Friday, December 10, 2010

Really early early literacy

One of the first things I teach my young students each fall is about books. How to handle a book, that we hold it with two hands or on our laps, that we turn the page that is on the right side of the book towards the left side of the book. That pages are not actually for ripping or eating. My students are usually between 3 and almost 5 at the start of the school year. These are life skills that are necessary. Can you imagine a 5th grader trying to eat a book because no one ever told him not to do it?

Anyway, this fall is not that much different. On maternity leave, I spend a great deal of time reading picture books to my young daughter. At 4 months old, she is starting to reach to turn the pages. On the right side of the book. I know that part of it is developmental, I mean she is reaching for everything these days. But, she does consistently reach for the pages on the right side and not those on the left side of the book. Can I say that she has totally mastered this skill? No not yet, but we are on the beginning of developing literacy skills and hopefully a life-long of books

My thoughts drift back to the classroom and the task of teaching 15 four year olds these skills. 4 years old and unsure of how to handle a book? That is really sad. Could they have learned basic book skills earlier? I suspect that the answer is yes but believe that there are few obstacles to overcome: 1) Insufficient access to books 2) Belief that since children cannot read, there is no point in reading to them 3) Lack of adults reading their own books and therefore serving as models. Would having access to books earlier in life set more children up for success later on?

In college, I worked for Jumpstart, whose mission to work towards the day when every child in America enters school prepared to succeed. I still believe in and support their mission. The great work they are doing takes place in daycares and preschools around the country that serve low-income students and their families. I wonder what can be done at these children's homes to promote literacy. Programs like ReadBoston work to increase access to books in a child's life, but does the information on the importance of daily reading make it to parents?

In the past, I have gathered resources from the community on early literacy to distribute during our fall open house and throughout the year as new students arrive. Of course, I am also working hard with the students in school, but could they have started earlier? What if everyone came to school knowing how to handle a book appropriately?

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