I have a life-long curiosity or inquiry going on in my mind. It never seems to leave me and sometimes it drives me crazy! The general gist of my nemesis goes like this:
Just how the heck do the very young actually arrive at their working knowledge about how black squiggly lines magically transform into talking!
I just think it is an amazing milestone for any human being to achieve! So you would think that researchers and language specialists would have the whole process figured out. Well, in my humble opinion, after reading the research for thirty odd years, the question still has heaps of mystery running through it!
I am hoping that by sharing the chatter that goes on in my head about this topic, you might talk to me about your ideas and observations of shorter peoples’ efforts to make sense of print. I am finding listening/watching/reflecting on the moves that my three grandkids make when presented with story and print has provided me with insights that I don’t see in the literature. Can I give you some examples of these life experiences?
Life Experience #1 Ari, age two and one half, shows me her new “Big Girl Bed” and I learn that how the very young learn about print is a profound event for any individual… short or tall.
Dear Reader, will you let me share a few of the recent literacy events in my life? I just want to know if you agree or disagree with some of the things that have happened over the last few days at the farm. It is my opinion that my Ari experience is just short of miraculous and should be shouted out and celebrated by all of us who love literacy moments.
Here is what happened.
Ari, my two and a half year old granddaughter, demands that I come and see her new “big girl” bed. She lies down on her bed and pats the pillow, signaling me to lie down with her.
I do as I am told, even though the bed is actually her crib with those railing things removed, and the mattress has been lowered. I am not quite sure we will both fit…
Once we are both settled and cozy, she suddenly springs out of the bed and locates her latest favourite book, “Time for Bed” by Mem Fox.
(I could mention here that it is a signed copy, but that would distract you the reader; so I won’t mention it)
Ari hands me the book and says, “Let’s cuddle.”
I know that “cuddle” means “read the book”.
The book is right side up and opened to the first page. She points to the words and says, “Do it Grandma”.
It’s time for bed, little mouse, little mouse,
Darkness is falling all over the house.
“That her baby? That her hole. She live outside?” These are a few examples of the utterances that flow effortlessly as we cuddle.
Ari turns the pages with precision, but only after we finish talking about the picture. She does most of the talking, because I just bounce off her erudite comments. There is a lot to talk about; the pictures get both of us super excited.
I tend to repeat the two lines that Mem Fox has brilliantly crafted and leave off the last few words for Ari to complete– if I forget this part she says ‘No, I do it”.
We also have little battles during the read. Here is an example:
It’s time to sleep, little pup, little pup,
If you don’t sleep soon the sun will be up.
“Grandma, that not a pup.
“Yes, Ari, a pup is a baby dog.”
“No it not. It just little,” she says.
The stars on high are shining bright-
Sweet dreams, my darling sleep well…
Ari jumps out of bed and starts going through her books. She finds the “I Wonder” book I recently wrote. The cover has a picture of the Seven Sisters constellation.
“Look stars here too!” she announces.
“I not tired do again…”
It’s time for bed, little foal, little foal,
I’ll whisper a secret, but don’t tell a soul.
“What a soul, Grandma? What a foal?” she asks.
“Do again,” she demands, while organizing the book so that it is all ready to go.
For the third time.
It’s time for bed, little mouse, little mouse,
Darkness is falling all over the house.
“….Grandpa no like mouse. He put down the toilet.” (We live on a farm…what can I say?)
We read and talk to the end of the book…
“I not tired, do again. “ (by this time my feet are giving me those pins and needles. Whose idea was it to get Ari a big girl bed anyway?
It’s time for bed, little cat, little cat,
So snuggle in tight, that’s right, like that.
“Why she licking kitty? Cat get hair in tongue! Ick,”
Just as I was expecting the fourth call to read again, I heard the quiet rhythmic breathing of a sleeping granddaughter.
I was keen for her to STAY ASLEEP so I lay still and decided to think about our cozy time together.
Hmmm…Has Ari mastered some of the milestones that experts refer to as Concepts of Print? (Like I said in the beginning, I have been thinking about this topic for a long, long, time and so I know this list off by heart. I start matching Ari’s skills with the boring list.) For example; Ari shows me that she knows to start at the beginning of the book and can turn the pages. But the list that is in my head suddenly seems thin and watery...There is no meat to it.
And it hits me- The really big ticket items are nowhere to be seen on that list! I realize that I will need to have a word with the concepts of print folks. They need to review their checklist.
Here are just a few of the major Ari milestones they completely ignored:
- · Knows book reading time feels cozy and safe
- · Knows book time means talking time, and we take turns talking about the things that the book makes us both remember and think about
- · Knows that she can talk back to the book person (the writer) and let her know she has made mistakes (I think Mem Fox can take Ari’s negative comments and still hold her head high)
- · Knows that the pictures are there for reading-by this, I mean that we both can jump into the pictures and be part of the landscape, if that makes sense to you, dear reader
- · Knows that when we read again…most of the text stays the same, but new things pop up for discussion
- · Knows she can lead the talk and make demands
- · Connects each and every page with her own experiences
- · Connects the present read with other picture books she loves
- · She has the right to challenge the text
- · She gets that story has an important purpose; it has playful language, it is like music because there is a beat, and for some reason, she can predict the last few lines (because of the rhyme-what do you think?)
Ari wants to engage in story all the time. She pretends from morning till night. She is crazy about horses, and uses H is for Horse by Mike Ulmer to teach me about the proper names for tack, and all the types of horses…(her favourites are appaloosa and paints.)
Ari is already part of the reading community. I tell her she is “cooking with gas!” The flame is created by the emotional sparking that happens between the covers of the book, the person she loves who reads with her, and her own belief in herself as a real smarty pants who knows a lot about what is going on.
I say that this relationship is what makes someone short or tall, nail down the concepts of print, and guarantees a place in the reading community.
Back to my thinking about the Concepts of Print Checklist.
Dear Reader, let’s go out into our community and get serious about supporting and celebrating the connection between a loving caring person, be it mother, father, brother, sister, nanny, day care provider, kindergarten teacher, elders, friends, and reading and talking together.
Mem Fox states in her brilliant book: Reading Magic,
“If every parent understood the huge educational benefits and intense happiness brought about by reading aloud to their children – and if every adult caring for a child read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy.”
Within one generation! What’s to stop us? Let’s give it a go!”
Three stories a day –that’s the minimum- not the maximum!
Do you know that tune? It should be the song Canadians sing every day. Every citizen in this country should be reading to our young children every day…that’s the MINIMUM not the MAXIMUM.
Dear Reader... that is why I am reading, playing and conversing with very young children every chance I get. I am determined to learn all I can from my brilliant problem solving shorter friends about how their minds work to figure out how to make sense of those squiggly black lines.
And this is why I want to invite you to join me or bring your shorter young people to the Boys and Girls Club on Fifth Street on Wednesday. We can play and reflect together. And of course, the most important part of you joining us, is that our kids will get three stories a day! And that is how to change the world. Illiteracy erased in one generation! Please join in!
The Literacy Lady