The Write Stuff

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been reading your columns for quite a few years, and you frequently talk about how important it is to read to children. With all the emphasis on literacy, I think we’re forgetting about writing. When I was in school, we had classes in penmanship, but my preschooler and kindergartener aren’t learning it at all. Is writing even necessary anymore?

A: In a word, absolutely. Not all that long ago, we used to talk about the “Three Rs”: reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic—the fundamental skills taught in school (I know, not a very good lesson in spelling, but catchier than saying “The R, the W, and the A”). But, as you’ve noticed, the second R (writing) has pretty much fallen by the wayside—in fact, over the past few years, schools all around the country have stopped teaching cursive altogether, and a growing number of children are doing their homework, including writing papers and essays, online.

According to a new study, the percentage of children using tablets has doubled in the past two years alone, and now includes 75% of children under eight and nearly 40% of kids under two. Some people say that with all that technology, there’s no need for kids to learn how to write at all—it’s a lot easier to just use a tablet or other device. I can see the point. And I get that typed assignments are a lot easier for teachers to read. But, at the risk of sounding a little old-fashioned, I think writing is a very important skill—and there’s getting to be a lot of research that backs me up.
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Picture books can boost your child’s vocabulary

Interesting story reported by the Indo-Asian News Service. A study has claimed books having photographs but no words prove ideal for building children’s language skills. And, the parents can help their kids the best if they used such books for the bedtime story.

According to experts, parents turning to wordless storybooks end up spending time discussing the pictures and answering their toddler’s questions — exposing them to complicated words, Daily Mail reported.

Psychologists from the University of Waterloo, Canada, looked at 25 mothers as they read their children a set of bedtime stories.

They found the mothers used more advanced language when they picked up a picture book compared to a book with words.

Study author Daniela O’Neill said: “Too often parents will dismiss picture storybooks, especially when they are wordless, as not real reading or just for fun.

“But these findings show that reading picture storybooks with kids exposes them to the kind of talk that is really important for children to hear.”

O’Neill said while reading the picture story, “we would hear mums say things such as ‘where do you think the squirrel is going to go?’ or ‘we saw a squirrel this morning in the backyard’.”
“But we didn’t hear this kind of complex talk as often with vocabulary books, where mentioning just the name of the animal, for example, was more common.”
However, O’Neill also said books of all kinds could build children’s language and literacy skills, “but they do so perhaps in different ways”.

The article originally appeared here.

Monitoring Language Development + Dangers of Casual Sex + Raising Bookworms

[amazon asin=0307952282&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest 1: Kenn Apel, coauthor of Beyond Baby Talk.
Topic: Understanding children’s language and literacy development.
Issues: How to evaluate and monitor your child’s spoken language development; enhancing your child’s literacy skills to improve spelling, reading, and writing; recognizing signs of literacy and language problems and know when to get professional help.

[amazon asin=0802450601&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest 2: Joe S. McIlhaney Jr., coauthor of Hooked.
Topic: New science on how casual sex is affecting our children.
Issues: Chemicals released in the brain during sex can become addictive; the human brain isn’t fully developed until mid-twenties—until then, it’s harder to make wise relationship decisions; how to steer young people away from making life-changing mistakes.

[amazon asin=098158330X&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest 3: Emma Walton Hamilton, coauthor of Raising Bookworms,
Topic: Getting kids reading for pleasure and empowerment.
Issues: Why it’s important for kids to grow up with the skills and appetite for reading; studies show that elective reading has declined dramatically over the past 50 years, but in over to participate in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace, young people will need powerful literacy skills to succeed; how to instill a love of reading in children from infants through teens.

Do Preschool Math and Reading Skills Predict College Success? Nope.

Preschool used to be pretty fun for kids. Lots of play, lots of hanging out with other kids and making friends. But in recent years, an increasing number of preschools have started teaching subjects like math and reading. The rationale is that kids need solid academic skills if they’re going to succeed in college and beyond. Sounds logical, but it turns out that it isn’t even close to being right.

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Want smarter kids? Have them play with dad.

One of the most classically dad things is playing–physically–with the kids. Now along comes another study that proves that imaginative play with dad is good for kids’s brains too. When you encourage your children’s imagination, their vocabularies are larger and they do better in math.

What’s unique about this particular study, which was done at Utah State University, is that the researchers went to the trouble of, gasp, including dads. Most previous play studies had looked at mom-child interactions.

So how do you boost the amount of imaginative play? Start by encouraging make believe and fantasy. Then, when your reading stories, don’t be shy about acting out some parts or talking about what’s happening in the illustrations or why particular characters are doing what they’re doing. Plopping your kids in front of the TV (or even watching silently with them) or reading books straight through from beginning to end without any commentary won’t help.

A bit more detail on the study here:


When is reading with your kids like cigarette smoking?

Okay, provocative question, but I do have a point. When it comes to cigarettes, we all know what we should do: quit. And when it comes to reading to our children, we also know what we should do: story time for at least 20 minutes every night (or as close as you can).

So that’s why I was surprised to read about a new study done in London that found that less than a third of parents “read to their children every day and half say they are too busy to read and that work comes first.” And who’s to blame? Certainly not mom and dad.

The findings, commissioned for an annual search for new children’s authors, links the economic downturn with the decline of story time. Of 2,000 parents surveyed, 10 percent said they read to their kids only once a month, and another 10 percent say they never read to their children. “Half said their excuse for not reading was because they had been forced to work extra hours to cope with the rise in the cost of living.”

As someone who has read all of the Harry Potter books and all of the Series of Unfortunate Events books (13 of them) outloud to his kids at least twice, I’m pretty hard core when it comes to reading (I read to them and they read to me). You don’t have to be as obsessive as I am, but remember that kids who get read to when they’re young enter school better prepared and with larger vocabularies, do better in school, are more likely to graduate, and much less likely to get into trouble with the law (something like 75% of prison inmates have significant reading problems).

The full, gruesome article is here: