27 June 2013

Interesting Stuff

Isaac and I have been visiting family in Florida this week.  Since I am separated from my treadmill for a few days I have been braving the Florida humidity to take my daily walks.  And since I cannot read while I walk around my mother's neighborhood like I can when I am on my treadmill in our family room, I have been listening to podcasts.   I thought I would share a couple I thought were interesting and sort of fit with my theme.

The first one is the more intellectual of the two.  It is a Lexicon Valley podcast from Slate titled "How to Raise Verbal Children."  The hosts, Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo, talk about the research that was published in the book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children by Betty Hart and Todd Risley.  In a nutshell, the research which was gathered over a decade long study of children from varying socio-economic backgrounds shows that children who are exposed to more and better quality language interactions as infants and toddlers have an advantage over children who are not.  And, as can be surmised, the children who have the advantage are from the better educated families in the higher socio-economic strata.  Not surprising results if you are a teacher, or anyone with common sense.  What was surprising about the research was that programs like Head Start were not effective in bridging the educational gap for poor children because by the time the children were four years old the differences in the language they had been exposed to was so distinct that the gulf was almost impossible to breach.

The research, and thus the conversation between the hosts, focused on verbal language and conversations that children engaged in before they were 4 years old.  Books and reading were never mentioned, but I would put forth that language development and how parents talk to children goes hand in hand with reading to children.  So just as it is important in a child's development to be talked to and engaged in positive conversation, it is also important to be read to and exposed to a variety of literature during those same years.  When they are read to, children are listening to language, hearing new words, and working on comprehension skills just as they are when they are listening to a conversation.

Not all of the answers to finding ways to give every child an equal footing when they enter the doors to their kindergarten classrooms can be found in one research study.  But this one is interesting.  And talking to and reading with our children can never hurt.

The second podcast that I wanted to share is a Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast from How Stuff Works titled "The Boys of Summer: The Man Behind Wonder Woman."  The hosts Cristen Conger and Molly Edmonds highlight William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman.  Their conversation looks at his reasons for creating the character and his personal brand of feminism, as well as the different views of women the character has portrayed since her emergence in the 1940's.  Wonder Woman does not have a large presence in our house outside Justice League cartoons.  I don't know much about her other than the Lynda Carter TV show I watched as a child.  But the history behind her creation and the evolution of her character is interesting.  Isaac and I may be reading some Wonder Woman comics this summer.

26 June 2013

Good Choices

My deal with Isaac at school book fairs is that he gets to pick out two books and I get to pick out two books.  Then of course Matt will pick out books and we will buy books for Isaac's teacher and then I may find something else that I can't pass up, so we rarely end up with just four books.  But the initial effort to economize is there.

The deal really stems from an insistence on my part that we buy something with some literary value, rather than the tv-character driven books that the book fair company supplies in abundance or a book that lists the 10 grossest things ever seen. 

At our spring book fair Isaac made some pretty good, and surprising, choices.  As I noted already, he is intent on reading chapter books, so unless the book had pictures of a grotesquely tattooed Ripley's-Believe-It-Or-Not exhibit he was only interested in novels.  A book that he chose as one of his two to purchase was How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor.  I know that he initially picked it up because the title was intriguing.  Don't most of us do that, unless it is the cover art that captures our attention first?  So I made him read the summary on the back cover before making his final decision.  Even after perusing the book fair every morning before school he decided that he wanted that book.

How to Steal a Dog is set in a small North Carolina town.  The main character is Georgina Hayes. She, her younger brother Toby and their mother live in their car after their father left them and they lost their apartment.  Georgina is angry with her father and her mother and desperate to hide the situation her family is in from her friends and teachers.  After seeing a reward sign for a lost dog, Georgina hatches a plan to steal a well-loved dog owned by a rich family, certain that the owner will immediately offer a reward, which she and her brother will claim allowing her family to afford an apartment and again have a real home.  Of course, things do not go as she expects and Georgina is forced to reconsider her plan.  In the end, Georgina's family gets a home, though her efforts to earn reward money fall through.  It is not a simple happy ending -- the family still has struggles ahead -- but it is hopeful. 

