“Even infants get profound cognitive and behavioral benefits from sharing a vivid story,” says Ms. Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal (18 January 2019).
If you are a parent you simply must read this article I came across in The Wall Street Journal. It is written by Ms. Gurdon who writes the WSJ’s “Children’s Books” column. The magic and power that lies behind the picture book has been expressed so well by her that I cannot help but publish the link here so that you can read the original article.
I read aloud to ‘M’ three times a week. This is one of the most precious times during my week and I wish I had more time to offer her. We are currently reading a book about Sawubona animal sanctuary that is being taken away from the family that founded it. It is about the relationship between a young girl, her grandmother, a game warden, the animals they care for and the man who is trying to take away everything that they have built. I read this story aloud to her.
As I read ‘M’ is riveted, entranced, filled with wonder and oozing need. I feel it pulling at me. I don’t think anyone has ever read to her before. Can you imagine that? Watching her unfold as we go through this reading experience together is magical to me. Although she is a woman, not a child, she generally sits facing me and while I read she does not take her eyes off me. I realized this the second time I read to her. I looked up after two long pages to find her frowning in concentration and focus, leaning forward, her eyes intense and wanting, pulling at me. By the end of our reading session she stretched as if coming out of a long dream. She was grinning uncontrollably and could not stop saying how much she had enjoyed it. She did not want to stop.
Over time, her intensity and anxiety around understanding has lessened and now I find her face more relaxed and fluid, her expression changing along with mine, her comprehension growing. I stop every now and again to check that she understands or to explain a word or phrase that I feel needs clarification. We move on.
Hooked on books
To this day ‘M’ still watches my face like a hawk, for any change in expression, trying to eek out every bit of understanding that she can. But now there are added emotions – WONDER, ANTICIPATION, BREATHLESSNESS for what comes next, PLEASURE and JOY. This is where I wanted to be with her. In a place where she experiences the sheer PLEASURE of reading and storytelling – the MAGIC and the DESPERATENESS of needing to know what comes next. This is what turns people into readers. She is hooked. For life. After years of teaching, I know the signs.
‘M’ is a young South African woman who did not finish her education. Sadly, she was forced to drop out of school very early due to family circumstances. We all know this South African tale very well and we know, even better, the consequences thereof.
‘M’ moved to Jozi a while back and has just started her working career, following in her mother’s footsteps. The only problem is that she struggles a great deal with communication, which means she will always struggle to get work and to keep a job. I decided to offer her reading classes as she lives in close proximity. I have discovered that she is very keen to learn and to perhaps complete her schooling at a later stage.
‘M’ has turned out to be an avid learner. She practices reading at home even when she hasn’t been given homework. We took a trip to the library, a first-time experience for her, and she became a member there and then. She has been a bit intimidated by the staff, as the librarians are quite stern, but I think she is now feeling confident enough to visit on her own. She loves the fact that she can go shopping for books for free.
Playing it forward
What is important to note though is that in teaching, reading aloud & doing remedial reading with ‘M’, I know that I am not teaching just one person. She is young and does not yet have children, but I know that when she does have children she will ensure that they also join the library. She will set an example by reading herself. She will be a mother that passionately reads to her kids. I know that she will read to them every single day that she possibly can. I know that she knows that this could change the trajectory of a person’s life. What we are doing in our lessons now is going to seep into the future, develop a life of its own, and have a positive impact on more than one individual’s life. ‘M’ knows the value, magic and joy of reading to someone and the power that it has. She will use that power going forward.
Many people regard reading aloud as something that you only do with very young children. This is absolutely not true. Research tells us that there is much value in reading aloud to older children – even those in their late teens. Truth be told, we all enjoy a good story.
The benefits of reading aloud
Reading aloud to someone develops their auditory skills and builds and grows vocabulary and comprehension. It is an integral part of becoming a fluent reader and a literate person. Therefore, if an adult has not learned to read it is really important that they are read to by someone. This way they can be exposed to words and phrases that they are not yet able to read for themselves. Having opportunities to build & expand vocabulary is just as important and being able to read. This together with Buddy Reading (Phono-Graphix terminology advocated by Jenny Taylor of Read for Africa), where you support a learner who is reading aloud, you can make a world of difference to a persons literacy levels in a short space of time.
The befits of reading aloud to children, tweens, teens and adults
Positive modeling of pronunciation
Positive modeling of tone, intonation and expression
Improves listening skills
It helps with discussing difficult issues with older kids
It’s a way to work through the classics with older kids
It’s a way to introduce different genres with older kids
It sparks curiosity
It contributes to a thirst for knowledge & learning
It’s good for bonding
It is very satisfying and enjoyable
It is a stress relief for older kids
If every literate person in South African could take on one fellow illiterate or semi-literate South African in their immediate environment, and humbly dedicate 1-2 hours a week to improving their literacy levels by reading to them, we could, despite our Government and a broken education system, make an enormous change in our country. Building a literate nation cannot be left up to our teachers and a few volunteers. The task is too great for them as this requires many many hours of one-to-one time and teachers in South Africa do not have that luxury, unfortunately. It needs to be done on a massive scale, with everyone who is capable of reading, playing their part.
