Post Tagged with: "research"

Pediatricians recognize importance of reading aloud to babies

Photographer: Linda Bartlett

Photographer: Linda Bartlett

Reading to children during the first three years of their life is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics has just included it in recommendations to new parents.

Starting this week, the more than 62,000 pediatricians in the U.S. will not only give the usual breast-feeding and immunization advice to new parents, but they’ll also be talking to them about the need to read aloud to their new baby.

Reading together should be a “daily fun family activity” right from the start, Pamela High (the author of the new policy) told the New York Times.

Reading, talking and singing are important ways to build a child’s vocabulary in their early years.

Researchers say they can recognize gaps between children who have been read to, and those who have not, in children as young as 18 months old.

Those who have been read, sung and talked to regularly “have heard words millions more times,” according to the Times.

Reading aloud to children is particularly important with the advent of new technology. More and more, parents find themselves handing their phones and tablets over to their baby, to swipe and click. It’s a new, high-tech form of babysitting that simply doesn’t do for them what reading aloud does. Pediatricians recommend that children be kept away from screens until they are at least two years old.

The bottom line is what parents (and GKR readers) already know: read to your child, every day.

Here’s a link to the New York Times article.


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World Read-Aloud Day is Wed., March 7

wrad2012badgeIt’s very important to read to your child.

In fact, we consider it one of the top three most important things you can do to help your kid develop a love of reading.

Every day – but especially on Wed., March 7 – take the time to read to your child.

Or even someone else’s. Or a bunch of kids. There’s no downside – and a huge upside.

More information on WRAD here.

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Five minutes to bridge the racial achievement gap

Choke by Sian BeilockI’ve been reading this book – Choke. (Because I tend to choke at tennis, that’s why.)

But it’s got some really interesting things to say that will help your kid with test anxiety.

Researchers were studying what happens to African-Americans, for instance, who experience racism throughout their life. These students can have something called “stereotype threat,” which is where students “underperform relative to their potential merely because these students feel discouraged about their ability to succeed.”

They may underperform simply because they are aware of stereotypes about their sex, race or ethnic group that pertain to intelligence.

Researchers wanted to see if they could intervene to subvert the “racial achievement gap” in a school in the Northeastern U.S.

What they did was simple, and brilliant – and it could be done with your child, whether or not he underperforms currently, whether or not he is a minority.

They had half the students respond to a question asking them what their most important value was, and write a brief paragraph explaining why it was important. In the second group – a control group – they had students write about their least important value.

At the end of the school year, they compared the kids. The ones who had – just once in the year, remember – taken the time to consider and think about, and write about, their most important value did better than the other students. The researchers later repeated the experiment, with the same results.

What happened? The students had written about qualities that were important to them. This enhanced their self-worth, even in the face of negative racial stereotypes. It created a “buffer against negative expectations and their consequences,” says the author of Choke, Sean Beilock.

Students who thought about their own good qualities, the things they value, did better at school because they reminded themselves that they could.

It seems that writing is key here. The kids have to take five minutes or so and write down their thoughts about their most important value. And not only did they perform better on that one test, in that one semester, but the research suggests there has been a life-long benefit for many of them.

If your kid says “I can’t do it,” help him remember that in fact, he can.

And by the way, just this afternoon I tried it before I got on the tennis court… 6-2, thank you very much!

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In praise of praising

Alfie Kohn, speaking in Ottawa in 2010. Image: M. Gifford, read an article in which the author says, basically, most praise is bad.

It stayed with me, because:

1) I know that as a parent I probably do praise too much; and

2) he’s probably right; and

3) I’m not going to stop praising my son.

Alfie Kohn is a renowned education expert and he’s looked at a lot of research. I believe that he knows what he’s talking about.

I also believe that I disagree with him.

But you may not. Or, like me, you may choose to take some of what he says and discard the rest and that’s OK too.

Here’s why he says praising isn’t a good idea

Every time we say, “Good job!” to a child we’re just getting them to comply to our wishes—when we’re around. It does nothing to motivate them to positive behaviour when we’re not there to say “good job.”

We’re creating “praise junkies.” Kids who are told they’re doing a “good job” every time they clap or eat neatly will grow into adults who need constant external validation.

We steal their pleasure. By saying “good job,” we’re telling the child how to feel about their accomplishment; it’s just as much an evaluation as “bad job!” he says.

Diminishing their interest. Studies show that kids who are frequently praised ultimately end up feeling less like doing the thing they were praised for.

Undermining achievement. Praised kids become less likely to take risks once they start focusing on how to keep the positive comments coming, than on the task at hand.

He says that based on this evidence, it’s clear that most parents praise more because “they want to say it than because children need to hear it.”

I’d like to suggest a compromise

Have you ever intellectually understood something while at the same time your gut is saying, “this just ain’t right for me.” That’s how I’m feeling about all of this.

