I grew up with parents who read a lot. We all love reading. My parents have said that my sister, Robin, and I (we're twins) just started reading one day when we were 3 years old. Maybe they are making this up, but I do remember reading all the time as a kid. My mother wrote in her journal every single day for many, many years and her journal (she let me read the first 3 years of my life when I had twins of my own to see how she dealt with the insanity!) reflects different books she was reading and what they made her think about in the world. I grew up with reading and writing all around me. On the Christmas Days of my childhood, I remember less about new toys and clothes - although we did get those things - and more about the lazy afternoons spent around the Christmas tree, all of us cozied up with our hot cocoa, reading our new novels. It is one of the things I miss (A LOT...) since I have had kids of my own -- just reading. I simply don't have the time much anymore to read every day for myself, for pleasure, in the middle of the day. I read every night before I go to bed, but I don't
often ever have the opportunity to break out my novel and just read for 2 or 3 hours at a lazy, indulgent stretch. I do, however, read with the kids every day. Many times a day, actually. And I hope that before long we will all be stretched out on many an afternoon with our books. Ahhh....
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a talk and party given by LeapFrog to the writers of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto. The talk was informative and enlightening (even getting a bit political at times, which I really liked), the mingling with the other Silicon Valley Moms Blog writers was fun as usual, the food and wine fanstastic. (Note to self: Make your own potato martinis are a big hit! Even I, a terrible cook, could do this at home for a party...you know, if I ever HAD an adult party at my house....)
Silicon Valley Moms Group Co-Founder and Founder of Techmamas Beth Blecherman did a liveblog from the event. LeapFrog announced their new LeapFrog Community at community.leapfrog.com, which aims to connect parents as their kids learn on LeapFrog parents, but that was the extent of the "sales" stuff. Dr. Anne Cunningham from the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Education, led the discussion.
I got A LOT out of the discussion - even though I only spoke once (when the boys were being bashed for not wanting to sit still and read, to offer that, out of my boy-girl twins, my daughter is the one who is less likely to sit still and listen during storytime, while my son loves to read and will sit there for hours if you are willing to read to him until your voice gives out). The most interesting and valuable take-aways for me were:
- If you consider yourself a good speller (and I actually do...I will always choose "Word Worm" in Cranium. A lot of us in the audience raised our hands to say "yes, we are good spellers!"), this happens early. Infants and kids aged 0-3 years who are bathed in rich language (Dr. Cunningham has a study on her website which discusses this) have a trajectory for literacy skills that explodes. For those who don't get a lot of language exposure when they are very young, their skills level off. It is very important to read aloud to kids every day at least once. It can be hard for moms to generate a lot of talk, so reading a lot of variety is where you can get a lot of richness and vocabulary. Kids should be reading 30 minutes a day.
- Nursery rhymes and poetry are great because it exposes structure of language. Moving away from the meaning of language to the structure helps with their early literacy. For example, knowing that "go to" are two words.
- The haves and have nots should have the same access to print and to language. Dr. Cunningham talked about a study that was done about the impact of print exposure - kids who can decode quickly are really ahead of kids who can't. The surprising part was that not only are the kids who had a lot of print exposure better in terms of comprehension, but these kids will read more print and will read more often. Intelligence is what you do with what you are naturally endowed with. And avid readers can trump the smart people. More alarming about the have nots? In 3rd and 4th grade, studies show a fan out effect where good readers keep going up and the poor readers level off and lose interest. And these kids don't read for a LIFETIME. Again, we want everyone to have the same access. We talked about why people with higher incomes talk and read more. Dr. Cunningham offered that those with lower income just have a different style of speaking - it is more direct not as quisitive and back and forth. The media is different. The environments are totally different. CityMama, a former 3rd grade teacher of low income kids offered a perspective on this: these kids had life skills. Palo Alto kids don't need to worry. We need to worry about the have nots.
- We tend to dummy down our speech, but this is not great for young kids. Even if they don't comprehend every word, the exposure to a complex and large vocabulary is huge for their early literacy skills. When kids start reading themselves, parents should STILL read to them aloud, but expose them to material that is a little bit above them.
- For active boys (or girls...as is the case at my house!) - one thing you can do if they won't sit to listen to a book is to just have DVDs and audio books on in the background. Having a conversation about it also helps.
- The role of technology in early literacy is hot right now. Policy makers are turning to technology to help before and after school to get kids engaged. This is invisible learning. A low income study is seeing real gains with LeapFrog products. There was a bit of debate in our discussion about funds in Palo Alto schools being used for smart boards in each class rather than to keep arts and language courses that were slightly under-enrolled. Techmama offered that there is a learning curve for this technology, but that it is transformative.
After the talk, LeapFrog bestowed gift bags upon us all. LeapFrog was VERY generous to us bloggers, sending us all home with some great educational toys for our kids to play with. Ava (2.5 years old now) received a fun Fridge Farm magnetic animals set and Learn & Groove radio. She loves them both. These early learning toddler toys are similar to my experience with LeapFrog before this event (we had a Learn & Groove muscial table and the Fridge Phoenics magnetic set when Ben and Lily were littler). Ben and Lily (almost 5 and picking up this whole reading thing little by little) are wowed by their Tag...although I really need to get a second one, as twins fighting over who gets to read now is not exactly the positive experience I want to create! :) The Tag is a special pen that you use to touch and "read" the words in LeapFrog Tag books. It is really helping the kids to focus on one word at a time and get the whole left to right, top to bottom thing. And I love that you can connect the Tag pen via USB to your computer and get all kinds of analysis about your child's progress and interact with the LeapFrog Community. Very cool! The photo here is of Lily reading with the Tag to her Papa (my dad). I would love to try out a couple of Leapster 2s too, which look really cool - the folks at LeapFrog nicely said they would try to track a couple down for my twins, as they ran out on the night of the event. Thanks Leapfrog!!
Feel like shopping? I have a coupon to share that is good through November 15, 2008. Received $10 off any order of $50 or more when you shop at leapfrog.com. Promo code is: HY8BHPR.
Giveaways: At Mad About Multiples, the blog for my twins club Gemini Crickets, we will soon be giving away some Leapfrog items. If you have twins (or are expecting!) these are great educational toys for babies -- don't miss out!