When the late Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko published his seminal book, “I write what I like”, in 1978 it wasn’t about individual self-expression or even self-indulgence. It was a political statement with its origins in the work of Brazilian adult literacy activist Paulo Freire.
Freire identified the profound connection between reading, understanding the world and so being able to change it. Half a century after Biko was murdered by South Africa’s apartheid state, his country is no nearer being able to do this.
Instead, many of the country’s children are struggling to read at all. That’s according to the results of the international PIRLS 2016 literacy tests on nearly 13 000 South African school children. These showed that 78% of grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language. South Africa scored last of the 50 countries tested. Also worrying was that there were no signs of improvement over the last five years. In fact, in the case of the boys who were tested, the situation may have worsened.
A few weeks before these results were released, another study had found that 27% of children under five in the country suffer from stunting and that their brains are not developing as they should. Damage like this is largely irreversible. It leads to low school achievement and work productivity – and so to ongoing poverty.
These truly disadvantaged children are those of the poor; the 25% of South Africa’s population who live in extreme poverty. Given their dreadful circumstances, it might be understandable that 25% of children might not succeed in learning to read. But 78%? There has to be another explanation for that.
There are indeed reasons. They range from the absence of a reading culture among adult South Africans to the dearth of school libraries allied to the high cost of books and lastly to the low quality of training for teachers of reading.
No reading culture and bad teaching
Part of South Africa’s reading catastrophe is cultural. Most parents don’t read to their children many because they themselves are not literate and because there are very few cheap children’s books in African languages (and it must be remembered that English is a minority home language in South Africa).
But reading at home also doesn’t happen at the highest levels of middle class society and the new elite either. It’s treated as a lower order activity that’s uncool, nerdy and unpopular. And it’s not a spending priority. South Africans spend twice as much on chocolate each year than they do on books.
The situation doesn’t improve at school. Until provincial education departments ensure that every school has a simple library and that children have access to cheap suitable books in their own mother tongues, South Africa cannot be seen as serious about the teaching of reading.
Another problem lies with the fact that reading is taught badly. South Africa closed down its teacher training colleges between 1994 and 2000. This was done ostensibly to improve the quality of teacher education by making it the sole responsibility of universities. It backfired.
Previously, universities used to teach mainly high school teachers. Now they were expected to train foundation level teachers of the first three school grades. It was an area university’s education departments knew little about. They also inevitably incorporated only those training college educators who had postgraduate degrees. Sadly, these people generally had no great interest in the grunt work of teaching little children to read. So foundation level teacher training at universities is often a disaster.
The teacher training curriculum is also problematic. Most teaching about reading instruction in South Africa’s universities is outdated. Faculties of education appear to have largely ignored modern scientific advances in understanding how reading happens.
What the science says
Over the last three decades cognitive neuroscience has clarified and resolved a number of debates about reading. It has been proven beyond doubt that reading – becoming literate – alters the brain.
Learning the visual representation of language and the rules for matching sounds and letters develops new language processing possibilities. It reinforces and modifies certain fundamental abilities, such as verbal and visual memory and other crucial skills. It influences the pathways used by the brain for problem-solving.
Failing to learn to read is bad for the cognition necessary to function effectively in a modern society. The inability of South Africa to teach children to read, then, leads to another type of stunting: one that is as drastic as its physical counterpart.
The country now has generations who have been cognitively stunted because of a massive failure in its culture and educational provision. All South Africans are implicated if they don’t do their utmost to help people learn to read.
High illiteracy rates become a problem for everyone – the rich, middle class and poor. There are real consequences for everyone.
Illiteracy has a direct effect on a person’s self-esteem.
Illiterate learners place a financial strain on the education system.
Illiteracy leads to generational learning problems.
Illiteracy stops our society from developing at a steady rate.
Illiteracy negatively impacts the amount of technological advancement in our society.
Illiteracy increases poverty as illiterate people mostly earn the lowest wages in society.
Illiteracy contributes to high unemployment rates.
Illiteracy increases the crime rate in our society.
Illiteracy increases incarceration rates/jail time in our society.
Illiteracy leads to greater dependence on others as well as the state.
Illiteracy can lead to lower levels of meaningful community involvement and civic participation.
Illiteracy is linked to poor health.
Illiteracy rates increase drug and alcohol abuse.
Illiteracy rates have a negative effect on the overall health and well being of our country.
Illiterate people might not be able to be fully involved on a completely equal basis in social and political discourse.
Illiteracy leads to a lack of informed decision-making.
Illiteracy leads to struggles in knowing and understanding your rights, to vote, to find work, to pay bills and to secure housing.