As we were reading I wondered how Isaac was following the story and if he was even interested.  Reading out loud to an active seven-year-old is often an exercise in patience for me.  He is rarely still and has a habit of unconsciously humming (his teacher loved that this year).  We wouldn't read the book each night, but every few evenings he would ask to return to it.  He was interested in finding out how the characters solved their problems and concerned about what would happen in the end.  We talked about the choices the characters made and the moments of grace that they experienced. 

I read the end of the book with tears in my eyes and clogging my throat.  Isaac usually looks at me like I am crazy when I do that.  This time he seemed more sympathetic, though there was no way he was going to cry over a story.  I think he did a pretty good job of picking out a book. 

25 June 2013

Evolving and Adjusting

I haven't been posting this year about what we are reading because how we read with Isaac has changed so much.  Second grade is a transformative year for many students as they become better readers.  They begin to be able to read "in their heads" rather than having to read out loud.  This helps them become more independent readers and they move into chapter books, leaving behind picture books and read-alouds or shared readings.  As a school librarian I get frustrated by the shift from picture books to chapter books so early in childrens' reading development.  I won't go into the reasons I think it happens -- but I get concerned that they are missing out on wonderful literature because they are "supposed" to be reading "harder" books. 

It has been difficult for me to adjust to the fact that Isaac doesn't need me to read to him anymore.  He can sit and read to himself for the 20 minutes that he is supposed to be reading each night.  And, while I like reading chapter books to him, it is just not the same as sharing a picture book and looking over the illustrations together.  He is outgrowing some of my favorite authors/illustrators and that makes me sad.

Now I would be the first to argue that you never outgrow a well written and illustrated picture book.  But it is hard sometimes to convince a seven-year-old boy of that.  All of this is not to say that we do not read with Isaac anymore or that he does not like being read to.  We still have an (almost) nightly storytime.  Matt may read Farside or Calvin and Hobbes with him as he has done for years or they may read through Isaac's latest issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids.  I may read a chapter or two from a novel or force him to sit through a picture book that I choose.  And there are rare occasions when he pulls a picture book off of the shelf.  It is still an important ritual and time to share, but our time reading together, as things tend to do, is evolving as time moves on. 

There have been some moments in the midst of this change that I remember fondly, like the drive to Charlotte in November that Isaac spent reading a Captain Underpants book.  He read for almost the entire hour and a half trip.  And it was a real book, not an e-book on his Kindle.  And I am thankful that his reading is at a level that has him prepared for 3rd Grade.  Next year is a pivotal year for him educationally and there are many scary studies that have determined that students who are not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd Grade find it almost impossible to catch up later.  I am also thankful that Isaac's interests are becoming more defined and he feels comfortable asserting his likes and dislikes.  Unfortunately, his literary likes and dislikes are just about the opposite of mine, which makes finding something that we both want to read a bit difficult.

So what has Isaac been reading?  I mentioned Captain Underpants.  And, of course, he is reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  He likes graphic novels and has read some of the Bone and Sardines series.  This summer my goal is to read some Encyclopedia Brown and Ramona with him.  He hasn't shown an interest in Harry Potter yet, which is fine with me.  I think we can wait on that for another year or two. 

I hope we will always have a time that we set aside to read with Isaac.  As he grows it may not be every day, the purpose of the time will change, and it will look different than it does now.  But our reading time looks different now than it did last year or the year before that or  . . . well, you get the point.  And the purpose of the time is different, too.  It has always been a time to share and spend together, but before Isaac was reading on his own that time was necessary for his cognitive development.  Now that Isaac can sit on the couch with his Kindle and read for 20 minutes in silence, storytime is less cognitively necessary but just as emotionally necessary as it has ever been. At least for me.