This post is about reading, and while there are lots of technology tools to support learning to read, there is no substitute for the emotional warmth and intellectual comfort that comes from being read to. This post is about non-digital technology -- books -- and how they serve to develop the parent-child relationship, as well as help teach reading.
Reading is a difficult skill to master, but like most of what children learn, they can figure it out if they are given half a chance. Reading is a multi-year process. When 5-year-olds begin school, they come with very different experiences with books. Some are close to independent reading after years of shared reading, others are many years behind in their process of figuring out literacy. Often this second group of children find reading difficult and when other students do not, they come to doubt their ability to learn. This outcome can be avoided by beginning reading very early.
One might wonder what sense a pre-literate infant makes of reading. Let's view a 9 month old infant who has been engaged in shared reading with her parents for over 6 months. Where is she in the process of learning to read? Let's watch one nightly reading session with her father.
Things to notice as you watch the tape:
- How do you think the infant's relatively new skill at sitting altered the reading process?
- Does she look intentional when she is choosing the book? Why is choice so important?
- Notice the eye gaze of the child. From what direction do her eyes track?
- Does she anticipate page turning?
- Does she know when there is an expectation of interaction?
- Is she paying attention?
- What do you think she understands?
- What happens when she makes a move to turn the page in the third story? What does the father do? What does he say to her when she turns the page? What happens when she doesn't turn the page?
These small actions make up a larger "going to bed" script. The infant is developing a sense of a pattern that starts with bath time and ends with bedtime. Reading is an everyday part of that sequence. Now that she can sit, giving her choice of books is much easier. Every child wants to control their world. Children who lack a sense of control are more likely to throw tantrums at the times when parents most want compliance. One way to reduce the likelihood of tantrums is to work hard at giving children choice on small things. In this case, the child gets to choose the order of the books she reads. She is learning to track from left to right along with her parents who often point at the page or direct her attention to things on the left side.
Does she know the stories and is she really choosing a book or is she randomly picking up an object? In this tape there is not enough evidence to know. However, when her parents add a new book into the three choices, she almost always picks the new book. This suggests some intentionality and choice.
Notice that for some time before the infant turns a page, the father has been lifting the next page which helps the infant to anticipate what comes next. When she does reach up and turn the page in the third story you can hear the father thanking her for turning the page. He quietly expressess appreciation for her participation. After a few page turnings, she stops and he resumes saying he will take a turn in page turning. These are very subtle interactions but they say a great deal about the relationship that is developing. He is not "training" his daughter by controlling the rewards and punishments-- he is engaging her in a shared activity in which he provides dynamic support for those parts that she cannot, at this point, do for herself. But as she makes sense of the patterns and wants to play a larger role, he moves back and lets her take over.
Eventually she will be doing a part of the storytelling and then finally the reading. But what is so important about this example, as in many other acts of parenting, is that father and daughter are quietly negotiating control. The father is readily giving her control over whatever part she signal she is ready to take on--choice of books, interactions with content, page turning. As this process continues, not just in reading, but in all of the many shared activities of parenting, it will lead to a deeper and more satisfying relationship. The "terrible twos" is not inevitable, but instead evolves when there is "delayed parental development." Parents who use the skills that worked so well to care for a infant, on a toddler, will find that they lead to trouble when they try to do too much for the child. A child is a moving target and has new demands for evolving ever increasing spheres of independence and control. This example shows how shared reading works at this age, but each week the process will need to evolve with as child and parents develop.