Illiterate people may not vote or fully understand the consequences of their voting choice.
Household illiteracy negatively affects school readiness in young children.
obvious consequences of illiteracy
Lack of confidence
Continual financial hardship
Inability to change circumstances
Lowered life outcomes
Reduced access to lifelong learning and professional development
Dependency on others & state structures
Un-stimulating work environment
Despondency & loss of hope
Deep frustration & feelings of aggression
Early death due to ill health, leaving children without care
Feelings of being ostracized from academia
Having a sense of not belonging
If illiteracy is a problem for everyone, then there are real consequences for everyone living in a society affected by it. Does this not then lead us to think that it is everyone’s responsibility to do something about it. If we wait for our government to do anything about it, as we have been doing, we as South Africans are in for disappointment.
I challenge everyone who has read this article to find ONE person in your environment who YOU can teach to read. Make a long term commitment to using the skills and knowledge you have gained and the privilege you were born into, to help build the literacy of our nation, one person at a time.
Can you imagine the impact we could have if every literate South African mentors and teaches just one other person to read. We could change the face of the South African landscape.
List of places you can volunteer to help with reading and literacy:
LITERACY rates are a major concern across the world today, especially here in South Africa. Therefore, it is very important that we understand exactly what we mean when we talk about literacy.
Any confusion over the term ‘literacy’ is probably brought about by the fact that the definition of ‘literacy’ has evolved over time. Let’s start with what is traditionally understood by the word literacy.
The traditional / conventional definition of the word literacy.
Traditionally, literacy refers to the ability of an individual to read and write.
A long time ago it used to be as simple as that. If you could read from a book and write a letter, you were regarded as literate. Being literate was part of being educated and education was also once reserved for the wealthy elite only. Thankfully things have changed and over time school education and literacy have become accessible to many more people, to the point where it is often taken for granted.
Not so here, in sunny South Africa, where due to history and poverty we are still fighting for the right to quality basic education and fighting to improve our literacy levels.
We could call this traditional type of literacy ‘language literacy’. Language literacy usually begins with the development of speaking skills in young children. Speaking skills should then lead on to the development of reading skills and subsequently to writing skills.
Speaking skills appear to develop organically, without too much effort, because the child assimilates and absorbs spoken language through the environment with relative ease. This is due to daily exposure to the sounds of speech around them. They mimic those speaking around them, get corrected by experienced speakers and experience success as a reward for their communication attempts. Picture the cute toddler gurgling out ‘mama’ incoherently for the first time, as everyone claps and cheers with broad grins and shiny eyes, giving the child lots of attention.
There are very few home environments where a young child is not exposed to language. However, there are many home environments in South Africa where children are not exposed to reading and books.
We must keep in mind that key to the development of language literacy is the development of reading skills. Reading skills evolve in a less organic way than speaking skills do, which requires greater effort. The development of reading skills depends heavily on environmental influences and the availability of resources. It is more likely that a child will end up in an environment deprived of reading, rather than a home environment where they are deprived of spoken language.
This is why many children in South Africa do not learn to read well or do not develop high literacy levels, even though they commendably speak several different languages fluently.
Developing reading skills requires an
where reading is modeled as part of daily life.
which is print-rich (in other words there is reading material available).
where the skill of reading is actively encouraged in the child through exposure, participation, enjoyment and routine.
where there is already some development in the understanding of the spoken word.
where the development of the ability to decode the written word is encouraged and fostered on a daily basis and not just left up to the school environment.
that does not encourage rote learning (learning by memorising) of whole words but rather through the application of the decoding skills that have been taught.
where there is an understanding that reading skill development takes place on a progression, over time and takes work.
where lots of opportunity for practice is provided for.
where encouragement and praise is given, just like it is given when we clap for a toddler who utters his first few words.
where it is understood that over time the deeper meaning and subtleties of the language will develop through repeated exposure to vocabulary, which is seen in different contexts through reading.
All of the above leads to an improvement in…
the understanding of and correct use of spoken language for the purposes of communication,
as well as an understanding of and the accurate production of written language for the same purpose.
The coming together of this awareness results in high levels of understanding and comprehension, which then results in greater reading fluency. Thereafter, the more you read the more exposure you gain to the written word and this leads to improved spoken and written skills. Overall this means an improvement in general literacy levels.
We have to understand that schools can only do so much and therefore the exposure and work has to continue at home. For further information on developing a culture of reading and why it is so important to read every day please click here and here.
modern definition of the word literacy
We have all heard of computer literacy ordigital literacy. These terms are widely used and we understand these concepts well. The traditional definition of the word ‘literacy’ has became outdated or at least not inclusive enough.
Experts at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting proposed defining literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts”. (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy). My understanding of the meaning of ‘contexts’ is as a reference to platforms or technologies. So what the experts are saying is that literacy is now all encompassing of platforms and contexts. It involves being able to read, listen, speak, understand, interpret, identify, compute and communicate through speech and written text within various contexts or technologies.
