Children 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.
- 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.
- 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.