Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Written Word

It's banned book week.  It's just after Tolkien week, which is also literary awareness week.  And yesterday Amazon announced it's new line of Kindles (not getting rid of the Kindle 3), which includes their anticipated color tablet, and a touch kindle.  Seeing how I am really enjoying the Kindle 3 I got for my birthday in July, and I enjoy books that make me think.  I thought I'd share some observations on books and kids.

You see, I decided that one of the geekiest endeavors is to raise geeky kids.  I mean my kids don't have to be geeks, but how could they not be, they are surrounded by that culture every single day.  It's not the only things they are surrounded by.  They are surrounded by all the things that my husband and I feel are vital for a chance at a successful adulthood.  Seeing as my oldest is only in 1st grade, I'm going to focus on what that looks like from her perspective, and I'm going to start with books.

We have books.  We have lots of books.  We used to have the first bedroom as a library, then Ver1 needed it for a bedroom, which she shares with Ver2, so the library was dismantled and temporarily stored behind the kitchen table (and on the kitchen table, and the buffet and the back of the couch and well wherever a box of books balanced really).  Over the spring we finally decided to move the library (and the dinning room) to a section of living room that was being neglected and combine what was left of the living room and the dining area and make that the TV/activity/homework/piano/hang-out space.  It's not completely finished (really I AM going to texture and paint the walls,  and finish painting the ceiling, I am!), so not everything is put away and many books are still in boxes, but three bookcases of kids books and the large bookcase (with a top row) is loaded down with the good stuff.  Have I ever told you books is one of my favorite smells?

The versions are not just surrounded by a variety of books that not only reflect our interests, but hopefully stuff they might like to explore as well.  It wasn't expensive (well ok, the adult books add up), but kids books can be picked up cheap on garage sales and the library book sale.  They make great gifts too, and people always seem happy when you ask for them instead of some trendy toy.  Books when given the right environment multiply like stuffed animals, and dust bunnies, but unlike the later two, book multiplication means you don't memorize the books as quickly when you read them over and over again, and you will.  But doing that leads to the next good thing.

Ver1, my six year old, now reads at a 6th grade comprehension and pacing level.  That's right, she reads at the level that the newspaper is printed at.  She reads mostly naturally.  She can spend her time in school this year learning from what she is reading instead of sounding out letters and struggling to comprehend at the same time, because when she reads it sounds like someone talking.  I am not some super mom, well maybe I am, but I'm not taking credit for this at all!  I still have no idea how to teach a kid to read and Ver2 is obsessed with learning to read even though she is a year from kindergarten yet!

What I feel happened was simply this.  Ver1 saw that I read, she saw her daddy read.  She sees us conversing daily using type on Google+, Facebook, email, woot forums, blogs, all over the computer.  She knows Mommy works on the computer teaching the computer what I want it to do, more or less.  She watched and craved to join us when we played video games where the characters don't talk, they use speech bubbles.  She knew she couldn't play, not really, until she could read those bubbles of words.  She also knew that we'd let her play then, and she earned that right last year.  To her, whether she realizes consciously or not, reading and writing are a large part of what it means to be an adult.  And her printed writing is already better than mine! (not that it's hard to be better than scribbles).

I'm also lucky enough to volunteer at my daughter's school once a week.  There I get to hear her read with her peers, and I get to help a child or two that needs extra interaction to stay caught up.  Last week I was lucky enough to have my daughter's friend, whose house I've also been to.  We'll call her Cathy.  Cathy is a sweet kid.  She does not to my knowledge have a learning disability (the kid I worked with before her had ADHD so bad I was reminded what I was like as a child).  She has absolutely NO interest in reading, writing, or spelling.  I was giving a spelling test to get her to take, because she doesn't write when asked to do it with the class, and two pages of a beginning reader to help her read.

We got through the spelling test with no problem.  I tried to be silly with my example sentences to see if I could get her more interested in doing the work.  Then we started reading.  Ok, the book was D U L L!  It was so repetitive that I'm still not sure if she was reading the sentence or reciting the first part from memory and taking a random stab at the last word barely giving it a glance, a lot of the time it sounded that way.  The book read like this:

I am a pan.
I am tan.
I am a tan p_n.

I am a pin.
I am not a pan.
Can you see a pin?

Am I a man?
Am I a can?
No, I am a pan.
It was accompanied with happy, but equally bland illustrations of said pan and pin.   I tried to shake it up for her.  I tried to make them silly, but please who wrote this stuff?  I don't know if my daughter could have trudged through this much of it.  Maybe she could, because she knew what was coming.  I told Cathy that if she could get through this stuff that the books out there were exciting and interesting and WAY better.  I know the teacher has tried funner stuff, because I asked him, and it was just too hard for her.  Why is this so painful for her?

I went to her house towards the end of summer.  I didn't make this connection until a couple days ago, but at Cathy's house there are no visible books.  I mean I guess there are a few, but not many.  They are out of the way high up on a book case.  The kids books fit on one shelf in the bedroom.  I admit I only saw Cathy's bedroom, the dining/kitchen, and the living room, but there was no sign that her parents read.  There was no computer, no laptop, no papers, bookmarked books, anything.  I don't know Cathy's parents that well, but it strikes me that they may not read at home, or if they do they don't do it in front of Cathy.  I can't imagine her mom doesn't use the internet, she has so many modern green ideas in her home, I could very easily see her a member of an online green community.  I don't think Cathy sees that though.  Cathy doesn't know that all adults read, and that reading is a very important part of how life is conducted.  Cathy doesn't want to read, because it's work, and it's boring.  I wonder what else my daughter thinks is just something adults need to know, because that's the way we live...


  1. GREAT post! I very much enjoyed this and it got me thinking. Which, for me, is a really good post.
    SC Relative

  2. I'm glad this made you think! That's generally my number one goal here. You don't have to agree with me, or like me, or like what I say, but if you think about it, and think about your own life because of it, that's what I'm aiming for. :)


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