Once again the focus is on understanding information in the written / printed form and producing coherent information back in the written / printed form, regardless of the context, technology or platform used. So believing that children do not and will not require traditional literacy skills in today’s world or the future, is completely unfounded.
In fact, if anything, there is even more demand being made on their traditional literacy skills as they are required to process a much greater volume of written information, on multiple platforms and at a faster pace than ever before.
Matthew Lynch at The Edvocatehighlights and explains 13 different types of literacies.
You can read the full article here. The solid foundation for the development of these literacies he refers to lies in traditional literacy, namely speaking, reading and writing.
Below you will see two further examples of some of the different types of literacies talked about today.
The point is that the development of these other forms of literacy in no way diminishes the importance of being able to read and write fluently, or the fact that traditional literacy is a foundation that needs to be built solidly. Our language fluency and literacy levels can have a direct effect on our ability to further develop certain other types of literacies.
Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen, and use numeracy and technology, at a level that enables people to express and understand ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems, to achieve their goals, and to participate fully in their community and in wider society. Achieving literacy is a lifelong learning process.
I appreciate the fact that Literacy Advance highlights that achieving literacy is a lifelong journey, which allows one to make effective decisions, solve problems, achieve goals and to constructively participate in community and society.
What we take away from this is that being LITERATE no longer means that you can read, write and speak adequately. It can now refer to how solid your reading, writing and speaking foundation is, and how this foundation enables you to further develop other literacies that allow you to participate effectively in society in various ways.
Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 5 of 10
Today we explore how to arrive on time and be ready to learn. In other words, here you will find tips for helping your child be prepared for the day.
Teaching your child the skill of being prepared, and enforcing routines and behaviours that allow them to achieve this, can be the difference between academic success and mediocrity. As a rule, children who do well academically are seldom the ones who arrive at school late, carrying half their project in their arms, sleep deprived with dishevelled hair and dragging a lunch box full of processed food behind them.
Whether we like it or not, routine is the recipe for being on time and having happy kids and parents. I might also add, that it is the answer to happy teachers too and most certainly contributes to academic success. The routines I’m referring to are morning routines, after school routines, homework routines and bed time routines. These routines are the cornerstone of children being able to arrive on time, ready to learn.
Your kids might buck against a new routine to begin with. However, when they know what comes next, what is expected of them, where the boundaries are and that there are no exceptions, they usually settle down and accept it quite quickly. Never give up on establishing childhood routines. It takes time and consistency.
Routines becomes even more important when there is big change around the corner, such as moving house or changing schools. Keep as many and as much of your old routines in place as you possibly can. It will help everyone in your family to transition through the change with greater ease and less disruption.
Routines allow for predictability and smooth the way for arriving on time, being prepared, experiencing less stress and feeling open to learning. Just the fact that having routines can reduce unnecessary stress for children should be enough of a motivation to implement them.
Routines also allow you to move away from constantly supervising your child every step of the way and allowing for more independence and ownership of tasks. This is important for the development of a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
As adults it is our job to create, initiate and maintain these routines to ensure that children will arrive on time and be ready to learn.
I can speak for hours about how diet affects a child’s performance, behaviour and readiness to learn. I tend to get on my high horse whenever the topic comes up, so please forgive me for doing so now. But really, with the access to information that we have today, there are no more excuses. JamieOliver has made sure of that with his food education drives that have reached out globally.
Firstly, breakfast is not negotiable. Grab a banana and a yoghurt for the kids and let them eat in the car if you have to. If you can, move away from sugary cereals and explain why you are doing so to your child. Educating our little ones about healthy food choices is essential and should start as early as possible.
If you’re packing your child’s lunch box with ANY of the following – chips, sweets, chocolates, biscuits, sugary drinks, McDonalds, left over pizza or two minute noodles – I’m talking to you, and I’m mad. The rest of you can skip to the next subheading.
None of the things I have mentioned above should be anywhere near your child’s lunch box, except for once a week, as a treat.
How can any reasonable person expect teachers to control 15 – 50 kids, in a confined space, who are wired on sugar, colourants, preservatives, MSG and a host of other bad things? If you want to sabotage your child’s ability to succeed at school, this is a very reliable way to do it. Do you have any idea how your angel behaves in a large group setting when they are high on sugar and MSG? Looking at the contents of the lunch box you packed, I’d say clearly not.
If your child is on medication related to behaviour and /or concentration and you are feeding them sugar and junk food, you may as well flush it down the loo. Any good that comes from taking the medicine is being cancelled out by unhealthy lunch box contents. There is a good chance that with a positive change in diet, your child won’t need medication at all to improve his / her concentration. You could save a ton of money and spend it on even healthier food options.
