last friday my husband and i had dinner with friends who have a one year old daughter. just a few weeks past her one year old birthday, she toddled around after dinner, pulling her board books off her shelves in a playful request for us to read Sandra Boyton and other fun stories. her reading corner is complete with a miniature arm chair and she scooted herself into it and opened the pages of book after book, taking obvious delight in the pictures.
watching her i couldn't help mentally doing the 'concepts of print' test we give to first graders.
*knows front of book from back~ check +1
*knows top of book from bottom of book ~ check +1
*knows to turn pages in book from front to back ~ check +1
*knows to start looking at the pages from left to right ~ check +1
*shows a knowledge that print contains meaning ~ check +1
She's 1 year old and she already has 5 points on an 11 point test for first graders. And I don't think this is abnormal for children in the middle and upper classes. Can you imagine not reading to your one year old? Or not having a toddler know how to turn the pages of a book?
It's hard to believe that we get students in kindergarten and first grade who have no idea how to hold a book, no idea where to start from, or how the book works. With limited exposure to print they don't understand how books work, or that we read books to gain meaning, whether for information or for pleasure. How can we begin to teach them the ABCs if they don't have any understanding of where in their lives this will become important? Learning to read is hard enough when you have the desire to figure out what those pesky letters are saying.
Programs that give books to at-risk children are wonderful, but they only accomplish half the battle. I had a parent of a child who failed the concepts about print test tell me she didn't need anymore books in her house. They had tons of books! she said as she described the children's rooms, which yes, sounded like they were FULL of books.
But if no one reads the books to the children, or models what one does with a book, how do children know that books are not just pretty types of skinny blocks?
somehow we have to teach parents how to read with their children, even with their babies. giving them the books isn't enough. we have to help them buy into the importance of creating a reading life for their child.
my dream is to one day do this, i just haven't figured out how yet.