A widespread internet outage last Friday at Read Aloud Nebraska‘s annual conference threatened to derail my virtual keynote presentation. Yikes! This is the type of unforeseen event that every conference planner and speaker dreads. But Megan, the expert IT specialist on site, cooly and calmly found a work-around. She used her iPhone as a mobile hotspot to share my talk and enable me to call in for a discussion with our in-person audience. Great save, Megan!
I love sharing about The Invisible Toolbox and why reading to our children is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give. Here’s an excerpt that explains how the building of every child’s invisible toolbox begins with love and connection…
Imagine this: a high quality picture book arrives in your mailbox each month with your child’s name on it, from the time you bring them home from the hospital until they begin kindergarten—absolutely free.
That’s exactly what Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is in the business of doing with the help of the Dollywood Foundation and countless affiliates around the world. To date, Dolly’s Library reaches several continents and has given away over 160million books.
Reaching children with books during those critical 0-5 years when 90% of brain growth occurs has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to thrive.
This fact and the subsequent outcomes of doing so—or not—that I’ve observed in children over a long teaching career are what motivated me to write The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence.
An Exciting Invitation
So it was my absolute pleasure and honor to be invited to present at the Imagination Library’s recent Homecoming. My topic: what happens on the other side of kindergarten when a child has been read to consistently.
This biennial event usually gathers hundreds of Imagination Library affiliates from around the world in Dolly’s hometown of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This year it took place virtually due to Covid-19.
The Imagination Library is an organization for which I could not have greater respect and admiration.
Its mission is simple. Give parents an essential tool they need—books—so that they can share the joy of reading, fill their child’s invisible toolbox, and enable them to be kindergarten-ready.
Dolly Parton’s Dream
The genius of the program is that the book comes directly to the child. Their name is on the gift, and it arrives without fail in their mailbox each month. By the time a child begins kindergarten they’ve accumulated their own personal library.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out The Library That Dolly Built: Celebrating the People Who Made Dolly’s Dream Come True, now available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, and Cable on Demand.
You will be amazed and inspired by the story of how the Imagination Library grew from Dolly’s dream of helping the Appalachian children in her hometown of Tennessee into a worldwide enterprise for all children.
It’s a wholly uplifting story that will fill you with hope and remind you of what’s possible when people of good faith collaborate on a mission as important as this one.
Just be sure to bring your kleenex. You may need it.
CoComelon is No Substitute for Reading to a Child on Your Lap
Last month Forbes reported that CoComelon, the animated nursery rhyme-themed channel aimed at children under 4, was the #1 show on Netflix in 2020.
According to the article, “There hasn’t ever been a hit like CoComelon on the world’s most popular streaming service…”
Think of that—CoComelon beat out The Queen’s Gambit, Bridgerton, and Cobra Kai, among other titles that helped the world survive a year of lockdown.
Apparently, CoComelon provided a breather for parents of preschoolers during the pandemic too. Common Sense Media describes the series as “music videos that are appropriate for the very youngest of viewers, and touch on typical preschool themes.” I’ll leave it to you to explore the reviews that add up to just 3 out of 5 stars.
What I can do, though, is sympathize with parents who reach out to distractions like this. I can well understand how tempting it must be for a harried parent to park an infant or toddler in front of a screen for this ‘age-appropriate’ entertainment.
We all know that some days parenting young children are simply about survival—but relying on screen entertainment like CoComelon has consequences that parents need to be aware of.
Watching animated nursery rhymes on a screen is no substitute for reading to a child on your lap.
What Brain Research Tells Us About Screens vs. Reading
Dr. John Hutton, pediatrician and director of the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and his team have studied the neurological effects of screens and reading on preschoolers. Findings show that the brains of children with less screen time had better-developed white matter tracts, the pathways involving language and executive functions, hence these children also had “higher language, executive and composite early literacy skills.”
According to Hutton, children placed in front of screens lose out on nurturing experiences, and this deficit explains the lag in brain development.
Human beings are wired to connect. From the cradle to the grave, the evidence is in that the deepest human desire, after life itself, is the longing to connect…The blueprint for connection is written in our cells from the very beginning, and our understanding of this has enormous implications for the way we parent.
The toolbox of pre-literacy skills that we build for our child when we sit down and read with them is grounded in this connection. Love and nurturing is what builds the critical brain framework that every child needs in order to thrive. Screens simply cannot provide this.
Sharing nursery rhymes is important—and highly recommended for developing essential pre-literacy skills. But the way we do so matters.
Practical Take-aways for Parents
Begin reading to your infant as soon as you bring them home, and do so daily. Cuddle, read expressively, engage interactively as your child is able, and have fun!
Introduce screens only once you’ve established this lovely connection through daily reading. Limit the time. Ideally, watch with them.
Continue reading to your child daily as long as you can. You’ll nurture your connection, create precious memories, and fill their ‘invisible toolbox’ with all the pre-literacy tools they need to be ready for school.
So, the next time you’re exhausted and tempted to park your little one in front of a screen, grab a book instead, sink into a comfortable chair with them, and enjoy the wordplay and silliness of those ancient nursery rhymes together—on the page.
Tweaks Parents Can Make to Help Their Struggling Readers
My fifth grade students were just settling into our literature and writing class one day when Sammy slipped out of his seat, walked up to my standing desk, stuck this post-it onto the surface right next to my computer, and without a word, turned and sat down again.
Nothing could have surprised me more. Or warmed my heart more. Sammy had begun the year doing everything he could to remain invisible and detached. Lack of engagement, almost zero class participation, little homework completion. I knew he felt vulnerable as his skills were poor.
But somewhere along the way, he experienced a turn-around. Had my class suddenly become more engaging? My teaching more inspiring? It would have been gratifying to think I’d made such a difference, but I knew that wasn’t it.
Something else had made a difference though. Here’s the story of what happened.
Many thanks to Don Winn, leading dyslexia expert and award-winning author, for inviting me to share this story.
Did you know that according to the latest NAEP—our nation’s report card that tests students in fourth and eighth grade every two years—65% of fourth graders and 66% of eighth graders in the United States did not perform as proficient readers? (NAEP 2019)
Equally as concerning, research tells us that 75% of students who do not read on grade level by third grade will never catch up. (Children’s Reading Foundation)
Why is it that 3 out of 4 students will remain behind? And what is happening with students in the 25% who do manage to make gains and become proficient readers?
Observations I’ve made in over three decades teaching elementary school children convince me that there is one variable that’s most powerful and effective in moving children into reading success.
In our latest conversation, author and dyslexia expert Don Winn and I discuss these issues: why children struggle and how they can be helped.