It may also surprise you to know that 100% fruit juice is not a healthy drink for kids and yet it is in every child’s lunch box almost daily. What is wrong with water? Ask any dietician whether it is healthy for kids to drink undiluted fruit juice on a daily basis? The answer is NO, because of the number of calories, the cavities it causes and the amount of sugar involved. This is not the way to ensure that your child will arrive on time and be ready to learn.
1. Provide whole grains and slow releasing carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose, the primary source of fuel for the brain. By including brown and whole wheat breads/rolls/biscuits meals there will be a constant trickle of energy for the brain to function optimally. 2. Include fresh fruit and vegetables daily Fruit and veggies provide the vitamins and minerals necessary for children to stay healthy and fight off unwanted germs. Including veggie sticks or fresh fruit is a better option than including a juice box. This is because unprocessed fruit and veggies in their whole form, as well as slow releasing carbohydrates, contain fibre which helps children stay fuller for longer and able to concentrate on the task at hand rather than a grumbling tummy. 3. Clean safe water is an absolute must. Research has shown that even a small degree of dehydration can impair cognitive function and concentration. 4. Provide your child with sufficient snacks for the day. Your brain needs two fuels to function, oxygen and glucose. Providing enough well compiled snacks will prevent a drop in blood sugar which will leave the child with less energy, more easily frustrated and with a feeling of hunger. 5. Plan carefully. With today’s fast paced life parents may tend to lead to convenient foods or even giving their children tuck-shop money. These foods are often high in sugar and fat which may impact a child’s weight. Childhood obesity has been proven to impact on disease status in ones later years of life.
As adults it is our job to control our kids diets and to educate them about healthy eating.
Children consistently need an age appropriate amount of sleep to be alert and ready to learn all day. If you have your routines in place, you should be able to get sleep right with your kids 90% of the time. The National Sleep Foundation tells us that most school aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep a night.
Without enough sleep it is impossible for a child to perform at their peak, academically or otherwise. So each day that your child is tired adds up to another day where they have lost out on information due to slow thinking or a lack of concentration.
We also know that not enough sleep can cause irritability, changes in behaviour, sleepiness, difficulty concentrating and moodiness. Not only can a lack of sleep affect academic performance, the ability to concentrate and feelings of motivation, but it can also increase irritability. Irritability can lead to conflict, causing relationship problems and problems with authority.
With today’s busy schedules it is quite difficult for children to catch up on sleep, much like it is for adults. Therefore, disciplined routines are essential so that sleep is not compromised.
As adults it is our job to create healthy sleep routines, which will ensure that our children arrive on time and are ready to learn.
Another life skill that children need to be taught from a young age is organisational skills. Kids who have weak organisation skills struggle with handling information in effective ways. Simple tasks, like packing up toys and putting them in the right place, can begin the process of learning to be organised.
Weak organisational skills frequently lead to difficulties in setting and identifying priorities, making and sticking to plans, staying with a task and reaching end goals. This makes it difficult for a child to arrive on time and be ready to learn
Organisation and Following Directions – Children have to focus on what needs to be done and then plan ahead, which requires mental organisation.
Organisation and Learning to Read – When matching sounds to symbols, learners need to file this information in a way that makes it easily retrievable. As learners progress through learning to read and striving for fluency the filing system in their head becomes more complicated, requiring more complex organisational skills.
Organisation and Literacy Learning – Literacy is a combination of reading, writing and grammar skills. To navigate between these three a child requires a number of organisation strategies.
Organisation and Learning Math – Math is a very organised subject. There are many rules and procedures to follow. As math gets more abstract and complex, children with weak organisation skills have trouble coping because they can’t create their own categories for sorting the information.
Children first learn by example and therefore it is important that organised behaviour is modelled in the home. They need to be taught that lego goes in one box and building blocks in another box. Norms like this also teach categorising skills to children, which later leads to the ability to organise information.
Letting children know implicitly that they are expected to be organised, and why, really helps. We also need to praise them when they get it right. If they can understand the reason behind a rule they are more likely to cooperate sooner or more frequently. It needs to be pointed out to them that there is a correlation between organisational skills and success at school. These skills have to be learnt and practiced as we are not born with them.
Set an example for your children. If you’re tidying up, packing your bag for the next day or making tomorrows lunches, make them aware of it and let them do the same alongside you. They can tidy their rooms, pack their school bags neatly, pack any sports bags they require and can even get involved in sorting out lunch boxes. If they forget or leave a bag at home, do not drop it off at school for them. Don’t take the responsibility or the opportunity to learn away from them. We have to realise that sometimes helping is actually hurting and that mistakes are an opportunity to learn. Being left out of the swimming class will ensure that their swimming bag never gets left behind again. The less you do for them, the more they will do for themselves.
Being organised allows children to stay focused on the task at hand and maximises learning time instead of wasting it on chasing down pencil bags and other resources needed at the time.
As adults, it is our job to model good organisational skills and to help our children to develop these skills. It is part of arriving on time and being ready to learn. Since it is impossible for us to always be there to run around after our kids we need to instil skills that allow for greater independence.
