This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 18, 1998

March 18, 1998 - Family Literacy

I get irritated by the assertion of some schools that their job is to teach kids how to think. I'm quite certain that I was thinking before I attended school. The real surprise is that even after almost 2 decades of schooling, I can STILL muster a thought, if I work at it.

But the purpose of this week's column isn't to say what America's schools should or should not be doing. It's to focus on just four things YOU can do to help your kids grow up literate.

1. Read. The most powerful contribution you can make to your children's literacy is to model literate behavior. Subscribe to, and read, at least a couple of newspapers. Take a magazine or two, and make a big deal about looking forward to it. Join a book club.

Or, if you don't want the hassle of renewal notices and their consequent financial burden, make a big deal of going to the library. Regularly. You've already paid your membership, you get to take all the books and magazines you want, and you don't have to find a permanent place for them at home.

If you want to put even more time into this, consider joining or running a book club. You might even sign up to be an adult literacy tutor (841-4257).

2. Read to your kids. This is particularly important when they are young, but can continue (to great mutual satisfaction) well into the teens.

Many years ago, I did a "read-a-thon" at a suburban mall. A labyrinth of librarians camped out in the mall and pretty much kidnapped small children as they passed by. Then we read them some short classics ("Cat in the Hat," etc.). Without really thinking about it, I hoisted one young boy, about the age of my daughter at the time (2), and plunked him in my lap.

Then I opened the book in front of him. Immediately, I realized that something was strange. This boy didn't know where to look! It took him almost half a book to figure it out. You turn the page and start on the left, follow it down to the bottom, then go to the right. His mother watched from the sidelines with total amazement. I got through two books, and the boy was not especially eager to leave. The mother said to me, "I had no idea he was ready!"

"Was he ready to go to the mall?" I wondered.

Think about how you define yourself to your children. Shopper? Or reader?

Here's another observation. Many, many books, when read feelingly by parents, communicate through simple stories the powerful lesson of empathy, of putting yourself in somebody's else's shoes. These lessons "take" best when children are very young. There is no better preventive strategy against sociopathy, and in favor of civility. Reading aloud is also a terrific alternative to TV. Try it. And get your kids to read their favorite books aloud to you.

3. For older kids, ask about their homework. And pursue it, because most kids seem not able to talk about their day without some patient prodding. Ask to see their textbooks. Ask to read their papers. Ask them to talk about the things they're supposed to be learning. Genuine interest in what your kids are up to sends at least three messages: (a) I love to talk to you about your life, (b) I love to learn myself, and (c) education is important.

4. Show your kids what to do when you don't know what to do. Do you call other members of your family? Consult friends or business acquaintances? Do you pay for an expert opinion? Or do you give your library a call or visit?

Your local public library has assembled some quarter of a million volumes, just to answer your questions. We have quick access to many millions more, and countless databases.

Ignorance is almost the defining characteristic of humanity. The question is, what happens next?

Again, none of the above will guarantee that your child fulfills whatever academic ambitions you're nursing. But it will guarantee that a book is not utterly foreign, and that your children have a clue about how to find out about things they don't know now.

Altogether, that adds up -- or can -- to a pretty good education.

Incidentally, that decision, ultimately, doesn't belong to the parent or to the school. It belongs to the child.

No comments:

Post a Comment