The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction.

Meghan Cox Gurdon

Part 5:

Imagination, Perspective, and Empathy.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

As folklorist Sybil Marshall observed, “It seems that mankind is born with an avid appetite for details of other lives beside the one his small span of corporeal existence grants to him; it is as though he seizes from his earliest years upon this way of enlarging the bounds of his own life.” Something special happens when this fictional transport takes place in the intimate setting of a read-aloud. The listener enters a cycle of thought, imagination, and practical behavior that can have surprising and even profound ramifications.

In literature, we are freed from physical constraints and from the orthodoxies of our time and place. We meet characters we would never encounter in the real world. In a vicarious way, we experience life through them, and one result is an expansion of emotional understanding. As Britain’s former children’s laureate Chris Riddell said, “A good book is an empathy machine.” Complicated and mysterious things happen inside people when we give them time to listen.

To C. S. Lewis, time spent in what he called “fairyland” “stirs and troubles him (to his lifelong enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his actual reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: The reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

“We all come from the past, and children ought to know what it was that went into their making, to know that life is a braided cord of humanity stretching up from time long gone, and that it cannot be defined by the span of a single journey from diaper to shroud,” Russell Baker writes in his beautiful memoir, Growing Up.

Children get a wider perspective when they’re tugged out of the here and now for a little while each day. In an enchanted hour, we can read them stories of the real and imagined past. With picture-book biographies we can acquaint them with people we want them to know. With any luck, our children will come to appreciate that the people of generations past were as full of life, intelligence, wisdom, and promise as they are, and impelled by the same half-understood desires and impulses; that those departed souls were as good and bad and indifferent as people who walk the earth today.

So it goes. Youth is inattentive. It thinks itself something fresh, full of energy, spirit, and insight. It feels that no one has ever cared so much, felt with such intensity, or realized truth with such exquisite clarity. It prepares for a future that is unique in its grandeur and meaning. Youth may have no idea it is wreathed in ghosts, informed by ghosts, held up on the shoulders of ghosts. When we read aloud from the literature of the past – and all literature is the literature of the past – and when we share artistic traditions, we are not merely giving children stories and pictures to enjoy. We’re also inviting a measure of humility, gently correcting youth’s eternal temptation to arrogance.

More on Reading:

Reader, Come Home

The Neural Basis of Reading

Assessment of Silent Reading Efficiency

Proust and The Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction.

Meghan Cox Gurdon

Part 4:

Vocabulary and Grammar

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

As Vanderbilt’s David Dickinson and his colleagues pointed out, “Children learn vocabulary through grammar and grammar through vocabulary”. The children who heard (and saw) repeated iterations of words in the same stories retained the new words to a much greater degree than those who encountered the words (and objects) spread across different stories. The results, the researchers wrote, “provide good news for parents: it is not necessarily the number of different books that matter, but rather following requests to ‘read it again!’” “However, if they hear a word in different syntactic settings, their understanding will expand. The more words and the greater diversity of texts children hear, the more easily they can untangle these intricacies.”

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

As Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, professor of education, psychology and linguistics at the University of Delaware told me, “The child learns best when they’re active, not passive. But you don’t want to turn reading into a didactic teaching time. You want to follow the pointing finger, the little pointing finger, so that what’s on the page comes off the page and links to the kid’s life.”

As Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, points out, a child’s reading level doesn’t typically catch up to his listening level until about eighth grade. An adult reading aloud does far more than impart a story, therefore: he or she also shows by tone of voice, phrasing, and pronunciation how complicated sentences can be tackled, subdued, and enjoyed. And while all that is happening, the child is soaking up fresh ideas and unfamiliar words.

Observed E. D. Hirsch, a former professor at the University of Virginia who is perhaps best known for his 1987 bestseller Cultural Literacy. “Students don’t learn new words by studying vocabulary lists. They do so by guessing new meanings within the overall gist of what they are hearing or reading. And understanding the gist requires background knowledge.”

Proust and The Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

More on Reading:

Reader, Come Home

The Neural Basis of Reading

Assessment of Silent Reading Efficiency

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction.

Meghan Cox Gurdon

Part 3:

Vocabulary and the Importance of Repetition

Part 1

 Part 2

From NYUs Catherine Tamis-LeMonda: “When you look at the content of language that children hear in different settings, book sharing is really the only setting in which you could talk about things that are different from your everyday routines.”

