Simply, Calmly, Read and Talk

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Parent-and-ChildChildren who struggle in school often lack sufficient background information about the topics they are studying. They also can lack the language to express their own needs and respond productively in their interactions with others. These twin handicaps, taken together, can create a drag upon the academic development of children who otherwise might be soaring successes.

It’s a drag that can be largely avoided if family, friends and neighbors, on a  daily basis, do two simple things with children: read aloud to them from birth and continue through their school careers, and have conversations with them throughout each day.

Just reading and talking. No quizzes. No quotas. No time limits. Just you and them and books that you can enjoy together, interlaced with conversation about whatever comes up.

Through shared reading, children are invited to explore the world beyond what they or their family can experience at home and around the neighborhood. From learning about the variations in family cultures in all corners of the world to encountering the wonders and beauty of nature, the relaxed reading of books can build understandings and concepts that will open wide the possibility of school success.

However, while reading is necessary, by itself it is not sufficient. It must be paired with dialogue. Through quiet, relaxed conversation, children who are experiencing things from books that they don’t know how to handle are invited to speak their confusions and frustrations, to articulate their deepest concerns, to explain their anger, celebrate their joys, and give voice to their affections and fears.  Through relaxed conversation youngsters can examine how adults and older siblings process new information and confusions, marvel that everyone makes personal discoveries, and openly consider their uniqueness from others.

These two simple acts—reading and talking—build two parallel and essential foundations in children’s lives.

  1. When we relax and read with them, they learn to love books and reading. That is a bedrock for the foundation of success in:
    • Formal education—pre-K through graduate school
    • Lifelong growth of knowledge about the world in an expanding universe of information and ideas they will encounter long after formal schooling ends
    • Developing rich vocabulary, discovering the powerful language in other’s writing and embracing ever-deeper understandings of what they might write themselves.
  2. When more experienced learners casually talk with them, they learn to:
    • Express themselves fully
    • Think deeply about the torrent of new information and ideas that books and life provide them
    • Communicate their understandings, thoughts and feelings about the expanding range of topics that reflect human life.

With these foundations laid, the result is a diminishing likelihood of any school struggles for children who know and love books and who are eager to enter into new conversations with others.

And all from simply and calmly reading and talking with our own kids and everyone else’s…starting right now.

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4 Responses to “Simply, Calmly, Read and Talk”

  1. Cathy Eads February 26, 2016 at 8:04 am #

    It’s seems so simple and yet how can we get the word out to all parents and caregivers that reading from birth is a huge benefit to all children? I’ve helped coordinate Books for Babies programs at local hospital nurseries, and I’m aware of the Reach out and Read program. What other programs are in place to help parents of babies get started reading aloud early in their children’s lives?

    • Mark Condon February 26, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

      Well, without being TOO self-serving, may I humbly suggest that books-in-hands are the necessary first step. Free digital books like those found here in the free Unite for Literacy online library or the free International Children’s Digital Library will set the stage for reading early and often for any child whose parents or older siblings have a smartphone and caring friends or neighbors who will recommend or model daily reading with the children.

  2. Ellen Schlafer February 26, 2016 at 9:21 am #

    Beautifully written. And, it sounds so simple. For those of us who are educated, it’s probably already a way of life. As I think back to my days at the Early Childhood Laboratory School in the School of Education (U. of Louisville), I think of parents who could not afford winter coats for their children, who lived with three other families in a house and whose children did not know what broccoli or carrots were. How do we reach these parents? The five-year-olds often did not know the front of the book from the back when they came to school for the first time. One of the reasons I left public education was that it was moving further and further away from educating the whole child, and virtually ignored parent Eduation. How do we get them to read your blogs?

    • Mark Condon February 26, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

      Thanks for those kind words, Ellen. Yes, the conversation with parents can’t be one way and it can’t be only the teachers and schools involved. If we think about it only briefly it comes clear that parent education as to the power of early and often literacy experiences should be a required class in high school, but it could also be addressed in training for business leaders and politicians and librarians and clergy and on and on. Everybody in a community could serve to contribute to the support system for young parents… Not in a pushy way, but in a matter of fact supportive sharing way. It takes a village as the saying goes. Plus with the advent of digital books available for free on every smartphone, every family can conveniently access thousands of books for their kids to enjoy. The whole child will learn about the world one way or another. With everyone simply and calmly putting a gentle word in to support and encourage struggling parents, kids can enter school much farther along in many ways than so many do now.