Sunday, April 1, 2012

Happy April Fools Day! (An April Fool's Joke Column)

A foolproof guide to raising intelligent little monsters

Annie Ho (
Apr 01, 2012

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I have been searching for decades for a comprehensive guide that can provide parents with the tools to raise intelligent little beings. I had pretty much given up any hope of finding one that was well-researched and reputable.

Then, I came upon the Yale-Harvard Friendly Co-operation Joint Study of High-functioning Progeny, of which more than a dozen chapters were devoted to early literacy in children. I read the full study, to be published today, and distilled from it the astonishing findings listed below. 

1. Dr Seuss is the best way to learn phonics

The study cited Dr Seuss as one of the early proponents of phonics and revealed that he had written all his books with phonics in mind.

According to Dr Seuss, children who were read a story over and over would be able to recite it from memory rather than learn to spell out each word on the printed page. To prevent this from happening, he said parents must read aloud each story only once and then ask the child to read the text phonetically.

In Australia, one of the leading countries for phonics, all grade one pupils use The C-a-t i-n the H-a-t as their first phonics reader. The Australian version of this Dr Seuss story enlarges the size of the text and reduces the size of the illustrations to help schoolchildren focus better on the relevant aspects of the story. Everyone knows that illustrations are useless.

2. Physical restraint improves attention spans

The study found that babies who were physically restrained during early read-aloud sessions had 80 per cent greater attention spans by the age of four. Parents are advised to use some form of physical restraint until a child is capable of giving his or her undivided attention throughout a storytelling session.

The researchers stressed that such restraint must be gentle and not cause babies excessive discomfort. Car seats and high chairs with baby-proof seat belts are suitable. However, baby carriers should not be used, because they provide too much promise of love and comfort and will distract infants from the serious task at hand.

3. Uninterrupted reading improves logic formation

When comparing read-aloud sessions where the parent paused to answer questions raised by his child with those where the parent read a story uninterrupted, the study concluded that children from the latter group solved logic puzzles 80 per cent faster than those children who illogically interrupted.

The study used a test group of children who were allowed to set the pace of the storytelling by pausing to revisit previous pages, asking questions before the story was finished or running off mid-story to engage in another activity. The result was that these children were unable to form logical sequences in their brain because they did not have a proper concept of beginning, middle and end. Always let the child know that YOU are the boss.

4. Animation beats illustration

The most significant finding of the study is that children remembered a story better in animated form than in printed illustration.

For children, particularly those who were three months to six years of age, illustrations from a book became uninteresting when repeated more than 4.7 times. On the other hand, this same group of children could remain fixated on the moving-image version of the same story for many hours.

The researchers postulated that the brain stored memories in moving images; therefore the images from an animated film were easier to remember than printed illustrations. According to the study, if electronic devices were more affordable for a larger percentage of a country's population, then governments would no longer advocate reading aloud with printed books. I fully agree  that electronic devices and educational apps were the best investment for our children's future.

After reading this study, I feel reassured about my decision to install TV screens in our children's bedroom, bathroom and the family car and to always have at least two iPads situated within their reach. Multi-use restraints that can be attached to a variety of seating are also highly recommended.

I urge parents to pick up a copy of the Yale-Harvard Friendly Co-operation Joint Study of High-functioning Progeny in order to glean more tips for raising superior children.

PS - Happy April Fool's Day!

Annie Ho is a board governor of Bring Me A Book HK ( a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children's literacy

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