There’s an abundance of reading interest inventories, but they all share the same goal: to help students learn and ponder more about themselves as readers. A definite must for this provocation! Explore a few below:
Is it bad that as I attended a training meeting for an online preschool, I was:
1) reading Free to Learn by Peter Gray, and,
2) internally rolling my eyes while the trainer extolled promises of kindergarten readiness and motivation tips for consistent use from our 4 year-olds?
I probably didn’t earn any gold stars at any rate.
But I’m not in it for performance anyway. I’m in it because my son has started to exhibit interest in letters, and I wanted to see whether this program might further his interest. It is not to replace or even complete with our story time, library trips, or casual chats related to literacy.
If he’s not motivated, it’s not because I need to do more to motivate him — it’s because he’s not developmentally ready for it.
If he’s not “performing” on later tests, it’s not because I didn’t do enough to drill ABC’s with him in PreK — it’s because standardized tests are an inherently poor measure of authentic learning.
These are truths whether we face, as Kristine Mraz put it so eloquently, lowercase “s” struggles (ordinary variation of learning pace) or uppercase “S” STRUGGLES (systemic barriers that disproportionately impact families and students of color).
However, when we look again at this program with the lens of STRUGGLE, it becomes clearer why we might hope it will aid in closing socioeconomic achievement gaps. After all, it’s free, home-based, and equipped with personal consultants for each family to support their children.
But even so, I would caution all users against being overly dazzled by promises of future academic performance. I would probably be more enthusiastic if the introductory folder (full of opt-in sheets for motivational texts and tips for establishing user routines) also included information on the local library and tips for establishing meaningful literary routines. (I’d like to be clear, I am grateful for the resource to be able to help my son investigate his growing curiosity about letters in a new way; I just don’t attach the same weight to it all that the program seems to expect).
No matter our background, and no matter our kids’ ages, books > programs. Connecting with a good book is much more likely to produce readers than drilling skills.
For other parents worried about kindergarten readiness, here are some other posts you might enjoy based on our experiences with my now 3rd grader:
Despite my commitment to follow my kids’ lead when it comes to their natural developmental learning pace, I still find myself worrying at times. What if they never indicate readiness? What if I miss the signs? What if I wait too long before possible interventions might be needed?
Once again, it has proven to be unnecessary worry. Over the last few months, my 4 year-old has started to indicate interest in identifying letters. This began with, “A is for Captain America!” He began identifying “A’s” everywhere, connecting both to the shape of the letter and its sound.
When he started to add others, like “B is for Black Widow,” I decided to turn to our environment help build this growing interest. We put some vinyl sticker letters to use, reinforcing both superheros and household objects that begin with each letter. How many can you name?
While this was a simple exercise, we’re already seeing him make even more connections beyond the home environment. It stands as a reminder to me that building early literacy does not need to be very complicated. Following the child’s lead is more powerful than we might think.
I’ve often mentioned the importance of creating a rich environment to help invite learning (rather than relying on more contrived programs and flashcards that put learning on the adult’s timetable all the time). But like everything else, this has been a bit of a journey for me.
Weird fact about me: I have subscribed to the magazine Better Homes & Gardens since I was 13 years old. (A major influence on my continued loyalty was when they replaced a copy that my very helpful then-2-year-old had “put in the bathroom.” ie, watery toilet grave. I still hope that email with my pitiful story and request for a new copy is pinned to some break-room somewhere).
So while I’m nothing even close to an expert on interior design, by the time kids came along, I had some difficulty consolidating my notions of home decorating with kid-friendly-play.
So for today, I thought I’d share today a little of what that learning environment currently looks like in our home. Some of the learning environment elements include…
At first, I restricted access to all sensory play (like the box of beans below and play dough) so that they would need to ask each time they wanted to play, because who wants to spend days constantly cleaning this up?? But then I learned how wearisome this can be for all parties involved, which ultimately inhibits play.
I ended up replacing the box with one on wheels, storing it under a daybed where the kids can slide it out to play as desired; play dough storage became similarly accessible. As for picking up stray beans, it turns out the dog really likes them, so that helps with the mess factor. But most importantly, sensory play has become a more readily-available choice in our home.
I mingle the toys with the books, and try to provide a cozy spot nearby (like the sheepskin rug pictured below) so that reading is always a convenient option. I’m also always shifting the way our books are organized and displayed (more on that in last week’s post).
