again, it comes down to letting the children play!” – J. D. Chesloff, 2012, Chair of the Board of Education and Care, State of Massachusetts

E-Books: Is Technology Helping Children to Read?

When our fifth-grader recently announced he was going downstairs to curl up with his mother’s old Kindle, I was stopped in my tracks by a delicious memory from five years ago, when my family used to curl up together with print books for a reading hour each Sunday night before bed. Today, that may seem like nostalgia.  Half of American families own tablets, and many parents are wondering if co-reading e-books with children is a good thing.

Reading - Teacher & Girl BTen years ago, this was not a dilemma. Most parents thought that computers, laptops and DVD players were convenient for entertainment, but only a minority believed that technology was going to play a significant and positive role in their young children’s education at home or in school. However, with the increase in smartphone and tablet use during the last decade, most parents are now comfortable with digital learning. Still, many parents who are comfortable with the benefits of digital gaming and interactive problem-solving are less enthusiastic about using devices to help their children learn to read.

Parents highly cherish children’s ability to read, as they should. Our families and our communities suffer if children fail to master reading by the third grade. How can parents use digital tools to help their children develop literacy skills?

Parents value co-reading because it promotes interactive storytelling, enriches children’s vocabularies and stimulates parent-child conversations, but co-reading e-books may or may not provide the same benefits. Two recent Cooney Center QuickReports from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Comparing Parent-Child Co-reading on Print, Basic and Enhanced E-book Platforms (Chiong, Ree, Takeuchi & Erickson, 2012) and Co-reading with Children on iPads: Parents’ Perceptions and Practices (Vaala & Takeuchi, 2012) had three significant findings:

  1. Print and basic e-books both elicited similar levels of content-related actions like pointing, labeling and talking about the story’s content. Enhanced e-books, however, prompted more non-content-related actions like pushing the parent’s hand away or talking about the device, with measurably less vocabulary growth and less pre-reading skill building. While enhanced e-books appeal to children, they don’t enrich the essential parent-child conversation about content that strengthens literacy skills as much as print books or basic e-books do (Chiong et al., 2012).
  2. Overall, print books and basic e-books were found to be better for co-reading between a parent and a child than either e-book platform. Neither kind of e-book supports story-focused conversation and story comprehension as well as print books do (Chiong et al., 2012).
  3. The majority of parents who co-read e-books on iPads prefer co-reading print books, unless they are traveling or commuting with their child. They feel that e-book co-reading is too difficult and they do not want their young children to have too much screen time (Vaala & Takeuchi, 2012).

 

To summarize, designers of enhanced e-books need to create e-books with co-reading-related activities and include fewer games and videos (Chiong et al., 2012). Parents seem to prefer print books, but they will use e-books for strengthening literacy and pre-literacy skills when they travel (Vaala & Takeuchi, 2012). We have a lot more to learn about this subject, so don’t recycle your print library yet.

References

Chiong, C., Ree, J., Takeuchi, L. & Erickson, I. (Spring 2012). Print books vs. e-books: Comparing parent-child co-reading on print, basic and enhanced e-book platforms. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Retrieved from http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/upload_kits/jgcc_ebooks_quickreport.pdf

Vaala, S. & Takeuchi, L. (Summer 2012). Parent co-reading survey: Co-reading with children on iPads: Parents’ perceptions and practices. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Retrieved from http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/upload_kits/jgcc_parentsurvey_quickreport_final.pdf

 

Interest Your Children in Reading

Reading - Teacher & Girl BConvincing your children to read can be a difficult task, especially when television and video games are so accessible. How, in a world so focused on technology, can we encourage children to step away from the remote and pick up a book?

  • You’ve heard the phrase ‘monkey see, monkey do.’ In order to change your child’s habits, you also have to focus on your own. If you’re spending a lot of time in front of the television and computer screen, your children will follow your example. The same is true about reading, so it’s important to set aside certain times during the day for reading so your children will start getting in the habit of doing the same.
  • Reading out loud can introduce your children to storytelling and help your children learn to enjoy reading. Creating funny voices for characters or acting scenes out can make reading a fun and interactive experience for children.
  • If your family has a lot of interesting stories, create your own family history book.  This may become an interesting family artifact.

How do you make reading fun?

10 Tips for Raising a Book Lover

Reading - Teacher & Girl A

1.  Provide a wide selection of age-appropriate books. Don’t limit books to your child’s play space. Consider making some available in their bedroom, on the lower shelf of a “grown-up” book shelf, on the coffee table, etc. Be sure to place the books within their reach.

2.  Be sure your child has a cozy reading spot. Consider making an area in the family room or playroom with a comfy cushion or child-sized chair, stuffed animals and a big basket of books to choose from!

3. Consider serving snacks or meals that relate to the stories your child enjoys. Add just a drop or two of green food coloring into scrambled eggs and you could serve green eggs and ham for breakfast!

4.  Read to your child at every stage. Some parents begin reading to their child before they are even born!

5.  It’s never too late to start a reading routine with your child. Set a goal of reading at least one book per day with your child–even on the busiest of days!

6.  Include a bedtime story as part of your everyday routine. But…

7.  Don’t limit reading to bedtime. Cuddle up and enjoy giggling with your child over a funny book.

8.  If your child has a tough time sitting still for story time, encourage her to color or manipulate play dough while you read the story.

9.  Point to the words as you read. This helps children start to associate sounds with letters.

10.  Ask your child questions as you read. “How do you think that made her feel?” “What color do you think he will choose?” Be sure to also answer your child’s questions as you go along.

Word Wonderland

Snuggle up with your little one and share in the adventures of a good book! Children of all ages will benefit from this quality time with you and their imaginations will soar with every turn of the page.

Stick to simple board books with one picture per page and contrasting colors for the youngest readers (Infant to One Year). Make exaggerated faces to express emotion, change your voice, describe everything and point to the items on each page as you make your way through the book. Watch your child for clues as to what part of the book is his/her favorite.

As children grow, so can their stories. Progressively move to longer books and allow your child to interact by pointing to items, turning the pages and even reading some themselves, if developmentally appropriate. Continue to make faces and change your voice for characters or make sounds for objects and animals. If they’re still learning to sound out words, help them along by annunciating sounds in a normal tone and prompting them to repeat after you.

Together, you and your child can learn, laugh and create fond memories as you beat the winter blues, book after book.

Some great winter books to check out: Biscuit’s Snowy Day by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Welcome Winter by Jill Ackerman, Winter Friends by Carl R. Sams and Jean Stoick and Winter by Gerda Muller.