Yes, I can see how empty words—of any kind, and not just praise—become like background noise to a child. Empty calories the child begins to crave without getting any nutritional benefit.

But I’m suggesting a compromise (praising, but doing it thoughtfully), and here are my reasons:

1) It feels unnatural to me, to hold back praise when I’m really stoked about something my kid has done. As I’ve learned time and again, when I’m parenting “according to a book,” it backfires. Onto my kid, usually.

2) How many times during our childhoods (yours, mine) did we do something we thought was great, only to have our accomplishment completely ignored. Did that take the wind out of our sails? You bet it did. How I would have loved to have even a casually tossed off, “good job!” then. At least it would have shown that someone was watching.

3) Alfie Kohn is making the assumption that if we don’t praise we will instead have a thoughtful, intensive discussion with our child about his accomplishment—that we’ll be able to take the time we’ve saved by not praising and use it for quality parenting. Well maybe, but we might also just miss the opportunity altogether and, say, fold the laundry.

4) Intent is really what’s being looked at, here. (And Kohn acknowledges this in his essay.) If you’re genuinely thrilled by what your child has done and you blurt out, “good job!” I don’t think the child is going to get a mixed message. But if you’re just going through the motions, tossing out, “good job”s like so many shillings to urchins then your kid is going to wonder why what he’s hearing isn’t making him feel better.

I’m going to think more about this. It’s obviously an Achilles heel of mine or I wouldn’t be so bothered about it. Or confused. In the meantime, Kohn says there are things we should do to replace praising so much.

1) Say nothing.

2) Say what you saw (“You drew some mountains!”)

3) Talk less, ask more.

Do check out his essay for more insight. And while you’re at it, check out his other interesting thoughts on parenting and education on his website. And then, because I can’t get the song out of my head, why not check out the movie Alfie.

(Resisting, resisting, resisting the temptation to end this post with, “Good job, Alfie!”)

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Literacy Lava newsletter has great tips

Literacy Lava 8, coverThe new edition of Literacy Lava, a free e-zine for parents with great literacy articles and ideas, is now available.

You can download the .pdf from The Book Chook, here.

I’ve got an article in it, and there are lots of other great articles including:
* Writing tips for kids;
* Story-telling;
* Literacy tips – what works (that’s my article);
* Tips for reading aloud;
* A book club for preschoolers:
* Creativity tips; and
* much more.

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Remarkable research on kids’ ability to self-instruct

Sugata Mitra's hole-in-the-wall experiment; some children using a computer embedded into a wall.

Image: D.Salhundi, Karnatak, India

Here’s why we say you should “scatter books around the house.”

I want you to watch this exciting speech by Sugata Mitra on that illustrates the extent to which kids can teach themselves.

Through his “Hole in the Wall” project he conducted a series of experiments in 1999. He went to a slum in New Delhi, India and secured computers, hooked up to the Internet, into a wall so they could be used. And then he left.

The kids there had never used a computer before. And, the computer was completely in English—a language the kids didn’t speak or understand.

Within eight hours, an eight-year-old boy was not only surfing the Internet, but he was teaching a six-year-old friend how to browse.

The kids taught themselves how to use the PC, and the Internet—in English—and they began teaching each other.

He conducted the many more experiments which supported his theory that when they’re left alone, with the right resources, children are able to self-instruct to an incredible degree.

So how does this apply to literacy? It’s simple: Scatter books around your house. Put a book on his bed. Put a book in the bathroom. Leave a book poking out from under his dresser. Leave a book on the kitchen table.

If you leave a kid alone with a good book, he will pick up the book and start flipping through it. Soon, he will become interested in it. He will read.

Here is the speech (it gets really interesting at about 7:33).

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Give your kid more – he can handle it

A boy, thinking about something in front of him.

Every new mom knows that her baby understands more than he can say. You say to a baby, “milk!” and that baby brightens right up. Long before he can speak, he understands.

That amazing, ahead-of-the-curve process never stops, as long as kids are constantly challenged with new ideas and offered the chance to learn new skills.

I’m not advocating French flash cards for infants or War and Peace for a toddler. But I am saying that our kids can handle more than we think.

Last year I brought newspapers into a grade three classroom – so the kids were eight years old. Every week we discussed a couple of ongoing stories. What were the kids most interested and engaged in? The G20 summit. The G8, and how it differed from the G20. How the oil spill off the coast of Mexico was going to be capped. New species of animals that were being discovered.

Those were their favourite topics. And we didn’t just skim the surface, we talked about real stuff. Like how the CEO of British Petroleum wasn’t being honest. And then later how he got fired… well, reassigned.