I try to provide “toys” that have open-ended possibilities. Our loose parts toys (photo below) are one of my favorite ways to watch my kids’ imaginations fly, but another factor has been simply arranging toys together. Safari LTD animals near a school bus near wooden trays.
…occasionally setting up invitations to play
Leaving shelves open so that we can find new ways to invite play on their level has been helpful here. This little “dining area” has been set up for a while so my kids have largely forgotten about it by now, but it’s often the first thing visiting kids notice when they come over to play.
…Design for togetherness
This has been perhaps the most influential element of creating a rich learning environment at home. I used to think that I needed to keep toys and books corralled in a corner so that the grown-ups could enjoy grown-up space. Now I know that when I integrate play into the design, I can cultivate more comfortable spaces in which everyone feels they belong, which in turn invites more shared play.
For us, this looks like no separate play room, plenty of seating for everyone use the space, and shared bookcases arranged so everyone has what they need on their level. But of course, the possibilities are endless and should be based on your family’s needs.
What about you? What are ways you provide that “third teacher” at home?
Variety is key, and it’s not always super pretty. It’s all about access. Which means it should be ever-evolving, based on our observations of our kids’ shifting needs. And access wins over pretty every time.
This might look like…
…pulling out books from our tightly-packed shelf onto the display area with the library books to remind our kids of gems they’ve forgotten.
…giving them their own shelf to organize favorite books (and to keep them safe from book-shredding little brothers for now).
…letting them go to town arranging their own personal “library.”
What are ways you help encourage book access with your kids at home? How does that shift over time?
My 8 year-old has recently discovered how much she adores graphic novels. I don’t know why it took me so long to help introduce her to the genre; after all, I already knew how much she loves comics, and I could sense that while she’s a strong reader, she just isn’t yet ready for text-heavy pages. So the floodgates have opened:
Even as we have enjoyed discussing each of these books (and laughing at how quickly she devours them), I can’t help but wonder: what if I held the common belief that comics “don’t count” as reading? What impact would that have on her growth as a reader? What impact would that have on our relationship?
Yet, when I consider my 4 year-old’s reading choices lately, I realize my response has been much less supportive. The reason? They all consist of massive encyclopedia-like texts that are just not fun for me to read to him. Books like:
Clearly, both my readers need equal support and enthusiasm from me in order to feel that their growing reading identities are valued and valid. I realize it’s time for me to spend as much time browsing the library shelves and placing holds for my son’s reading preferences as I do for my daughter’s, not to mention to embrace his bedtime story choices!
Only when we work to catch our sometimes subconscious responses can we find ways to do better to nurture our diverse readers.
What messages, good, bad, & ugly, have you sent to your kids over the years? How has that adapted? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.
When classroom literacy instruction starts to become completely overtaken by that literacy programs, do actual books start to get in the way? After all, reading a book takes more time. Selecting passages from actual books to share with students takes time. Talking about our favorite books (and building the culture that makes us want to) takes time.
And time is what we lack most as teachers!
Plus, when that program has mapped out tasks and “personalized” progress for every day of the school year, it seems our literary expertise starts to take a back seat to that very expensive program.
So what starts happening when programs > books?
Books seem like luxurious “extras” (you can get to your book when you finish the worksheet or level).
Books seem less efficient than the programs (we all know books have value, but if they’re not carefully scaffolding the reading development with every word, are they as valuable during class time?)
Read aloud time starts to disappear (after all, the programs seem to encompass all the literary needs, not to mention time).
Programs are deemed more adept at identifying skills (at least, the skills most easily recognizable/test-able).
Kids talk less about the books they’re reading and more about the levels they’re on (it makes sense since all that time on programs suggests we’re more interested in getting them to the next level than we are about their reading interests).
No matter how appealing and adept a program might seem, we must be careful to seek balance and to protect our students’ love of books. As authors by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen write, “To see themselves as readers, students must also have opportunities to make decisions about what they will read.” p. 98, Pose, Wobbble, Flow. Pernille Ripp also writes eloquently on programs like Accelerated Reader & selecting literacy programs. Also this:
If you have an expensive computer program to teach reading, but you have no classroom libraries, school libraries or a certified school librarian, something is seriously wrong with the decision making process