Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Books Transforms Lives (2)

Between the lines: reading aloud with children can transform their lives

If I were to ask you how important is it for a student to read well, you would say it was very important. But people seem less convinced when it comes to the importance of parent-child read-aloud. I suspect that reading aloud is viewed as a leisure activity on par with taking one's children to musical shows or going on a family nature walk.
It wasn't until I started working with Bring Me A Book that I learned that, the lower the socioeconomic class of the child, the bigger the impact of reading aloud.
Parent-child read-aloud will certainly enhance a middle-class child's development; but for underprivileged families, this activity transforms lives.
There have been many studies into how linguistic patterns used in middle-class homes differ from those used in low-income homes. One study found that parents in low-income homes used imperative statements, while those in middle-class homes used discrete interrogative questions.
Middle-class families use the same language patterns as schools, so their children develop the skills needed to learn the way that schools teach.
More than one study has reinforced the finding that children of professional parents hear 30 million more words by age three than children from low-income households.
Language patterns and vocabulary are connected to reading comprehension, so low-income children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read.
When low-income parents spend a few minutes each day reading aloud to their children, they provide opportunities for vocabulary-building, questions and discussions.
English parish priest Jay MacLeod conducted detailed research on how poverty is perpetuated. Ain't No Making It chronicles his relationships with a dozen young men from the same public housing development that spanned 25 years.
One of his conclusions is that character and behaviour are greater determinants of success than academic achievement, for the simple reason that it takes a lot more than IQ to stay away from drugs and crime in that kind of neighbourhood.
Paul Tough's How Children Succeed is a more appealing read on a similar train of thought. Tough criticised early childhood education's emphasis on cognitive skills (reading, writing, arithmetic) as he pointed to extensive findings that children with good non-cognitive skills (self-motivation, self-control, self-awareness) were the ones who fared better in adult life.
One study that Tough shared in his book found a high correlation between childhood stress and trauma on the one hand, and depression and anxiety disorders in later years.
Another study showed the importance of parental attachment: parents who were responsive produced securely attached children, and such attachment created psychological effects that last into adulthood.
A third study concluded that any lasting impact of childhood stress and trauma can be erased by strong parental attachment.
When low-income parents spend a few minutes each day reading aloud to their children, they will be providing opportunities for cuddling and dissolving stress.
The philosophy behind parent-child read-aloud is about so much more than just books. It is about connecting families and communities. It is about how parents can help their children succeed in life in ways that are much more effective than making sure they get good grades.
All of this scientific research is humanised in Wes Moore's The Other Wes Moore.
The author is an exemplary contributor to society who discovered another Wes Moore languishing in prison. Both came from the same poor black neighbourhood, were the same age, and grew up in single-parent families.
He contacted the other Wes Moore and examined how their similar pasts led them down different paths.
The author believed it was his mother's attachment parenting that helped develop his character and keep him from a life of crime.
When it comes to school readiness, kindergartens need to focus less on drilling cognitive skills and more on developing non-cognitive skills.
Until kindergarten curricula are reformed to reflect this, parents need to be aware of how small changes in their daily home life can transform their children's future.

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them bringmeabook.org.hk

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