|Back to school night for parents . . .
What follows stems from a request I received in the following note from a reading specialist in New Jersey:
Dear Mr. Gile,
I am on the national panel for Teacher's Choice Awards and have the privilege of now owning one of your books. I plan to read Oh, How I Wished I Could Read! to parents at Back-To-School Night. Do you have any encouragement I might pass on to these parents to give them the incentive to stress the importance of reading at home? Looking forward to sharing your book with my students.
— Robin A.
The first thing I would want to say to parents at your Back-to-School Night, Robin, is the same thing I say at all my evening programs: "Thank you for being here. I have traveled the equivalent of four trips around the planet earth and have worked with more than half a million students, teachers, and parents throughout the United States, in Europe, and in New Zealand. No matter what school circumstances I encounter or what system is being used, I find two constant factors present whenever I see great success: committed teachers and supportive parents. So thank you for showing your support for your students by showing up. Your children notice what you do. You are sending two important messages to your children by being here. You are telling them they are important, and you are telling them school is important."
To emphasize how important parents are in helping their children succeed in school, I would read what I wrote to parents in another book (What Is That Thing? Whose Stuff Is This?) to foster reading:
"Children with parents actively involved in their children's education scored 28 points above average in reading while children with low parental involvement scored 46 points below average in national testing cited by the U.S. Secretary of Education. That 74 point spread is about one third of the average score. Those results remind us that helping children develop reading power and all the powers which flow out of reading is a team effort. Parents have about a third of the responsibility, teachers have about a third of the responsibility, and the children themselves have about a third of the responsibility. Each of us has a vital role to play, a contribution to make."
• I would tell parents at your Back-to-School Night how easy it is for teachers to recognize children who are read to at home. They have greater attention spans and larger vocabularies. They have a deeper appreciation for books and become better readers themselves. Their larger vocabularies make them more creative and help them do better throughout their entire academic careers.
And children who are read to at home benefit from the bonding experience by becoming more self-confident. Time that parents invest in reading to their children at home pays lifelong dividends far out of proportion to the time invested. Taking even a few minutes from your busy schedule to read with them tells them reading is important. And taking time from your busy schedule to read with them is a powerful way you say, "I love you."
• I would tell parents at your Back-to-School Night how important their personal attention is and how much better it is to share a book with their children than it is to give them a DVD to watch. Giving your child a DVD says, "Don't bother me." Your warm, personal interaction with a book says, "Please bother me. You're important to me."
• I would tell parents about the impact they have have when they read to and with their children and would provide examples and concrete images to illustrate the impact they an have by citing some of my reading heroes.
One of my favorite examples is Thomas Edison's mother. In Milan, Ohio, Thomas Edison's birthplace, there's a beautiful park in the middle of town just a short stroll from the house where Edison was born. The park is across the street from the cozy Invention Family Restaurant where locals and visitors gather and is surrounded by wonderful antique stores. In the middle of the park is a bronze statue of Mrs. Edison reading to young Thomas.
Mrs. Edison knew her son was having trouble in school, but she also knew he was a bright and creative youngster. By reading to him, she overcame his problems in school and opened for him the world of ideas. By reading to and with her son, she set him on a course of exploring and discovering and creating that literally altered the course of human history. The statue is a permanent reminder of the powers that are unleashed when children and parents open books together and enter the wonderful world of reading. When I visit Milan and see the bronze statue, I find myself wishing there were a statue conveying the same message to every parent in every city in America.
• I would tell parents at your Back-to-School Night that reading with your children at home is important because it provides you with opportunities to stop trouble before it begins. Twenty-five percent of our children arrive at school with reading disabilities, according to one Midwestern study. Reading with your children at home enables you to notice if there are any problems and take corrective action early.
Because seventy-five percent of our children in remedial reading programs are boys, I would especially want to thank fathers and grandfathers who show their support by taking the time to attend your Back-to-School Night. Fathers and grandfathers spend a lot of time teaching their sons and grandsons how to play sports, but it's even more important for fathers and grandfathers to teach their sons and grandsons how important reading is by reading with them and by being readers themselves. Their influence is not limited by gender, of course, as Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters (ISBN: 9781596980129) by Dr. Margaret J. Meeker reminds us.