They were interested in the nuances. They made connections between the “adult” world and their own world. They thought of solutions. They rejected some of their solutions and thought of new ones. And they went home and discussed the G20 and the oil spill with their parents. Some parents told me they’d even taught them some things about the issues. The kids also learned the importance – and reward – of knowing what’s happening in the world through news and discussion.

Kids can handle more than we think.

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What does work

Two boys readingWhat does work.

Reading to your kid every day. The number-one thing you can do to create a reader.

Letting him see you read. Kids do what their parents do. If you don’t enjoy reading – fake it. Or read magazines or comic books or something.

Surrounding your kid with books. Access to books gives a kid ownership and once they feel entitled to books they’re more likely to casually pick them up – now and throughout their life.

Reading extensions. I’m referring to other media that are associated with certain books – movies, a TV series, cartoons, merchandise – that may interest the child in a book. Who cares what hooks the child into reading? As long as he eventually reads the book, it’s all useful.

Letting your kid choose what he reads. Many schools now go by the maxim that “any reading is good reading” and, barring violence or inappropriate content, I agree. If you don’t like his choices, then find something similar that you do approve of. For instance, if he’s reading Superman comics, find him novels with superheroes.

Treating books like treasures. Books contain: secrets, surprises, gems, rewards, new friends, adventures, useful facts, gross stuff, silliness and lots of other things your kid values. Let your kid see that a book is something precious and exciting and cool.

Turning off the TV. Much as I hate being the bad cop, you’ve gotta, gotta limit screen-time. Create space for reading time. Here’s a GKR article about the reading bubble.

Sharing books with friends. The next time your child’s friend is over, casually mention that your kid is reading “…..” book, and ask what they’re reading. Before you know it, the two will be having a conversation about books. And that will reinforce what you’re trying to do in a way that only peers can.

Letting girls be girls and boys be boys. Your boy may want to walk around while he reads. Boys need to move, especially when they’re thinking. Your daughter may want to read stuff about dogs and love and celebrities. Girls often gravitate towards books with detailed relationships. (Advice: get your boy an exercise ball to sit on instead of a chair; get your girl a book with an empowered heroine who has sophisticated relationships.)

Never giving up. Don’t stop trying to get your kid to read. It’s so important. So, so important. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else. One day it will click and your kid will be a reader. And spend the rest of his or her life thanking you.

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Access to printed materials does help

What impact, if any, does access to print materials have on our children’s reading?

A lot, according to extensive research by RIF, Reading Is Fundamental, a non-profit children’s literacy organization based in Washington, DC.

Owning and borrowing books from the library causes, “positive behavioural, educational and psychological outcomes.”

In other words, kids who have access to books do better socially and at school.
(Does this sound familiar to regular GKR readers? But I digress.)

RIF found that having access to printed materials:

…improves children’s reading performance. Children, and kindergarten students in particular, read better when they’re often surrounded by books.

…is instrumental in helping children learn the basics of reading. Kids who have lots of different books become better at identifying words, being able to sound out words, and read sentences.

…causes children to read more and for longer lengths of time. There is more shared reading between parents and children. Kids read more often and for longer stretches.

…produces improved attitudes toward reading and learning among children. Kids who own, borrow or who are given books say they like reading and schoolwork more than kids who don’t have access to books.

So there you have it. It’s what this blog has been advocating for more than a year, and I’m thrilled to see another significant study that backs it up: kids who have access to books are much more likely to become great readers, and to love reading.

Scatter books around the house
Please check out these ideas for surrounding your kid with books.
Mom got her son reading!
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (let him find books on his bed)
Get your six-year-old reading
More books = more education

How the RIF study was done
Researchers searched 11,000 reports and analyzed 108 of the most relevant studies. They then chose “the most thorough and carefully conducted 44” of the 108 and did further analysis in order to draw their conclusions. That’s a lot of stuff.

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Survey for research on "enhanced books"

GKR readers, the U of C needs our help.

The University of Connecticut is doing a study on illustrated children’s books. They’d like GKR readers to help by taking a brief (four-minute) online survey.

Before passing along their request to you, I called them and spoke to them about their research. It sounds pretty interesting.

It’s an academic study – not funded by any toy company or book publisher. They’re interested in investigating a product that would enhance an illustrated book with online information. So for instance, it might be that a child clicks on a picture of a dolphin and gets some facts about dolphins. Or maybe the child is instructed to click on all of the nouns on a page and the device counts the number of nouns the child successfully finds.

The survey is intended for parents of children 8 and under, but if you’ve got an older child and can simply cast your mind back to the time when they were 8, they’d like your input too.

I’ve asked them to share with us the results of their survey so we can blog about it. The results should ready in August.

Here’s the survey:

Canadian (and other non-US) GKRers – when you come to the question “What state do you live in?” resist the temptation to type “state of bliss” and just leave it blank. Their research includes Canadians and non-Americans, but not to the extent where they’ll actually let you select a province. Whatevah.
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