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…
Why You Should Ignore Their Sometimes Dark Origins and Read Them Aloud Anyway
“Hickory hickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock…”
I recited these words to my fifth grade literature class one day and paused expectantly, waiting for them to finish the sentence.
Blank stares all around.
Then a lone voice piped up: “The clock struck one, the mouse ran down…hickory hickory dock.”
Three cheers for that child’s parent!
The subject of nursery rhymes had come up, and I wanted to see if my hunch was true. I’ve known for years that many parents were no longer reading nursery rhymes to their little ones, but it still shocks me a bit to realize most children don’t have these classic jingles stored in their memory banks.
You might be thinking…
Does it really matter?
Aren’t these archaic ditties Eurocentric? (Sorry, worse. They’re British.*)
Aren’t they historic in nature and sometimes deal with awful, grown-up things like adultery (“Jack and Jill”), military armaments (“Humpty Dumpty”), and the plague (“Ring-Around-The-Rosy”)?
Yes, they are. And yes, they do. Many have been around since the 14th century. Some of their histories are traceable, some not.
The point is, none of that matters. Not to your little one anyway.
What does matter is that when you take them onto your lap and read or sing to them, they won’t be wondering about the symbolic meanings of these verses or their historic origins.
What your child will experience, though, is the joy and beauty of rich language.
The rhythm and rhyme of catchy lyrics that will be theirs forever.
The fascination of a gigantic clothed egg perched on a wall and the strangeness of live blackbirds baked in a pie.
Of all the picture book choices that you have as a parent, reading Mother Goose is one of the best because you’ll give your child the following:
Joy. As dark as some of their origins may be, these verses exude an underlying energy, resilience, and sense of fun.
Vocabulary, the number one predictor of school success. Your child will be exposed to rich language that would not typically come across their radar.
The ability to rhyme. Did you know that some older children simply cannot recognize rhyming words? They have little experience hearing lyrical oral language so struggle to identify or produce words that rhyme. The ability to do so is an essential component of learning to sound out and identify words.
Cultural literacy. Familiarity with the traditional stories of a society’s culture is an important aspect of a child’s education. Children today know “Shrek,” but few are familiar with the classic fairy tales and legends that “Shrek’s” characters are based upon. They’ve seen “Tangled,” but have never heard or read Rapunzel. I believe that the nursery rhymes that have entertained children for centuries fall into the category of things an educated person should know.
Connection. As always, with any shared reading you do, you will nurture feelings of warmth and love between you and your child that will enable them to thrive.
Your child’s future teachers will bless you if you share nursery rhymes with your little one because they will arrive at school with their toolbox overflowing, primed and ready to be taught to read.
Be warned, however. Once you begin reading them, you will repeat. Again. And again. And again. And that, my friends, is exactly what your child needs.
(*Full disclosure: That was totally tongue-in-cheek. I am an unabashed Anglophile.)
If you’re the intellectually curious type and want to know more about their dark origins, you’ll find some excellent articles here and here.
Finally, if you’re wondering whether CoComelon (Netflix’s #1 show and the animated means through which many children are exposed to some of these classics now) is a reliable substitute that ticks the box, check out my recent article on just that question here.
May was a busy blur of book talks and presentations. While they’re still happening virtually, life does seem to be opening up. Hopefully, soon more of these will happen in person!
One of my favorite audiences to speak to are the parents of young children. Earlier this month I had a great time visiting and sharing with my friend and former colleague Ji Wang’s Saturday morning PTA Wellness group at the elementary school where she is principal. The sign above hangs on the fence right next to their parent drop off/pick-up circle. How clever is that?
Here’s a quick excerpt from my presentation:
If you’re interested in setting up a presentation, book talk, or class for your school or parenting group, I’d love to hear from you! Soon-to-be and new parents, it’s never too early to learn about one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give your child.
Jane Goodall’s list of accomplishments is well known, but what may not be as widely recognized is how she came to be the remarkable woman she is today.
From early on British born Jane loved animals. In 1935, on the occasion of King George V’s silver jubilee celebrating 25 years on the throne, her father gave one year old Jane a stuffed chimpanzee in honor of the birth of Jubilee, a baby chimp born at the London Zoo the very same year.
Jane traces her early fascination with animals all the way back to her own little Jubilee who resides with her still in her childhood home in England. But it wasn’t until she was a little older that this affection expanded into a passion that would ultimately draw her into a career that changed the way the world understands animals.
She became an avid reader who found her way to the books that were right for her and, because of those books, she found her life’s passion.
As a young girl Jane grew into a voracious reader and spent hours at the public library or perched on stacks of books at her local second hand book shop. When she could save a little money, she was occasionally able to buy one. In a lovely letter to children published in A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, Jane explains how these books inspired her future:
“…in the summer I would take my special books up in my favorite tree in the garden. My Beech Tree. Up there I read stories of faraway places. I especially loved reading about Doctor Dolittle and how he learned to talk to the animals. And I read about Tarzan and the Apes. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.”
At the age of ten Jane decided that when she grew up she would go to Africa to live with the animals and write books about them. And that is just what she did.
Jane’s story beautifully illustrates the power books have to inspire the human imagination.