Arrive on time
Teaching your kids the value of being punctual is as easy as making sure that you get them to school on time almost every day of their school careers. I say ‘almost every day’ because we are all human and there are going to be those days where life does not cooperate. That’s okay, because kids also need to know that it is alright to be human and fallible.
The problem lies with those parents that are consistently late for school on a regular basis. Strangely enough, these are usually the parents who live within a few roads of the school. They cannot even use traffic as a plausible excuse. When a teacher addresses the problem with these parents, they never seem to get the severity of the problem. Punctuality is just not a priority for them.
The unintended consequence of a child being late for school on a regular basis are enormous and far reaching.
Firstly, they’re embarrassed because they stand out for reasons that they have no control over. If this happens daily their embarrassment grows.
This leads to daily stress and anxiety.
It is very disruptive to the start of the day for the teacher and it becomes incredibly annoying over time. The class register is always incorrect, early morning administration is incomplete and then requires followup, preparation routines are missed or interrupted and it generally starts the day off badly for everyone.
It is disruptive to the child’s peers as the morning routine is interrupted. Everyone’s concentration is adversely affected. Other children start to get annoyed over a period of time and they start to show their irritation in mean ways, as children often do.
Being late regularly has a social impact on a child because no one wants to be in a group with them. This is mainly because these children are perceived to be unreliable and separate from the rules that govern everyone else.
The stress and anxiety they feel prevents the child from focusing and from being ready to learn, causing even greater disruption and another reason why no one wants to work with them.
This child remains on the back foot all day, trying to catch up as they haven’t had the preparation time and gentle start to the day that everyone else has had.
They sometimes start to be treated as if they don’t belong because the rules that apply to everyone else don’t seem to apply to them. Kids are mean to those who appear to be outsiders. These children sometimes drift between friends and groups of friends, but never seem to settle into steady friendships. They don’t really belong and this is when teachers really start to be concerned.
When a child is isolated, does not feel like they belong, feels self-conscious, stressed, anxious, left behind and unprepared, we, as parents and teachers, cannot expect them to be academically successful or working to their full potential.
I believe that many parents, who notoriously get their kids to school late, do not intend for these to be the consequences. In fact, I think they may be completely unaware that there are consequences when you don’t arrive on time and ready to learn. If you are one of those parents, I hope that my article has opened your eyes and given you the motivation to make changes, for the sake of your child.
Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 4 of 10
If you want your children to be literate and successful, you had better get your head around whether to be strict about restricting screen time, and enforcing quality over quantity.
Parents need to be on the same page regarding this, with pre-determined family rules for screen time that are clearly laid out and adhered to by all family members.
Today I will stress the possible dangers of not restricting screen time. There is lots of research out there supporting both sides of this argument. I’ve made up my own mind but have you made up yours? Are you parenting your way through the digital era without a clearly defined strategy?
Here is some food for thought.
What is screen time?
Screen time is time spent in front of any type of screened device, for any length of time, for either entertainment or recreation purposes. This includes TV’s, tablets, laptops, computers, iPads, smart phones and game consoles amongst others.
Types of screen time
The main characteristic of passive screen time is that no thought, creativity or meaningful interaction is required of the child. The child passively absorbs information through mindless repetition or progress.
YouTube video on AutoPlay
Binge watching shows or movies
Active screen time
Active screen time involves cognitive and/or physical engagement while using the device.
Educational games that require decision making and problem solving skills
Making Youtube videos that involve creativity and decision making
Reading for leisure or knowledge
Remember that any screen time can be active or passive depending on how it is used.
Age appropriate screen time
In general, no passive screen time is recommended for children ages 0-6 years. There is research that suggests that it may delay language development, limit vocabulary growth or contribute to even more serious problems such as insomnia, screen addiction and lower psychological well being.
If screen time is allowed at all for children older that 6 years, it should be active, limited, supervised, interactive, fun and these activities should be played with family members. Don’t allow yourself to get into the habit of using screen time as a babysitting service.
For older children, I recommend limited screen time that is active and purpose driven. Some experts say that if it does not have educational value it has no value at all. I’m not sure if I agree with this completely but once again I strongly suggest that you don’t allow yourself to get into the habit of using screen time as a babysitter.
There is some indication that in older children too much screen time can lead to mood regulation problems, delayed or improper social development, concentration issues, behavioural and learning problems.
The effect of screen time on the brain
It is undisputedly a drug – and a fiercely addictive one at that. Studies on the effects of screen time on the brain, have indicated that the amount of dopamine released is comparable to that of cocaine or heroine.
UCLA Doctor, Peter Whybrow, refers to screens as “electronic cocaine” due to the level of dopamine that’s released while using digital technology. We know that the effects of dopamine are addictive, which is why so many of us adults can’t stay away from FaceBook or our other social media accounts. If we are unable to control our own addiction to screen time, we can’t really expect our children to do so of their own accord. We have to parent.
