I have been teacher for many more years than I would like to admit. For 12 years, I worked at The Albany Free School, one of the oldest alternative schools in the U.S. The founder, Mary Leue, taught me much about how children learn. She taught me how to instill a love of learning in them and how to get out of their way but still be available to help when asked. I learned how to make learning fun, and I learned a lot about myself, what motivates me and how I learn. The years I spent there gave me invaluable experience that has helped me, not only as a teacher, but in my life as well.
My two younger children were avid readers and learned to read early on. My youngest son, who was quite a bit younger than his siblings, was not interested in books. He loved listening to stories but didn't want to "waste his time" reading for himself. He also was exposed to more electronic devices because of his older siblings. At one point, he showed a little interest in learning to read but never really dove into it. Although, it drove me crazy, I remembered all of my training and stepped back, hoping he would finally make a break through in reading. He discovered Shakespeare in 4th grade and finally learned to read by reading Shakespeare. He even starred in a Shakespeare play put on in the school and had a role in a more public play as well. He did learn to read, but still doesn't love it the way his siblings do. My older grandson also does not love reading, These two boys are only three years apart in age, causing me to wonder if it's a generational thing or a backlash of the technology boom.
Both of these boys were born during the growth of electronic gaming and computer technology. I love technology and was one of the first people to buy a personal computer when they became available to the public. I also saw to it that my young children had access to that computer and learned early primitive programming. I could see it was the wave of the future. However, I've also seen the changes it has brought about in our young people. I've seen lots of kids who are unable to entertain themselves. Even modern baby toys have all sorts of flashing lights, bells and whistles to keep them entertained. Yet, I remember when I would lay my babies down on the floor with a few simple toys or a mobile hanging above them, and they were perfectly contented to watch me busy myself around them, straightening up or cooking, whatever needed doing. I also talked or sang to them as I worked, and television was severely restricted until they were older - a constant battle with their father.
Much later, my granddaughter lived with me (full-time at first, then part-time) from the time she was 1 year until she was 10. She also had no interest in reading but has now become an avid reader. Once again, I struggled with how to help her find her way into a love of books. The first thing I did was give her much less screen time than my son had. She was left to her own devices a lot. She had playdates and went outdoors. She had no electronics around her until she started school. She, like my youngest son, was a little older than usual for a beginning reader and was very precocious. With each of them, I needed to find things that would interest them. Years ago, publishers created books that were high interest and comprehension but still easy readers. It's not hard to do, just have complex story lines using simple words. Now, they can't be found. I checked with my local library, and was told that they no longer catered to these slower learners. Like me, the librarian was dismayed at this but had no helpful suggestions.
I decided to transcribe their own stories for them to read back to me. When the summer reading program was happening, I went back to the librarian, explained the situation and asked if she would count these hand written stories as books they had read. She eagerly agreed. They illustrated them either with stickers or with their own drawings and brought them in to show the librarian. It was a huge success. Then, I finally found a book that my granddaughter loved, and that changed the tide. It was "Pirate Mom". I would never have guessed that would be the magic book. We went to the library every week looking through the readers, looking for the right one, and that was it. After that, she suddenly couldn't get enough to read.
I think we have to work a little harder now to battle the adverse effects of technology on our children. We have to look harder for that "just right" book. We have to work very hard at limiting screen time and be willing to fight with them about it because we know it's in their best interest. And, we have to start when they are very young to instill independence and a love of learning by insisting that they have alone time and down time. I always read to my kids and read my own books around them, but in this modern age, reading doesn't seem to be enough. I had to set stronger limits and express my expectations. However, it's impossible to force children to read. It sets up a power struggle that we can't possibly win, and we don't want them to have negative feelings about reading. We want them to see the advantages and feel the joy in reading.
I still love technology and recognize that our children need to be able to keep up with their peers. They need to learn all of the technological advances and be proficient in computers and telecommunication. However, do they really need to start as babies and toddlers? Do they need a toy computer or cell phone before they are even in school? I don't think so. I think they need to enjoy being children for as long as they can, playing in the dirt, running and jumping, and learning about the world around them. There will be plenty of time for them to jump into the world of technology. For now, why don't we let them enjoy being kids.
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