The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction: part 1
Meghan Cox Gurdon
The pleasures of reading aloud to our children are obvious for most of us who have experienced it from the perspective of the child and from the role of the parent. It was a special part of parenthood for me and I missed it when our children could read and understand it as well by themselves and became impatient to wait until the next night find out what came next. When we read at bedtime, it was an important part of our routine. It was an escape from whatever the day was for each of us; a time to share and a welcome transition to bed and sleep. The characters and incidents in the book often provided a safe remove to discuss what would not have been discussed otherwise or take us off in other directions. Some nights were better than others, and life is busier and more distracted now than it was, but that makes this time more important – not less.
Meghan Cox Gurdon and her husband have five children. She brings an emotional attachment to this subject from having been read to and from reading to her children. While this is the driving force behind her book, she also shares many reasons, supported by research, for the importance to reading to our children. She writes as a parent, not as a scientist. Mrs. Gurdon has been the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book reviewer since 2005.
There can’t be many topics as warm as this and listing the reasons to read to our children is far too cold and clinical. Instead, I will post excerpts over the next few weeks. Some of these will be modified to make them understandable out of context. While most of us skim to read quickly, I suggest that you try reading these aloud, as if you were reading them to someone. Reading aloud is like writing by hand. It slows us down to provide more time to think.
Reading to children during infancy and early childhood gives them more of exactly what they need: more loving adult attention, more language, and more opportunities to experience mutual engagement and empathy. Picture books enhance the time parents and children spend together.
From Morten Christiansen who runs the Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at Cornell University. Ambient talking seems to do little or nothing for babies and toddlers. What helps babies most is having people speak and read with them in a responsive way. What millennia of human experience and innumerable modern studies show is that they learn from us. “There’s a lot of language learning that’s social in nature. One of the first things that we learn as children is, actually, the social part of it.” What matters for the child’s learning is contingency and responsiveness.
Reading with children makes reading and writing social. Speech is inherently social. Young children have a drive to develop receptive language and speech so they can communicate. Learning to read and write take longer and don’t provide the immediate reward provided by a single spoken word. Jointly experiencing the marvel of the printed word helps create the drive for children to learn to read and write.
“The ADHD Diagnosis Problem” appeared in the December 4, 2018 issue of The Wall Street Journal based on research that was reported in The New England Journal of Medicine last week. Children whose birthdays are in August have a 32% higher rate of ADHD diagnosis than those who are born in September in states in which the cutoff date for entering school is September 1. This is another example of the differences that exist, on average, between being one of the oldest and one of the youngest in class. In New York, the cutoff date for starting school is December 1. Children who are 4 years and 9 months old may be reading, but that does not mean that it is reasonable to expect all children to be reading at that age.
The article does not mention that there were similar findings a few years ago for ice hockey players in Canada. Looking at their date of birth was the best way to predict who would become an elite hockey player. The oldest had an advantage in the beginning and their success bred success. Learning to play ice hockey and learning in school are both dependent on a child’s developmental age which correlates with their chronological age. Instead of being ignored, it should be expected. Parents recognize this and redshirt their children for school and for sports. It should also be recognized that numerous factors make it difficult for children to catch-up; to start to learn faster or grow faster than others in their grade.
Similar research was reported in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in October which studied 13 countries. The same age correlation held in all the countries other than Denmark whose parents commonly delay their children’s entrance into school by one year. While the WSJ article is focused on the age of starting school, the critical message is that we need to pay more attention to child development. Expectations should not be structured on when we want children to have certain skills, but on when most children are ready. Children differ in their rates of development. Many children develop asynchronously. It used to be routine to assess child development. It is now assumed that all children are the same or that the school can make them the same. If these are not the assumptions, what is the rationale? Children who naturally read early have advantages, but that doesn’t mean pushing children creates the same love of reading. It is more likely to have the opposite effect.
Our focus is visual development, but vision does not develop in isolation and all areas of development are important; language, social skills, physical abilities, self-control, and focus. We see the effects of academic acceleration in the office. Most of the children with vision-related school problems who were brought into the office in the past were in third and fourth grade. Most of them are now in first or second grade. Many are in kindergarten because they are not reading and they are having difficulty with the visual motor control needed to write. Their parents, with similar skills at the same age, would have been judged OK. May the pendulum start to swing back towards an appreciation of child development.
Here’s to the Value of Appropriate “READ“shirting!
I have reviewed the differences in education across cultures in The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got that Way and in The Learning Gap . There are also differences within our own culture in child rearing, education, socialization, and remediation which have taken place over the past few generations; some due to philosophy and some due to technology. Continue reading
David Wright wrote this autobiography about the influence of deafness from the time that he became deaf until he graduated from college. He was born in South Africa in 1920 and became totally deaf in 1927 due to scarlet fever. He states that he was fortunate in many ways. At seven, he was old enough to have learned to speak and to read, but he was still young enough to focus on mastering his disability and not become a victim. Continue reading
Reader, Come Home is about the importance of deep reading. It discusses the consequences of the decline in reading deeply on important issues. It explains what is necessary to develop and apply the ability to read deeply. Continue reading
“The Decline of Comprehension-Based Silent Reading Efficiency in the United States: A Comparison of Current Data with Performance in 1960” appeared in Reading Research Quarterly in 2016. While there are endless debates about reading pedagogy, there is consensus that the best way to assess silent reading efficiency is by measuring eye movements. Continue reading