Raising a Reader

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I love this time of year when the Vancouver Sun Newspaper “Raise a Reader Campaign” guarantees that you can pick up the newspaper and participate in a very public celebration of parents, teachers, sports stars and children in the pursuit of reading. I love that on one Wednesday morning, it is possible for people in Vancouver to come together and raise $21,000 to support literacy programs in B.C.  It is a commendable yearly campaign but what captures my full attention are the stories.   I was thrilled when the hard work of the staff of Pacific Immigrant Resource Services (PIRS) was featured for The Vancouver Sun for the work they do with our preschoolers and caregivers in our school community on Friday mornings at Tecumseh Elementary School.  I thought the Man in the Moon Program was inspiring and loved reading about Moa and her Dad’s quest to become a storyteller.  I was encouraged to learn about programs like Books, Bags and Babies offered by the Downtown Eastside’s YWCA Crabtree Corner and Carla Mann’s efforts to engage her kids in reading books.  As an educator, I know these adults and children are on a path to cementing relationships and developing reading habits that will help them as they progress through all aspects of school life.

 

As a parent, it also is a time that makes me nostalgic about the time raising my own children and the significance of reading in our lives. Excuse my indulgence as I share some of my significant “reading moments” with my children.  Tyler was still in preschool and we were reading Franklin in the Dark by Paulette Bourgeois.  This was one of his beloved and battered rereads about his friend, Franklin the turtle. Tyler looked up from the book and said, “But Mommy, you’re not afraid of anything. (Big smile. Pause. Quizzical brow) Except for underground parking lots. You are VERY afraid of underground parking lots.” There was no conversation about why. It was just a stated truth. The conversation that ensued was about what makes people afraid and what makes them stop being afraid and what they do if they don’t stop being afraid.  Another conversation about life that flowed naturally in the course of reading together and learning about each other.

The next ” reading moment” was on parent teacher night. My husband was doing a contract out of town and I picked the kids up late from daycare. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to put my babies to bed!  The kids, not so much.  They were in the midst of action drama play and busy karate kicking the air dangerously close to one another,  just beyond my sight line.  My daughter, Larkyn, apparently jumped back to avoid contact. She caught the corner of the wall with the back of her head.  As the blood was gushing with the intensity that comes with a head wound, Tyler ran for her shoes and I grabbed a dish towel, my purse and Junie B. Jones by Barabara Park.  We had experienced the Emergency room before.  Tyler was racked with guilt and went in my purse to retrieve the Junie B. Jones book as soon as we were waiting in Emerg.   Normally not a big fan of oral reading, he didn’t stop reading to his sister until the doctor entered the room.    Once the stitching was over, Larkyn with her frightened eyes and little, white face looks at Tyler and says, “Keep reading”.  Larkyn needed a dose of the fearless and the irreverent Junie B. and she negotiated through the crisis with hero.

Then the Harry Potter era begins with new releases, costumes, the late night “party” during the long line-ups in the local Chapters and the family reading events. By this time, the kids were old enough to read on their own, but the choice was for me to read with practiced intervals by the kids and occasionally Dad. Larkyn was particularly masterful at English accents from retelling taped versions of Sherlock Holmes stories en route home from Los Angeles one summer.  From this one series, we discussed pretty much every major life event we could encounter – life, death, sorrow, betrayal, fear, friendship, romance…  I think back fondly to skiing up Grouse Mountain on a Sunday afternoon and the kids deciding that we should just go home and read Harry Potter and drink hot chocolate. It wasn’t until the last book of the series that we didn’t have the time or patience for a read aloud.  We had a lottery to decide who got to read the book first. I infuriated both kids by reading all night so I didn’t have to wait my turn. Yes, all of us LOVED the books and the kids even committed to take turns carrying the latest hardcover edition when we travelled.  By the time the final movie came out, the kids were old enough to visit a pub after the movie.  The characters, the challenges, the responses, the discussions and the quotes were all part of growing up and family history.

My inclination is to continue to share more of these reading stories.  My point is that in none of these cases were we practicing reading.  Starting before pre-school, reading books was part of family life.  It was hypothesizing about favorite characters;  Connections with our own lives;  Empathizing with people who were very similar or very different from us;  Encountering new experiences or adventures or tragedies.  Reading as a child is much like the experience of reading as an adult.   We become more proficient readers with better vocabularies throughout our reading lives.  Researchers have told us for years that the best way to develop reading skills is by reading.  I certainly am in favour of students developing reading proficiency.  I strongly believe that this needs to happen as children are reading, as opposed to “practicing” for a time when they will be reading in the future.  My hope is that all children will have positive experiences and conversations that make them feel good when they curl up with a good book, which leads to another book, and another…

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Moving Beyond Half Truths and Innuendo

In The Vancouver Sun (Jan.3,2015 page A3), Daphne Braham did an OpEd piece: “A call for a return to rationality”.   Imagine the notion of proposing the checking of facts before forming opinions.   Brilliant!  What happened to the pause button, the one that use to be hit before uninformed criticisms intended to discredit, were lobbed into conversations or amplified via social media? How did we get to a point where we opted out of taking responsibility for what we popularize?   Negative statements or decontextualized comments are intimate incompetence, lack of the required cognitive skills or general untrustworthiness.  At times, even blatant lies are presented as fact and retracted after the damage is done or not.

How do we teach kids to care about fact?  How do we teach them that half truths and innuendo are neither reliable nor moral?   I am working under the presumption that we have a role to play as educators, parents and friends of the children under our care.  If we teach our children to scrutinize information and ask good questions, certainly it follows that there will be a higher degree of insistence on reasoned and fair decisions from themselves, as well as from friends, family and decision makers.

I recently went to see the Broadway musical, Into The Woods, that recently made it’s film appearance starring Meryl Streep.  Two classic lines jumped out of the movie:   “Be careful of the stories you tell, children will listen” and “I was brought up to be charming, not sincere”.  What are the stories we are telling our children with our conversations and treatment of others people and discussion of events?  Are we quick to jump to conclusions based on hearsay?  Do we give the benefit of the doubt to the person involved?  Do we place more value on charm than sincerity?  Do we ask enough questions to try to get a full picture of the situation or person.  Do we insist on factual information to make reasoned decisions?

The Grade 3 and 4 students that I work with two days a week are starting to do research projects on Canada.  How do we get children to understand history as a story involving real people with real stories at a specific point in time?  History by it’s nature is skewed by the person who is allowed to tell the story.  If children understand this at a young age, does it impact their quest to look at the story from a variety of viewpoints?  Does it define an insistence on looking at the facts?  Does it help them to look past the personality of the person telling the story?  My training in history insists that it must be true.  My social conscience hopes it is. The Grade 3 students in my class are each researching a province in Canada.  The Grade 4’s are researching Aboriginal Nations across Canada who are defined by geography.  I am very interested to be part of this conversation.  What will the questions be?  I’m hoping it is a spark that leads to insistence that rationality reins supreme in guiding perceptions and conclusions.  The beauty of being an educator, is we really do believe we can make a difference and create positive change.