The Tiniest, BIG Literacy Lesson

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She looked at the card, then at her mother, then at me.

I had given my business card to a woman with a small, less than 2-year-old child outside of the hotel where the Literacy Research Association was celebrating its yearly awards for those individuals making lifelong contributions in support of literacy.

My business card has the web address of our free online library of picture books for new readers. I had said what I always say when I inject myself into the lives of those who don’t know me, “Free books for the baby!”toddlers-with-books

It was a simple act. No fanfare, but as always, it was a chance to put books into the hands of a young family, supporting them in the wonderful task of rearing an avid reader. I enjoy sharing  and it doesn’t cost me anything but a half of a moment in my day.

Predictably, young parents are always wide-eyed and grateful for a gift from a stranger for their baby. I had given my card to the mother, who smiled, saying that she knew who I was from reading this blog and offered a nice complement. As she said that to me, she gave the card to her fully alert daughter. “Look! We got some free books for you!”

The woman was of Asian descent and I asked if the family spoke another language at home. She responded that they spoke Mandarin Chinese, so I told her that she and her little one could also listen to many of the books in Mandarin if they liked.

As I began to take my leave, I noticed the little girl studying the card, looking at me, looking at her mother and then returning her gaze to the small document in her tiny fingers.

She was reading!

NO, not in the conventional sense of processing running text to make meaning for herself, but inspired by that small card in her tiny hand, she was reading the 30-second social event that was focused around the card…

  • The man with the white beard smiled and gave Mommy something.toddlers-reading-books-blog
  • Mommy looked at it and then smiled, too.
  • Mommy happily talked with the man.
  • Mommy gave me the little blue card.
  • She let me know that this was a good thing, something for us to be happy about.
  • It was a pretty blue card, with white marks.
  • The man got into a car.
  • Mommy kept smiling, talking to me about the nice blue card.
  • The man drove away.

As it turned out, the gift wasn’t just the free books for the baby. It was much bigger than that. An emerging bilingual, this little girl had, as a result of this brief interchange between Mommy and me, taken one more step toward the biggest little literacy lesson of her life-

Print carries  joy from one person to another.

This lifelong contribution to literacy of one child was not worthy of a Literacy Research Association award of course, but I still think the conference attendees would smile and cheer. This was surely the shortest, yet most far-reaching, co-taught  (with Mommy) lesson I had been involved with in a long time…one that this teacher learned from, as well.


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6 Responses to “The Tiniest, BIG Literacy Lesson”

  1. Karen E. Smith December 8, 2016 at 11:22 am #

    Such a great lesson in literacy life as we experience it today.

    • Mark Condon December 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

      It was indeed, Karen.

  2. Susan Graham December 9, 2016 at 7:08 am #

    That encounter was so powerful. The little girl was reading the situation and that is truly the beginning to reading anything. I agree that children begin learning to read socially. During our professional development sessions it is important to help others see how written symbols appear to the smallest, early readers and to see that reading begins socially through meaningful interactions!

    • Mark Condon December 9, 2016 at 7:17 am #

      I know, Susan. Though she never said anything that I recall, she was an active participant in that conversation – Observing and reflecting. Quiet, yet powerful little bilingual child, showing us the way she needs for us to be for her.

  3. Debra Adams December 12, 2016 at 1:01 pm #

    Very interesting observation. I never thought about children “reading” a situation or social interaction before, but it’s true. Children read their parents’ reaction to certain symbols or signals, as well. I remember years ago, how my toddler would get so excited over seeing a Shell gas station sign or the golden arches of McDonalds. He knew what those symbols meant. My daughter as a toddler once asked me about a church’s stained glass window that we often drove past. From that time on she always equated stained glass with a church. We visited a friend that actually had a lovely stained glass window in her dining room. My daughter tugged on me and asked, “Mommy, are we at church?” It is so important for young parents to respect their children’s observations and work with them. The same rationale a child uses to read or interpret social interactions, business signs or landmarks can be used to teach the symbolism of the alphabet and the sounds each letter represents. It worked for me. My son started reading at the age of four and my daughter, at five years.

    • Mark Condon December 12, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

      These are great examples of just how little ones are learning ALL THE TIME, Debra. Thanks for sharing.