How to raise kids who love to read

Raising Kids Who ReadIn his new book, Raising Kids Who Read, Daniel Willingham explains the “difference between teaching kids to read and teaching them to love reading,” writes Cory Turner on NPR.

A University of Virginia psychology professor, Willingham wants his children to share his love of reading. “If the goal is to become a good citizen or the goal is to make a lot of money, I can think of more direct ways to reach those goals than to read during your leisure time.”

He advises parents to play games that help toddlers hear speech sounds. “Rhyming games, reading aloud books that have a lot of rhyme in them and other types of wordplay, like alliteration. That’s helpful.”

Then it’s time for Dr. Seuss and banana-fana-fo-fana.

 If you had a child named Billy. You could say, “Daddy’s name is Cory. What if we took the first sound in Billy’s name, and my name is now Bory?” That kind of stuff is comic gold for kids.

If parents read, their children see themselves as being part of a “family of readers,” says Willingham.

Cubby, on the 1950s' Mickey Mouse Club, was my first crush.

Cubby, on the 1950s’ Mickey Mouse Club, was my first crush.

But “it’s not enough that the child like reading,” he says. Parents need to limit access to digital devices that provide instant, varied and effortless entertainment. It’s not that attention spans are shrinking, he says. “What’s changed is our attitudes and beliefs. And our attitudes and beliefs are, ‘Bored is not a normal state of affairs. I really should never be bored’.”

I’m so old that I remember when my family got our first TV.  My sister and I — probably both still in nursery school — were allowed to watch for 30 minutes a day. We chose The Mickey Mouse Club over Howdy Doody. By the time we were too old for Micky, we were enthusiastic readers.

In his advice for schools, Willingham stresses that teaching decoding skills is only the first step to reading. To understand what they read, students need to build vocabulary and background knowledge.

Many schools go heavy on reading skills but ignore knowledge, notes Karin Chenoweth. Students don’t enjoy reading things they can’t understand.

For a New York Times parenting blog, Willingham talked to Jessica Lahey about what not to worry about in teaching young children to read.

How to parent like a German


Photo by Metro Centric

Parenting like a German means giving kids more freedom, Sara Zaske writes in Time.

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Despite the stereotypes, Germans are mellow parents, she writes. “Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone.” It’s not called “free-range parenting.” It’s normal.

Kindergarten is considered a time for play and social learning. Children are learn to read in first grade, but “academics aren’t pushed very hard.”  A half day of instruction includes two outdoor recesses.

German children play outside every day. If it’s cold, they bundle up.

Starting first grade is marked by a big party called Einschulung.

 In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

There’s another big party when a child turns 14.

Law tells parents to limit kids’ tech use

Taiwanese parents are required by law to limit their children’s use of technology to “reasonable” levels, reports Kabir Chibber on Quartz. What’s reasonable? The law doesn’t say. But it threatens to fine parents whose children become “physically or mentally” ill due to overuse of digital devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends a maximum of two hours a day of screen time for kids, found in a recent study that 8-year-olds in the U.S. spend an average of eight hours a day with some form of media—and many child-development psychologists urge more unstructured play time.

South Korea now regulates “online games and e-sports as if they were addictive substances,” writes Chibber.

Worried about addiction to online role-playing games, China limits online gamers to three hours of play at a time, reports BBC News. Games are set up to limit a game character’s ability if the player exceeds the three-hour limit.

Why do some ideas take hold?

Dan Willingham’s five mini book reviews include a look at Jack Schneider’s book, From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse. It asks “why do some ideas from academia gain influence among educators whereas others do not?”

Schneider names four key factors. For ideas to be influential, they must be compatible with teachers’ general philosophical orientation regarding childhood, they must seem of potential importance, there must be some hope of realistically acting on them in the classroom, and they must be transportable across contexts.

I think the first one is the key: People believe an idea because they want to believe it and ignore ideas that challenge their world view.

Willingham also likes The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber, which is subtitled “Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.”

“I’m the parent Lieber targets in this book,” he writes. “I want my kids to have the values my wife and I share when it comes to money, but I don’t know how to impart them.”

How parents use Lego

Lego is the biggest toy company in the world, writes Jonathan Ringen on Fast Company. The Danish company has found “a clear distinction between American and European parents,” researcher Anne Flemmert-Jensen says.

American parents don’t like play experiences where they have to step in and help their kids a lot. They want their kids to be able to play by themselves. We see among European parents, it’s okay to sit on the floor and spend time with the kids.

The pink- and purple-accented Lego Friends, designed to attract girls, is designed for role playing, writes Ringen. By contrast, boys like a strong narrative. “Boy-focused lines like Ninjago and Legends of Chima . . .  come with almost comically detailed backstories,” he writes. Both boys and girls like to build.

Lego, you are dead to me, writes Molly Wood. Once kids “grew up happily constructing elaborate vehicles, castles, cities, and imaginary lands.” Now they’re asked to buy increasingly expensive sets.

Walking alone leads to child neglect scrutiny

The day before I started kindergarten, my mother walked me and my six-year-old sister to school and back as a practice run. After that, I walked with my sister or with other baby boomer kids. Nobody was escorted to school by a parent.

After school, we might play at school or in the park or explore the ravines. We had to be home for dinner.

The Meitiv children walk in their suburban neighborhood.

The Meitiv children walk in their neighborhood.

Maryland parents are being investigated for neglect after letting their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter walk home from the park, reports the Washington Post. It’s about a mile to their home in a safe suburb, say Danielle and Alexander Meitiv.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

On Dec. 20, someone saw the children walking without an adult and called the police, who drove them home and demanded the father produce ID. Raised in the Soviet Union, he refused, but gave in when six patrol cars rolled up at their house. He agreed to go upstairs for his ID, Danielle told Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids.

