Written by Bernice Sosa-Izquierdo
Earlier this year, Parenting Magazine reported that “37 percent of children in the U.S. today start school without basic pre-reading skills – and that’s a conservative estimate” (Parenting Magazine, March 2010). Combine that with countless statistics surrounding illiteracy, children being passed without qualifying, low standardized test scores, drop-out rates along with how many of us actually attend college, and there’s no doubt our children’s academic future appears bleak. So what do we do? Where do we go? Who do we turn to? The answer is quite simple: we need to stop giving away our rights as parents to teachers and educational institutions, reclaim our power and implement it while beginning our children’s education at home.
Education begins with parents – or, at least, it should. There is no child advocate more powerful or significant than that child’s own parent. EVERY parent possesses this power, just as EVERY child benefits from a parent who exercises this power. The fact that not every parent is a certified educator is completely irrelevant. Every parent has a child, and it is our responsibility to mold these little beings into productive contributors of society. Ask yourself this: What is going to happen to our children (and their children, etc.) if we continue to create generations of beings who value entitlement over responsibility? If just getting by (or being passed along as qualified, when not) doesn’t cut it when you are, say, a surgeon why should any other worldly role be any different? Future teachers, dentists, doctors, nurses, doulas, mid-wives, scientists, lawyers, world leaders, etc., etc., etc. need to live up to and deliver their own personal standards of what they would expect in turn.
So, where do we begin? Before answering this, consider the following: Developmental Psychologist and Harvard Professor, Howard Gardener, is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences. What does this mean? He believes there are eight intelligences (or ways of processing information) each with a distinct course of development that, if nurtured over time, will eventually transform natural potential into a mature social role. Don’t believe it? Tell it to the creators of Dora the Explorer. They lace each episode script with the eight intelligences (linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal and intrapersonal). The concept is so brilliant that the Dora Empire continues to appeal to children even 10 years after her first appearance. Dora recently celebrated her 10th birthday, can be seen in 151 territories, and has helped children worldwide develop necessary skills just by following this curriculum. Other television programs such as Word World and Super Why (PBS) and Diego (Nick Jr. along with his cousin, Dora) follow similar curriculum and have proven just as an effective tool to help children learn.
However, our goal here is not to raise couch potatoes. We can, however, take this theory and apply it to our children’s advantage. Language, oral as well as written, permeates all classroom activities. So why not start with the simplest thing we can think of? The lullaby. Rather than choosing Hush Little Baby or Rock-A-Bye Baby to lull your infant to sleep, sing the Alphabet Song or 10 Little Fingers, make up songs about the Days of the Week or Months of the Year.
Read to your children. Find books that are of interest to your child while also educational, and read them as animated as possible. Make it fun. Laugh and play throughout the story. Engage them thoroughly. Pretend you are an actor/actress reading the script that will change your life and the ultimate goal is winning the part. It will begin to create future readers eager to learn. Once a child is literate, there are no limits to what they can learn or what they can become.
Be sure to call objects by what they are in detail, mentioning size, color and shape of everyday objects (like red building blocks, or Elmo’s big circle eyes). Sing as you count the number of steps you climb or the number of paces it takes to get from their sibling to abuelita. Lace your vocabulary in song, colors, shapes, textures, sizes, rhymes and excitement. Speak to your children often throughout the day. Baby babble is usually the norm and while this is completely acceptable, don’t forget to speak to them in “normal” language as well. This helps them understand proper pronunciation and use of words. Do not pass off their lack of language as lack of understanding in those critical beginning stages. Know that although children may not be able to respond verbally, they are observing the movements of your lips as you pronounce each syllable, hear your voice intonations – movements and sounds they, too, will learn to imitate when they are ready.
There are countless reasons why children are not being taught in their homes, one of which is lack of resources. There are many children in this country who do not own age appropriate books. Next to life, itself, education is the greatest gift any child can ever be given – so much so that every baby shower should rain with books as it would bottles or diapers. A child without a book is a child whose language development, vocabulary, imagination and interest in education are at risk for suppression. Collectively, we can make a difference. Below are links on how you can help (Parenting Magazine, March 2010):
To get behind the bills (legislation) – http://www.parenting.com/momcongress
To donate books, time or money – <http://www.jstart.org
Demand more public pre-K programs – http://www.preknow.org
For more parent tips, activities and resources, check out Nickelodeon’s Beyond the Backpack initiative – http://www.nickjr.com/dora-the-explorer/beyond-the-backpack/about-beyond-the-backpack_ap.html
Children’s Websites for games and activities– http://www.pbskids.org
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