Taking a Breath

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A funny thing happened on the way to my blog post last night.

One of the things about homeschooling is that the kids are all home, together, and they get to share everything. So when someone gets sick, everyone is in on the experience. If you have a family, you know how this works. The constant laundry, the cleaning supplies, the probability that with four sick children one of them is likely to be up at any given time of the night. Parenting does not stop for illness; on the contrary, it shifts into a higher gear. The vigilance, the worry, the lack of sleep pile on and everything is more challenging for the duration of the crisis. And all of this is assuming that you don’t get sick as well.

I like to be useful, so I tend to appreciate this more immediate, concrete mode of parenting. Taking care of someone in need is a good way to feel that I’m doing my job. It’s less complicated, somehow. More elemental.

Maybe it’s the lack of sleep talking.

Anyway, last night my ten year-old’s asthma, which she has had since she was a baby, was triggered by her cold and went into overdrive. Her inhaler didn’t seem to be working and she couldn’t keep anything down. When I got home from work she was ghostly pale.

I took her to the emergency room and she was given a nebulizer treatment. She was a champion. Her relief at being able to breathe again freed her up to tell me all about what she had been reading. We discussed Kit Carson and the Oregon Trail. She regretted having ignored my advice to bring a book (you should always bring a book). So she took my sketchbook and drew a still life of the medical instruments in the triage room.

As a parent you will understand the value of this moment: of being close to your child and knowing that she is going to be okay; that she is free to be the person she is and to share it.

It should be easier for me to appreciate these moments when they happen. My children do something astounding every day. But sometimes it’s important to start with just being there, just being present with them.

Just breathing. That’s a good start.

Reading, and What Comes Before

“Daddy, do you think I’ll be able to read when I’m a grownup?”

This question came from my six-year-old daughter. Her eldest sister, now ten, started reading when she was six and moved straight from picture books to the Narnia series. The next oldest, now eight, endured frustration until everything clicked for her this year. Now she’s unstoppable and reading space on the couch is at a premium. I don’t think the six-year-old has much to worry about.

My children are homeschooled, and their mother is a skilled and experienced teacher, but there’s really no secret to how reading came to be a prized experience in our family. We have books. Lots of books. Books on the shelves, books on every flat surface, books on the floor and under the beds. Books we sought out and books that were gifted; books from frequent trips to the library and books that appeared mysteriously without explanation. Books that fall out when we open the car door.

The presence of books in the home is probably the most powerful way to encourage literacy in children. After all, kids learn what’s important from what is in their environment. A long-term study found that having books on hand is a more significant indicator of a child’s future academic success than the parent’s level of education (which was previously thought to be the most important factor). According to the study, “Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.”

Reading to your children is important, of course. After all, they have to know what those leafy things are and how they work (and why nothing will happen when you swipe or click them). There are a variety of preliteracy activities that help to ensure that kids will read at the appropriate time.

  • Oral language skills. Children listen to adult conversations. They learn to ask questions. They tell stories, especially if we tell stories to them.
  • Play. Left on their own, children will naturally create their own narratives through the very important activity of playing with one another.
  • Language is everywhere. According to this article, “While it’s important to understand preliteracy skills and behaviors, you don’t have to directly teach them. Instead, try to follow your child’s lead. For example, interesting experiences like grocery shopping, bank visits, and trips to the veterinarian encourage children to talk. These informal occasions allow them to take risks using language, particularly in new and creative ways. They will play with familiar words, explore new meanings, and test uses of language in different settings.”

Having books around? Talking to kids? Is it really that easy? Not for everyone. My six-year-old is still a little concerned that reading won’t happen during her childhood (I give her six months to a year). But reading, in this environment, will happen when it happens. Every child is different, and the skills will fall into place when they’re ready (as any parent who has struggled to potty train their child can attest).

We are fortunate to have much more than twenty books. Of course, this increases exponentially the possibility of library fines. Somehow, it’s always worth it.

Nurturing Lifetime Readers

This week’s guest post is from Lindsey Blake. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Lindsey. Here’s hoping there are some books under the tree this year.

One of my favorite times as a child was when my mom would say, “Alright girls, let’s pick out some books for us to read before bedtime!” My sister and I would then race to our bedroom closet and bring out an armful of books. My mom would read them to us; and though my sister and I were toddlers, we would sometimes “read” the books to my mom.

Looking back, bedtime reading was truly a bonding experience for the three of us. No matter how busy we were as a family, my mom made an effort to set aside this time for us every night. Even if it was for a mere five minutes I always treasured this time, and it became part of our nightly routine.

Reading to children, from as early as infancy, is helpful in many ways:

1) Reading can foster a child’s imagination. Reading introduces children to new words, colors and pictures, stories and concepts. A preschooler may open up a book and read to those around her. She may tell a story that makes no sense to an adult, but to the child it is fascinating!

2) Reading can help children understand tough transitional times. Big milestones like potty training, going to school, going to the doctor, welcoming a new sibling, etc. can often be explained well with stories and pictures.

3) Reading a book with your kids can help build their attention span. Children, as you know, are full of energy and have a hard time staying still. Through reading on a regular basis, children will learn to be engaged with the story and will develop an interest in listening.

4) Reading creates the ability to learn for a lifetime. A toddler who is read to becomes an elementary student who likes to read and will continue to read as an adult.

I encourage you to make reading to your child a regular activity. It’s never too early to start, and if you build it into your daily routine, then books will become a treasured and valuable part of their lives.

Happy reading!

 

Lindsey Blake is a Family Support Worker in the Parents And Children Together program at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Reading With Preschoolers

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This week’s blog post is by guest contributor Angie Dixon. We hope that you enjoy her post and we look forward to more of her contributions in the future.

 

When it comes to reading with young children every family has a different style, a style that is unique to them. Some parents may be devoted readers; others may rarely read, and still others may not know how to read themselves. Regardless, all parents -even those with limited reading skills – can share books with their children. Here are some quick ideas that all parents can use to help teach their children literacy skills.

Family stories. What a great way to teach family values, retell your family history and increase a child’s thinking and listening skills. All children enjoy hearing “When I grew up” stories about their parents, grandparents or other loved ones and friends. Break out the old photo albums to help bring these stories to life.

Children’s stories. Share with your children the story of the day they were born or became part of your family. Tell them how you decided on the name that they have and where it came from, and what they were like as a little baby. What types of food did they like, what were their first words, what were some of their favorite toys?

Picture books. Did you know that a book does not need to have any words in order to tell a story? Picture books are a great way to increase your child’s language skills. Asking simple questions while looking at the pictures can help you create a learning opportunity. “What do you see?” “What is he doing?” “How do you think that made her feel?” “What do you think will happen next?”

Ways to include reading every day:

*Set aside a scheduled time for reading – bedtime or nap time works great.

*Read aloud different things – signs, food labels, directions for mac-n-cheese or even material in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

*Take time to listen to your child pretend to read a book or tell a story based on the pictures.

*Keep books where children can reach them.

*Take a trip to the public library for story time, and stay to explore the shelves with them.

 

Angie Dixon is a Home Based Specialist in the Therapeutic Early Childhood Program at Family Tree Relief Nursery.