One can’t help but wonder…what if Jane had grown up in a different time? Consider the present for instance. What if she’d had access to screens and the internet and never fell in love with reading as she did? Would Jane Goodall have become the person she is today?
By reading to our children from the beginning and supporting their love of reading throughout their childhood, every child’s imagination can be sparked and ignited.
Books have a unique capacity to fire the imagination. Neurologists now know that we humans experience reading fiction as if it’s actually happening to us. All parts of the brain are engaged when we read, not just the region that processes language—which is what we used to think. The deep and organic engagement that comes with written text doesn’t happen with fiction depicted through images on a screen. A book that a child becomes immersed in, however, literally becomes a part of them.
Jane read and reread the Tarzan books, developed a crush on the noble savage himself, and was quite put out at his choice of a partner. “He married the wrong Jane.”
Fortunately for Jane and for the world, she grew up in the time that she did. She became an avid reader who found her way to the books that were right for her and, because of those books, she found her life’s passion.
What does Jane’s story have to say to us today? Simply this. As parents it is our responsibility to nourish our children’s inner worlds.
Jane was fortunate in having parents who encouraged her to believe she could do whatever she set out to do. They also supported her love of reading.With the myriad distractions parents and children face today, helping children find their way to the books that inspire them is a taller order than it was in Jane’s time. But, it is definitely doable. By reading to our children from the beginning and supporting their love of reading throughout their childhood, every child’s imagination can be sparked and ignited.
“It is never too late to parent yourself as well as your child.”
Once a parent understands that reading to their child is not just a good thing, but an essential thing that will enable them to reach their potential and bring great joy—fears and anxieties might emerge. A parent may wonder, how can I help my child fall in love with reading when I don’t love it myself? Where do I begin?
Excerpt from The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence:
Tool #1: Parent Yourself
“Parents who struggled with reading as children or who have never really discovered its pleasures for themselves may feel helpless or ill-equipped to lead. My advice to them is that this is not only your child’s golden opportunity to grow; this is your opportunity as well. One of parenting’s greatest benefits is having the chance to rework or recover experiences that we may have missed out on in our own childhoods. Do not misunderstand; I’m not promoting the type of vicarious living we see on the Little League field when overly aggressive parents relive their dreams of baseball glory through their children. The benefits I refer to have to do with the fact that when we raise children they open up new experiences to us through the worlds they are drawn to. This can happen with reading as well. If your experience with reading was difficult or unremarkable, doing right by your child gives you an opportunity to rework and overcome that. It is never too late to parent yourself as well as your child.”
Parents, you are not alone. There are tools and support out there for you to help you give your child the best possible start.
Kate Foster wears quite a few hats. Children’s author, editor, agent, blogger, and promoter of other writers. She lives in Australia now by way of a small village in the south east of England. I had the pleasure of chatting with her recently about my writing/teaching career and The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence.
Excerpt from the Introduction to The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence…
“Dear New Parent,
Congratulations! Your precious little one is here. There is no feeling in the world more wonderful than holding your tiny newborn for the first time. Your heart expands with warmth and love and protection in a way you never could have imagined until now. As you begin a journey with this miraculous new life you have created that will take both of you far into the future, into places known and unknown, you will do everything in your power to ensure your baby’s path is as full of hope and promise as it can be.
As well-meaning parents, we all want our children to thrive. Regular pediatrician visits, vaccinations, sleep routines, proper nutrition, feeding, bathing, cuddling—we do all of these things because we want what is best for them. But there is one more thing that is essential, and it’s one that is as important to our growing child as all the things we do to take care of our baby’s physical needs. This necessary thing is one that you may already know—or perhaps may have forgotten or haven’t fully understood. As someone who has been in your shoes as a parent and taught children just like yours in elementary school for decades, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about this essential thing over the years.
Flash forward five years, and imagine with me what your child will look like on their first day of kindergarten. At this moment, that day may seem a long way off, but believe me, it will be here before you know it. Can you see your child in the brand-new school clothes that you’ve bought for this special day, down to the sneakers with laces so white because they too have never been worn? Under a fresh haircut there may be a big grin or perhaps a look of apprehension. Your child knows it’s a big day, just as you do. On their back is a crisp new backpack and in one hand a lunchbox filled with favorite things. All of this equipment is recently acquired, full of promise and expectation for the future–and probably decorated with a favorite superhero or three. Who will that be, you wonder? The picture is almost, but not quite, complete. There is more. And here is the secret.
In your little child’s other hand they carry something else. It’s a toolbox, but it’s invisible. Unseen though it is, it will be carried to school on the first day of kindergarten and every day after that all through your child’s academic career. Whether or not it contains the most essential tools will have an enormous impact on those years and far into the future…”
Dolly Parton’s organization is doing amazing work promoting literacy. Her foundation has donated over a million books to children from birth to age five throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. I couldn’t be prouder that THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX has the endorsement of Jeff Conyers, the president of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Here’s what Jeff had to say after reading The Invisible Toolbox:
“The Invisible Toolbox shares a simple truth that rises above the flood of information parents are subjected to: ‘Reading aloud to your child from birth is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give.’ This book will tell you why and what you can do to develop a lifelong love of books and reading with your child.”