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 […]
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 Inward Empire
Christian Donlan becomes a father at the same time that he develops multiple sclerosis. The power of the book is his ability to express his feelings, especially about his disease. While his particular disease is MS, there are commonalities of symptoms and reactions to other, non-curable neurologic diseases. His reactions and his writing make the book an intriguing read. The following passages are those that I either found particularly interesting or I was struck by the communication.
An idea of where the illness stops and I begin is often problematic.
I would argue that neurological diseases are ultimately an attack on individuality.
“The Disembodied Lady” (a case description from Oliver Sacks) exists within the strange spook country of proprioception, the means – along with vision and the balance organs of the vestibular system – by which the body creates a sense of itself in space. Proprioception is a deeply physical business, and yet, it’s simultaneously a largely intangible one. It is not just the brain’s idea of where the body is from moment to moment. It is part of what makes a person’s physical experiences feel real and personal in the first place.
Proprioception is a guiding hand so deft and considerate that you might never come close to spotting it, and this is the tragedy of the body’s most elegant systems. You only learn how clever they are when the break – and when it becomes a matter of how clever they once were.
Proprioception was my introduction to the world of neurological disarray. I suspect that proprioception is an ideal introduction: a gentle indicator that there is always a level of mediation between the world and our experience of it.
It is hard to spot the things that happen when your brain starts to go wrong, because your brain is the last thing that is going to be able to tell you about it.
That is memory. Remembering something is an act of destruction, covered up by an almost instantaneous act of creation.
The problem for me was largely mechanical. The likely culprits were not the visual processing pathways leading to the occipital lobe, which houses the visual cortex, but rather the nerves that supply the muscles which operate the eyes like pulleys. My eyes were no longer perfectly aligned, and this meant that the images the visual cortex was trying to put together had ceased to overlap as cleanly as they usually did. My perceptions were becoming harder to mesh.
It is not that my eyes were exhausted. It’s more that there was an angry congestion building somewhere behind them, in the parts of the brain that had to deal with the chaos my eyes were suddenly delivering. So much trouble, and all this from a shift in one eye – a shift, most likely less that a millimeter. A shift so tiny that my eyeballs, viewed in the Ikea bathroom mirrors, seemed perfectly normal as they tracked up and down, from right to left.
Elsewhere, it seemed that my ability to deal with the subtext was diminished. In the evenings, or if I was particularly tired, I found that I could no longer peer beneath the surface of what people were saying as easily as I had before. I was stuck in the literal.
Some symptoms are part of what I feared at first and then forgot to fear – that MS could be such a wonderful, powerful all-purpose excuse I might invoke it a little too often.
“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!
How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency
There are a few stories interwoven in this book. It starts with information about polio, immunity to polio, the change in the disease as hygiene changed, and postulates how Roosevelt contracted the disease. Continue reading
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
The book starts with three epigraphs which succinctly state the philosophy of the authors.
Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.
Folk Wisdom, origin unknown Continue reading