I’m sure most parents have experienced the epic, terrible two’s like melt down style tantrum that takes place when you switch off your child’s screen after asking them 3 times to come to the dinner table for the not negotiable family dinner. What transpires can be frightening, but in light of what we know from the research about addiction, it is understandable.
Victoria L. Dunckley (M.D.) has written extensively on the topic of restricting screen time. She indicates that by not restricting screen time it can lead to Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) which is essentially a disorder of dysregulation. In her article, she states that “dysregulation can be defined as an inability to modulate one’s mood, attention, or level of arousal in a manner appropriate to one’s environment. Interacting with screens shifts the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode which leads to dysregulation and disorganization of various biological systems.” No wonder a tantrum ensues.
In addition, Victoria L. Dunckley (M.D.) blames a lot of mental health problems in kids on the effects of electronic screens. She believes that “the unnaturally stimulating nature of an electronic screen—irrespective of the content it brings—has ill effects on our mental and physical health at multiple levels”.
Why be strict about restricting screen time?
We know that…
Children don’t reliably self-regulate screen time. Therefore, we should still try to teach them how.
There are an astounding number of articles online advising on guidelines for restricting screen time in the home. I strongly feel that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ option that will work for everyone. I think that as a family you should do sufficient research of your own in order to make an informed decision. Then create a set of rules / guidelines that work for your family, that everyone can adhere to and which don’t compromise your child’s psychological, social, educational and behavioural well being. Balance is everything.
My only list of suggested ‘musts’ are these…
Each family must have rules that govern screen time.
These rules must be adhered to consistently.
The charging of digital devices should take place in the parents’ bedroom overnight.
Parents / legal guardians must have access to all social media accounts and must monitor them.
Adhere to the law and age restrictions regarding social media accounts. There are reasons for these age limits and 13 years old is a general guideline.
Restrict screen time close to bedtime.
Restrict screen time during dinner time.
No screen time until homework and chores are done.
Paper books must still be part of a child’s daily life.
Screen time must not be used as a babysitting service.
A legal guardian must accompany a child who wants to join
Children will need to show their birth certificates
If you have all the correct documents
A library card will be issued to you.
In some provinces you have to wait for 5 days after application before you can collect your library card.
For those wishing to take four or less books at any one time, membership is FREE.
For those wanting to take more than four books, it will cost +/- R30 per year for membership.
The librarian will explain the rules to you.
Libraries improve community literacy levels
Libraries are community hubs that allow for leisure & education, giving community members access to books, magazines and in some cases audio-visual materials. In communities where residents are unable to afford books, the local library can play a very important role in developing and improving literacy levels within the community. Libraries are an invaluable resource and they are often under-utilised.
When you join a public library you will discover that many libraries run reading and storytelling sessions on a weekly basis as well as during during the holidays. Find out where your local library is and what activities they offer.
I’d like to tell you a bit about some of the wonderful libraries I have experienced.
I personally love the Sandton Library, located on Nelson Mandela Square. It is a beautifully lit, multi-storey space with lots of interesting nooks and crannies. A variety of seating and tables to work at throughout the building, make it the perfect place to spend some down time or do some research.
There is a separate section for children. Pre-school children have their own enclosed room with a conveniently located bathroom right there.
The staff are wonderfully friendly and helpful. As libraries go it is well worth a visit. They do run special events for children during the holidays, which they advertise on their entrance boards.
Johannesburgs public library – known as the Johannesburg Main Library – is based in the city centre, in Market Street. It has over 1.5-million books in its collection and has a reported membership of over 250 000. It was first opened in 1935. Due to planned extensive upgrades it closed in 2009 for three years, and was opened again in 2012.
When visiting you will see a beautiful, Italianate structure sitting across the road from the ANC’s Luthuli House. There is a coffee shop located on the premises. The toilets, lifts, electrics and air-conditioning were upgraded in 2009. The new library contains three floors. Of the three floors, the first two floors are a literacy and numeracy centre. There are desks to work at and free internet access is available.
This library is one of my all time favourites. I spent much time here as a student and later as an adult, mainly because I loved the building so much. Each time I return to Port Elizabeth I make a point of popping in.
Unfortunately, for now, it is being renovated, and renovations should be completed in 2021. It is the only historic building built as a public library that is still operating as a public library today.
Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 3 of 10
Developing a culture of reading in your home is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your children. If a child develops a love of reading, everything from that point onwards, in terms of their education, is that much easier. Experienced teachers will tell you that those children who read daily, and who read for leisure, are usually academically stronger than their peers.
No book and no reading taking place!
As teachers, it is often reported to us by children that there are no books in their homes – none owned and none on loan from a library. In addition, they also report that no one in their family reads, and more importantly, that no one reads to them. It breaks my heart to hear this. Read! Read anything and everything you can lay your hands on and let your children see you do it. Even if you struggle to read – let them witness it – they will respect you more in the long run. By watching you face up to the challenge they will know that reading is something worth struggling over.