Almost all parents have experienced the frustration of trying to present new books to young children while they want to hear the same book over and over. Meghan Cox Gurdon states that the child is telling us something important, though we may never find out what that important thing is. The book may be helping him perform quiet interior work having to do with fear or sadness that he can’t articulate. The book may be an old friend whose familiarity feels comforting at bedtime. We may not ever know why some books come to exert such spell-binding power that children want to hear them again and again. Perhaps it will forever be a mystery, like love. There does however seem to be one solid, prosaic explanation: children enjoy repeating books because the experience imbues them with feelings of competence and mastery; because, with each reading, they understand a bit more of what they’re seeing and hearing.

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

More on Reading:

Reader, Come Home

The Neural Basis of Reading

Assessment of Silent Reading Efficiency

Proust and The Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction.

Meghan Cox Gurdon

Part 2:

Regulating Emotions and Attention

See part one here: https://gwilliamsfamilyeye.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/the-enchanted-hour/

            Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who died in 1934 whose thinking did not have a significant influence in the West until the 1980s. He believed that play is a crucial mechanism for self-discovery. He also believed that language is a vital tool for a child learning to regulate his emotions and behaviors, and to establish relationships with others. The more adept a child becomes with words, the sooner he can handle himself.

            Babies start to make eye contact at two months of age. Soon after this, babies start to recognize what adults are looking at. This is known as “joint attention” and has a remarkable tempering power. Joint attention is in play as picture books are presented to children and they are given time to explore.  Children benefit when they establish a positive pattern of relating with their parent while reading. They learn to naturally regulate their attention when they are focusing on a task they find interesting in a context that is nurturing, warm, and responsive. (Fast-paced TV shows, meanwhile, have been shown to significantly impair executive function in young children after as little as nine minutes.)

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When it comes to paying attention, children from read-aloud families go to school with a triple advantage. They’re used to listening, so it’s easy for them to do it. They’ve heard lots of language, so their comprehension will be comparatively strong. And they know from experience that paying attention brings rewards. These assets are not trivial. Studies have uncovered a strong correlation between the capacity of children to attend when they are small and their ability to do well in math and reading when they are older. In 2013, researchers at Oregon State University found that the “attention-span persistence”, as it’s called, of four-year-olds predicted their math and reading achievement at age twenty-one. Not only that, but age-four attention span persistence also foretold whether children would finish college by the time they hit twenty-five.

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More on Reading:

Reader, Come Home

The Neural Basis of Reading

Assessment of Silent Reading Efficiency

Proust and The Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

Oliver Sacks-Reflections on Change: How Can We Adapt and Not Alter the Essence of Who We Are?

Oliver Sacks died in 2015, but an article that he wrote just before he died is in the February 11, 2019, issue of The New Yorker. It is a treat to read new reflections from this exceptional thinker from a stage of his life that we can only imagine. Dr. Sacks was a remarkable observer with an unparalleled ability to tell people’s stories. The importance of these stories is not how strange they are, but how they help us understand how we function normally and how precious and precarious the balance is which enables most of us to be “normal.”

light sunset people water

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We cannot stop change. Change is, change has been, and change will continue. Pronouncements about change can be valuable by bringing it to our attention so we make conscious decisions about what we will do. How can we and society adapt to change without changing that which is essential to our humanity? Change started to accelerate a few hundred years ago with the advent of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The essence of who we are has been a topic for religion and philosophers for thousands of years. We can refer to what they have said, but the answer to this question is very personal.

Read the article here:

The Machine Stops-Oliver Sacks

oliversacks_scribituary3

More posts including Oliver Sacks:

Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

Narrative Medicine

Memory Book

The River of Consciousness

The Mind’s Eye: Oliver Sacks

 

Visual function deficits contribute to reading acquisition in children with reading problems a focus of the MVTSG 2019 — The VisionHelp Blog

What did the researchers at Harvard Medical School, Department of Ophthalmology at Boston Children’s Hospital, published in JAMA -Ophthal, and leaders in neuroscience agree upon in 2018? There is an unmistakable association with vision problems, not corrected with glasses or contacts alone, involving binocular vision, oculomotor, accommodation and visual processing linked with children who have […]

via Visual function deficits contribute to reading acquisition in children with reading problems a focus of the MVTSG 2019 — The VisionHelp Blog