Children imitate what they see their parents doing. When they see their parents living the couch potato life and spending their time watching TV, children become couch potatoes and spend their time watching TV. If they see their parents reading, children become readers. Computers can be useful and helpful, but they also can be just another addictive video attraction not too different from TV. Having magazines, newspapers, and books readily available at home and talking about articles and stories with the children are simple ways to strengthen your own and your children's reading and listening skills, hallmarks of success.
• I would tell parents at your Back-to-School Night what happened when I was the guest on a radio talk show in Alabama. The host was concerned about the decline in our children's reading proficiency and asked me to join him for a 30-minute discussion. Callers made it such a broad-ranging discussion that I ended up being on the program for an hour and a half. By the end of the program, the host and I realized that virtually every social problem in America has a literacy dimension. Reading failure fosters future failures in life, and reading success leads to future successes.
One caller, a teacher who focused on ways to help children read and write better, said, "I have an answer for children who ask me, 'Why read?' I tell them to put their 'y' at the end of the word read and see what you get. You get the word 'ready.' When you can read, you are ready for anything and everything." That's why reading with your children at home is so important. It helps them get ready for anything and everything in their lives.
Reading to and with your children helps them get ready for writing, too. A National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reported that seventy-five percent of our children lack writing skills. That followed an NAEP report that said only thirty percent of our children are reading at the proficient level, meaning they can understand what they read and respond intelligently. Reading is the gateway to writing. And good writing is just good thinking. So reading to your children helps them have better, stronger critical and creative thinking skills. It helps them be better problem solvers and problem preventers and empowers them to have happier, richer lives.
• I would tell parents some specific ways they can help their children develop reading power. Because so many parents are so busy trying to make ends meet, here are some easy steps to follow even during the most hectic times:
1. First, limit TV time or turn off the TV entirely during the school week. The National Assessment of Education Progress has confirmed that reading scores are inversely proportional to the amount of time children spend watching TV. The more time a child spends watching TV, the lower the child's reading fluency and comprehension. Too much TV is one of the primary causes of what some now call the dumbing down of America.
A secondary benefit of time spent reading to and with their children is that it cuts down on TV time and increases the amount of language interaction children have with parents — which is their primary preparation for learning. At the same time, reading to and with their children builds vocabulary power: in the world of the spoken word, the vocabulary is much smaller than it is in the world of writing.
Whenever you watch a movie together, be sure to turn on the subtitles. Other nations — including India, China, and Finland — use this technique to foster literacy at low cost or practically no cost per person. In some countries, subtitles are included with every program on national TV.
Parents at your Back-to-School Night may leave with a greater sense of urgency and a stronger commitment to making their homes reader friendly if you let them know how many countries have surged ahead of the United States in literacy recently. They include Georgia, Cuba, Estonia, Latvia, Barbados, Slovenia, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, and Tonga. If reading and writing skills are fundamental to all learning and are reliable predictors of future success, there is a great deal at stake for all of us in our personal and national reading challenge.
Also, when you do watch TV with the children, cultivate their critical thinking skills by talking with them about what you watch. Ask them what they think the author's message is in a program or ad. Ask them what the world would be like if everyone behaved the way the actors behave in the story or ad. Ask them if that's the kind of world they want. Ask them if that's the kind of you they want. Seize opportunities to point out characters’ bullying behavior and the consequences for both bullies and their victims. Children who are encouraged to think critically, another gift that comes with reading and writing, are less susceptible to passively accepting any antisocial messages embedded in programs and ads.
2. Be a reader yourself. What children see the adults in their lives doing, they will do.
3. Give books and magazine subscriptions as gifts. Read them to and with the children and talk about the stories and articles with them.
4. Though digital materials are popular today and can be useful, too, have more easily and readily accessible print publications — books, magazines, and daily or weekly newspapers — in convenient spots throughout your home to make it easy for reading to fill even brief spare moments.
5. Combine dinner preparation or house project times with reading. Listening to the children read while you complete other tasks multiplies reading time.
6. Clip from print publications or print out from you computer articles of interest to you and your children and share them at mealtime or have the children read them to you while you are driving.
Those suggestions are simply a beginning, of course. Achievements, personal and beyond, flow from reading, as What Is That Thing? Whose Stuff Is This? reminds us: "Words give us power to learn and to grow. They spread knowledge all over the place. With words, we've learned how to build cars, to make planes, and put rockets in outer space." That's why today's readers are tomorrow's leaders. -- John Gile (If you are interested in program information, click here.)
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