Thursday, October 9, 2014

Does Reading to Children from Birth Build Literacy?

     Meet Kirsten!  The year was 1991. I was a 
young mother. I was determined to raise: smart, loving, culturally aware children. I didn't have family support like other young mothers. My mom died unexpectedly when I was three months pregnant with Kirsten. My husband worked long, crazy hours. So, it was Kirsten and I on our own to navigate the world.  I'm not complaining, just explaining. I'm explaining how I was determined to do right or at least what I thought was right for my daughter. So...the trend back in 1991 was black and white nurseries for new babies. It was supposedly better for their eyes to adjust to promote early learning. I compromised with the latest trend and did Kirsten's nursery in primary colors instead of typical pastels.  Since one of my fondest childhood memories was of a circus mural in my own pediatrician's office, I chose a circus theme for Kirsten's nursery. She had a wallpaper border with bright lions, giraffe's, elephants, and clowns. Her mobile over her crib had bright clown's on it to swirl above her head. Part of the compromise was to buy her soft books in black, red, and white to read to her from birth. I faithfully read to her every day. She was a crier and not much of a sleeper. It was June, beautiful weather, but she despised riding in her carriage.  She would cry and turn beet red. She would do contortions in her carriage and onlookers would stare like I was torturing her! Maybe I was, maybe she didn't like all of this early learning! Her pediatrician said not to worry, that Kirsten had a type A personality and most type A people are very bright! So...on we went, reading, playing, and learning! This little girl was my whole world.
   Kirsten was not a big talker.  I had no one to compare her to so just accepted this as normal. Her first word was tree! She liked the leaves on the trees! Here is where the surprise comes in! Kirsten began talking and reading pretty much at the same time! She was only two!  We were walking in a parking lot one day, and Kirsten began pointing to each car while saying: Buick Century, Ford Taurus, Honda Prelude, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Pontiac Firebird...! Soon after we were in Philadelphia walking to the "Please Touch Children's Museum" when Kirsten pointed to a sign in a storefront and read "cappuccino." I was stunned! It didn't take long for me to realize that Kirsten was reading! I printed words on cards and Kirsten could pick them out. She soon had a file box full of cards. She loved reading them! She loved reading books too.  She especially loved animal books and books about the Presidents. She could name all of the Presidents and the Vice Presidents by the time she was three or four.  By the time she began kindergarten she was reading at a fifth grade level! She loved learning and asked so many questions. She asked so many questions that I had to buy books to keep up with her! Her hero by the way was Benjamin Franklin. Fortunately we lived near Philadelphia so we we were able to not only research Ben Franklin but also visit his ol' stomping grounds! The highlight of Kirsten's summer in second grade was sitting in the Franklin sedan! A chair invented and created by Benjamin Franklin in 1787 to carry him to and from the Federal Convention in Philadelphia. Franklin was 81 years old and in ailing health but he didn't let this stop him from participation in the Federal Convention. He was carried in the Franklin sedan, pictured below.
 Kirsten also loved the armonica, a musical instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin made from a series crystal bowls. We of course had to find one to hear it played. An armonica makes a mesmerizing sound which by the way is where the word "Mesmerize" came from. Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer and Mozart enjoyed the enchanting sound of the armonica. Mesmer was known to use an armonica in his hypnosis therapy.
    This leads me right back to where I began, "Meet Kirsten..." and the point of my blog tonight. Recently on Twitter I met an enthusiastic woman named Danielle Lowe who heads an organization called "Baby Steps to Literacy." I always wondered if reading to my daughters from birth is the reason why they were easy readers and are still voracious readers today. Danielle is working on a dissertation for her doctorate. She is looking for babies 28 months old or under to participate in a simple and convenient reading study. I don't know Danielle personally but can't wait to learn what her dissertation reveals. Below is an excerpt taken from her web page.
       "Research shows that children read to at home do better in school.
Sensory input from reading together builds stronger brain cells and engages cells to be protected through synaptic pruning.It teaches them about language, expands their vocabulary, builds oral language skills, and creates a stronger attachment bond between reader and child.It shows them ways to solve problems they might encounter in real life situations.Focusing on the pictures help to develop eye muscles.When reviewing global literacy studies, the most successful countries emphasize early childhood reading.Each time they hear a word it sticks in their memory to build a stronger prior knowledge base!"

       I'd like to believe that Kirsten and her sister have a stronger knowledge base because they were read to early. I believe in the power of books not only for my own children but for my students too. I use books to supplement topics in science, history, and even in reading...books to supplement books! I use every avenue I can think of to glean a spark of knowledge. I try every day to build background knowledge in my students, so that I give them that "aha!" moment when I can say "remember when..." and they can make a connection saying, "I remember, now I get it!" I love the look in their eyes and the 
lilt in their voice when they really do get it!
   So to all of the young mothers who like me read to their babies from birth hoping to give them a better tomorrow, maybe Danielle Lowe's study will finally give us the redemption we need for reading to our babies who seemed too young to comprehend.

Parent Links:

Twenty-two Last-Minute DIY Halloween Costumes
Simple Ways to Raise a reader from A to Z

Educator Links:

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

Geo-Educator Community Resources

Mitt Aubin's Book Review:  

     I Promise I'll Find You Written by: Heather Patricia Ward, is my pick for tonight's book.  The first time I read this book to my young daughters, I cried. The book is afterall dedicated with love to all missing children in the world and to the memory of Kelly Cook. I just can't imagine dealing with the loss of a child which is exactly why this book is so valuable. Everytime I read it to my children I was reiterating the fact that if they ever were lost, I'd search the world over until I found them. This message wasn't to scare them but instead was to give them the courage and confidence to venture out in to the world knowing that their parent would never, ever give up on them. The illustrations in this text are lovely. The illustrations were done by: Sheila McGraw. I highly recommend this picture book to strengthen the bond between the adult and child in your life. My own children are grown but still I would search the world over to find them.