Saturday, November 15, 2008

Do we need to teach literacy?

The other day Lorna sent this request out into the twitterverse

"looking for examples of how to teach literacy skills to your child"

As I thought about that request it reminded me of an exchange I had with a public health nurse years ago when my oldest child was a little over one. My daughter had picked up a new stuffed toy that still had the little book-like tag in it's ear. She was looking at the tag and after awhile the nurse commented that I must read to my daughter a lot. I told her that we did read to her and asked her how she knew.

She said that the tag started out upside-down and my daughter had turned it over so that the spine was on the left-hand side. She also turned the pages starting from the front and working her way to the end of the tag. These actions seem innate but I realized that day even those things need to be learned. In order to eventually read books she had to understand the mechanics of a book and of the written word.

The nurse shared that she had seen children as old as five not understand what end of a book was up, which way to hold it, or even know enough to turn pages let alone that text is read from left to right. This was simply because the child had never had access to books in their entire life. It seems hard to imagine but it happens.

So what is a parent to do? How do we "teach" literacy skills as Lorna mentioned? I would suggest that word "teach" is a very dangerous word to use with parents. It brings us back to our "drill and grill" education and transforms us into parents who buy our kids workbooks like we had in school, find structured programs that will "teach" our 2 year olds, and gobble up every "educational" toy in the store.

Why can't we change our language and talk about how to create an environment that allows multiple literacy skills (digital, cultural, informational, numeracy etc) to flourish? In my house that means books, lot's of books everywhere. Reading a bedtime story every night. Going to the local library. Baking cookies. Sorting laundry. Starting rock collections. Taking a walk. Painting pitures. Playing with clay. Planting a garden. Telling the stories of our day around the supper table. Helping pay at the grocery store. Using the computer in multiple ways. The list could go on forever and every parents list will be different.

Will you find those "workbooks" and "educational" toys in my house? Well of course you will but it seems these days they are off collecting dust. As my family life has gotten increasingly busy with each child, the time available to "teach" my kids has decreased. The fantastic thing is that it has allowed us to learn instead.

Sometimes it's hard for us, as parents, to feel successful. We are so focused on the big prize, things like reading, that we forget to notice the little successes, like holding a book and turning the pages, along the way. I'm glad someone noticed it for me and taught me an important lesson, that every day in ordinary ways I'm helping my child to learn literacy skills, even if I'm not consciously "teaching" them.

So here is what "teaching" literacy looks like for me:

1 comment:

Jeannine St. Amand said...

I love how you've illustrated your point with the video. Reading your post reminded me of a few pictures I have stored somewhere - my daughter reading a "busy bugs" book upside down and my son chewing on a newspaper. They hadn't learned the proper way to use these media, but then again they could barely sit up at that point! If I can find the pics I might just try to make a movie too.