Lesson #2: Reading is an activity. It is not at the top of a hierarchy of ways that children learn.
The public school system is obsessed with books. Huge money is spent on Early Literacy Programs. Librarians spend hours teaching kids how to 'take care of books'. (What is it--a pet?) Kids are tested on their ability to use a glossary or an index. They have to keep a log of how many minutes per week they spend reading. Some schools have a program called DEAR--Drop Everything And Read. Non-fiction is valued above fiction, which is valued above comics or magazines.
While there is some evidence that children who are good readers are usually good in all subjects, there is no evidence that making kids read is good for them. The way the school system coerces and manipulates kids to read is really a problem in my opinion and it's no wonder that kids tend to resist it.
Our house is full of books and we regularly let the girls pick out new books to buy. They read whenever they want and they sometimes ask me to read to them. They read to their dolls, to each other and to themselves. If they are watching something on TV and we have a book with the same story, they will hold the book on their laps and turn the pages when it's appropriate. We have a pretty good collection of non-fiction books which Anna calls "learning books". These books are not ranked as superior to Dora books or Disney books, and they are available for regular access.
I must add here that when I say 'read' I mean 'look at', since neither Anna nor Holly are able to read independently yet. They both recognize a few familiar words and the alphabet in upper case. Nonetheless, they are both able to spend significant time--more than 30 minutes, more than once a day--engaged with books. Often they say the story in their own words as they turn the pages, or they narrate the pictures in books they are less familiar with. But they also ask each other to point to certain objects on the page, or they create other games with books such as pretending the book is a TV, or pretending that the book is talking to them. Who am I to say that one way of reading is better than another?
We don't have a specific time every day for scheduled reading. We also don't have a specific time for scheduled eating, sleeping or playing. We eat when we're hungry, sleep when we're tired and engage in whatever we're interested in the rest of the time. I don't quiz them about the content of books we read, and I don't try to make them do inferring, predicting or character analysis. I don't rush to grab a book every time someone asks a question about penguins or pirates. And I never act like reading is a more important or worthwhile activity than dressing up dolls, making playdough cookies or watching TV. The girls see me reading books, magazines and at the computer. They also see me cooking, knitting, painting, writing, scrapbooking and doing other activities that I enjoy significantly less than those I've mentioned.
The lesson here is that we are not ranking literacy as more important than any other skill the girls will naturally want to develop. They are also developing gross and fine motor skills and spatial sense and personal history and cultural expectations. Who am I to make them learn one set of skills when they are more naturally inclined to learn another at that time? I didn't rush them when they were learning to walk, and I won't rush them to learn to read and write either. Kids learn to read because people read, just as they learned to walk because people walk, just as they will learn to use a computer because people use computers.
They are people, after all.
PHOTO: Holly is modelling for Jasmine her enjoyment of books.