This month my daughter Hannah turned 25, and my youngest son Søren turned 15. Once upon a time Reading Rainbow was a happy part of our literacy routine. Recently Sara came to visit and we stood in my kitchen humming the theme song, laptop in hand, anticipating LeVar. Surprisingly, what we gleaned from this little stroll down memory lane transcended sentimentality. The treasure struck us in the first four words of the episode: “Hi, behold the egg.” LeVar Burton looked us straight in the eye and took the better part of a minute (55 seconds to be exact) to enunciate four words.
Like Mr. Rogers before him, LeVar knew how to settle us into slow motion and slow motion is just what our children need to learn well.
Let’s face it. Overexposure to electronics is over stimulating, diverting precious brain space from creative thought. Letting the mind engage in the stillness of imagining utilizes areas of the brain that will be left inactive while engaging in electronics.
Children should not have difficulty sitting with a book for a long time.
Children should not have difficulty sitting with a pad of paper and colored pencils.
And children should not have difficulty sitting, without implements, enjoying their imagination in silence.
Our world is cluttered with all sorts of noise—auditory and visual. We are saturated. And the outcomes are disturbing. Rampant distraction is diminishing the capacity for contemplation and creativity. The din is overwhelming.
Let’s change the atmosphere. This fall, why not create a tradition of reading? Engaging with books helps children settle into slow motion so that imagination might thrive. And slow motion is stress sapping!
Back away from the vortex of fast-forward-too-muchness.
Sillness is a form of silence. And everyone knows that silence is golden, “Behold the egg.”
The ability to read and write is complex and involves the integration of numerous foundational skills. Learning to read and write, children must wade through the landscape of phonology (word sounds), orthography (word patterns), morphology (word classifications) and then tackle the more treacherous path through the land of syntax (word patterning) and semantics (grammar) to gather tools that enable them to practice the art of reading and writing. But that’s not all, not at all! We must not discount the child’s EQ when it comes to literacy. Soft skills such as emotional insight, curiosity, and attitude all contribute to motivation and motivation impacts learning. Exposing children to a vast array of language arts experiences in an environment that is brimming with opportunities to enact language from a young age cultivates natural curiosity and promotes peaceful acquisition of skill over time. This is the magic of the tortoise versus the hare in action! And, just to complicate matters just a tiny bit more, literacy is much more than being able to read and write. True literacy is not just the ability to decode and encode language, true literacy occurs when the child moves from the foundational to the realm of creation, the realm of original communication.
Providing prepared opportunities for children to independently discover the tools of literacy across all domains of learning promotes the ability to enact language. It is vitally important that children not lose heart or become discouraged when mistakes occur. Self-correcting materials allow children to learn through their own errors to make the correct decision without having the teacher point it out to them. When encouraged to discover, children are simultaneously empowered to practice such complex skills as:
scrutinizing to make confident decisions
self-critiquing to assert thoughtful opinions
hypothesizing to draw informed conclusions
When Nelson chose the “Bones of the Body” work during our Discovery session, not only did he work through identifying the Latin names for a selection the election of the human skeleton, he was intrigued and invested in the work and, consequently, rewarded intrinsically. This child, while hard at work, was calm, confidently focused, and enthusiastic about learning. I have no doubt that this little exercise had less to do with learning the names of bones and more about strengthening the backbone of literacy. Discovery provides opportunities for children to, not only gather tools, but to encounter and practice the processes through which great ideas are conceived and forged.