Foundations for a love of reading
The foundations for a love of reading and reading fluency are set when a significant adult regularly reads, or tells stories, to a very young child. This is why, in so many families, it is called a bedtime story as it forms part of a nightly routine for approximately 365 days of the year. See my article on ‘Why you CAN’T skip reading to your child for 20 minutes per day‘ click here.
If you have not been doing regular bedtime stories, do not fear, as research tells us that it is never too late to start. If you do not have a book in your home right now, start making up stories as part of your nightly routine.
I know of families who write and illustrate their own stories on paper, folding them into books. The whole family gets involved and the stories grow and evolve through the laughter, imagination, knowledge and creativity that is brought to the table after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon. They treasure these family creations along with the few books they have, re-reading them every so often.
Another activity which has proven to work well for generating stories is this game:
Each family member gets a scrap piece of paper to write on.
Each person writes down 10 words.
Of these 10 words at least one word must be a name, one a place, one an animal and 3 words can be objects. The rest can be random words.
I always try to introduce one made up word for a bit of fun e.g. Oligonk.
When the lists are complete, put them in a hat and take a draw.
You have 20 minutes to write a story based on the 10 words provided.
These stories can then be read aloud, passed on or read silently and provide a variety of reading material.
Young children can work together with a parent. Older children can work independently.
For a fun additional activity, each person can illustrate the main character of their story e.g. What do you think an Oligonk looks like?
Read by example
If South Africa is going to improve its literacy levels, as it needs to, we have to start introducing regular reading into our homes as a matter of urgency. With a family culture of reading, children will start to read by example. They won’t feel that reading is only a school activity or a homework chore. I believe that reading is supposed to be fun, exiting, comforting and stress free. It should be one of a child’s favourite activities. Think of stories around a campfire in the old days.
In order to feel motivated to read for themselves, children should see adults reading around them on a daily basis. Things such as…
A child who sees the adults around him / her reading will know that reading is important and that literacy is important. A child that never sees people reading will believe that reading is only a school activity and is only for children. Unfortunately, if none of the adults in your family are book worms, you’ll just have to fake it. The school curriculum of today does not allow as much time for reading in the classroom as my generation had growing up. Therefore, if you want your children to be literate and fluent in reading, you had better start playing your part.
South Africans spend twice as much on chocolate each year than they do on books.
Before you mention that books are unaffordable in South Africa, as a reason for why we lack a culture of reading, consider this: South Africans apparently spend twice as much money on chocolate each year than they do on books (see Further reading – Literacy: Once upon a time, parents taught their children to read). Based on this alone, I think we as South Africans can afford to start a culture of reading. Buy books, instead of sweets, and save money by not paying the dentist.
Libraries are an underutilised resource in South Africa
There is a library of some variety in every community in our country, which is practically free. I’ve looked up libraries across Johannesburg on Google Maps for my students, in an attempt to prove to them that there is a library on their doorstep.
As a child I visited the library every week, along with my mother and my two sisters. It was just something that we did and we never questioned it. The expectation that we would read was no different to the expectation that we’d would brush our teeth, take a bath or do our homework. My mother spent hours reading to us, until we could do so for ourselves. It paid off as we are all avid readers today. Our family culture of reading is stronger than ever. My retired parents read for a minimum of 6 hours a day on average, sometimes more.
Advantages of reading
Reading and a family culture of reading leads to…
a wider vocabulary
greater exposure to good grammar, spelling and punctuation
improved visual memory
improved writing skills
development of the imagination
improved analytical thinking
improved verbal skills
greater general knowledge
being able to educate yourself on any topic
What’s not to love about reading?
No matter your own level of literacy, find things to read and read them in front of your children. Be the example!
Read with your children whenever you can.
Even if your own reading fluency isn’t perfect, never be shy to try reading to younger learners. You can use pictures and voice animation to tell the story. They’ll love every minute.
Reading pictures is part of the pre-reading strategies that need to be encouraged in young children.
When children see adults trying to do something that they are not good at or find difficult, they start to believe that it must be important and that they should also try. There is never any shame in trying and this is a life lesson that children should learn.
Ask older children in your family to read stories to the younger children or even to the whole family. It is good practice for them and they can play a part in developing your family’s culture of reading.
Join your local library and visit regularly, along with your children.
Teach your children how to take care of books. Have a special place in your home where library books are safely kept.
Collect free magazines from stands outside the shops and scatter them around your home.
Bring home the newspaper if possible.
Create a print rich environment.
Ask friends, family and work colleagues to collect old magazines for you.
If there is someone in your family who is unable to read, ask them if they would be willing to make up stories for the children – it will help to spark their imaginations and will go a long way is helping you to develop a culture of reading and storytelling in your home. Old people are usually very good at this and as such they are a great resources.