The officer said—in front of the kids—that if he came down with anything else, “shots would be fired.” She proceeded to follow him upstairs, and when he said she had no right to do so without a warrant, she insisted that she did.

“Don’t you realize how dangerous the world is?” an officer told the father. “Don’t you watch TV?”

Montgomery County Child Protective Services threatened to take the children away if the Meitivs stick to their “free-range” parenting philosophy, writes Danielle.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not saying parents should abandon all caution. We’re saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen.”

Child abductions are extremely rare, she points out. The children have been taught how to cross streets safely.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

CPS has demanded entry to the home without a warrant and interviewed the children at school while investigating the Meitivs for neglect. In November, CPS cited the parents for neglect for letting their kids play in the neighborhood park without supervision.

Both scientists, the Meitivs are educated, assertive, articulate and affluent. Call it Parenting While White. They’ve researched child neglect laws, which ban leaving young kids home alone but don’t say they can’t walk or play outside. They can afford a lawyer. And yet, they’re taking a risk by claiming their right to decide what’s best for their children.

Smarter babies, word by word

Building a baby’s brain starts at birth, the Thirty Million Words Project tells brand-new mothers.

Hours after giving birth to her first child, Bionka Burkhalter agreed to listen to two women talk about the importance of talking to Josiah. The 21-year-old single mother, who has a GED, “heard about tuning into his cues and responding when he cries, and about giving him a chance to communicate back to her, even if just through eye contact,” reports Sara Neufeld on the Hechinger Report.

xx talks to newborn Josiah

Bionka Burkhalter talks to newborn Josiah, after hearing a Thirty Million Words presentation. (Photo: Julienne Schaer)

“Obviously, language can in itself be a key part of building a child’s brain, but the parent relationship really is the basis for all of child development,” said founder Dana Suskind, 46, a widowed mother of three school-age kids and a pediatric surgeon.

A long-term study will compare the effects of six months of home visits: Some mothers will get advice on communicating with their babies while the control group will hear about nutrition.

Suskind’s team will follow 200 Chicago children to measure their kindergarten readiness.

 Parents will be taught to weave back-and-forth conversation into daily activities, from diaper changing to cooking dinner, and to explain to children why they are being asked to do things, rather than just directing them. They’ll be urged to go on a “technology diet,” since children need human interaction; their brains don’t build connections with televisions and computers. And they’ll be prompted to praise their children’s efforts rather than the outcomes of their actions so they won’t be discouraged from taking chances when something doesn’t work out. (“I love how hard you worked on that!” would be preferable to “You’re so smart!”)

“The ultimate answer is the whole society understanding how important parents are in their children’s development,” Suskind said. In low-income communities, “they’ve been told the opposite, that they’re not powerful.”

Better parenting in 2015

Modern parenting is impossible, writes Jordan Shapiro in Forbes.

 . . .  the ideal parent is exhaustively selfless and giving, but also stern and principled. A good parent always puts the child first but somehow miraculously avoids creating a spoiled brat who thinks s/he is the center of the familial universe.

The father of two elementary-school-aged boys, he’s come up with 5 Ways To Be A Better Parent Next Year.

This year, I want to teach my kids about money. Not just financial literacy, but the socio-economic realities of the world. I want them to begin to think about how their own personal wealth (likely measured in their minds as quantity of video games and toys) impacts the world as a whole.

He also plans more family adventures — real life can be as exciting as a quality video game — and more exposure to art.

Educated in Quaker schools, Shapiro experienced the silent meditation of Quaker meetings. He worries that his boys can’t sit still — certainly not silently.

. . . the ability to intentionally disconnect for 40 minutes seems especially important in a world of smart phones and social networks. I have no objection to our modern virtual experience provided it becomes a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, tangible experience in physical space. Meeting for worship seems to be a good way to practice disconnection and presence.

He hopes to take his children “to the local Quaker meeting house in order to teach them the skills required for being present, quiet, and silent.”

An Elephant Mom protects her young

In the time of the Tiger Mother, Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar strives to be a protective, nurturing, supportive elephant mom, she writes in The Atlantic.

Sharma-Sindhar grew up in India, where children aren’t reprimanded in the first five years, she writes. “I can’t recall a time when I cried and a grown up didn’t come to console or hold me.” She slept with her mother till she was five.

The phrase I would hear in almost every home we visited during my childhood was some version of ‘Let the kids enjoy themselves.’ They have the rest of their lives to be grown up. And the social fabric of our world supported them. We would go to the fanciest of restaurants with our parents and run around and play tag. No one would stop us—not the managers, not the other diners. It was normal. Soon enough, the servers would join in. It was lovely.

Her elephant mom was a doctor.

I failed a Hindi test when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I remember going to her, teary-eyed, with my results—and hearing her tell me that it didn’t matter. There were many more tests ahead. As I sobbed in her lap, she stroked my hair, hugged me, and told me there would be another test, and I could pass that one. (I did get the annual proficiency prize for Hindi a year later at the same school.)

Now, she’s raising her own daughter in the U.S. Other parents think she’s coddling her, failing to teach “grit” and resilience.

Underparented kids on a plane

After getting up at 4 am to catch a cross-country flight, Amy Alkon hoped to sleep on the plane. But a three-year-old in the next row was talking so loudly that noise-canceling headphones weren’t enough.

“Excuse me, could you please ask your little girl to be a little quieter?” Alkon whispered to the mother.

“No,” the woman said.

“Go-right-ahead!” mommying is spreading, writes Alkon in The Underparented Child Flies Again. “There’s no age that’s too young to start prepping the little nipper for Harvard,” she writes in the New York Observer. Yet many parents don’t teach empathy, the root of good manners.

. . . that mom on the plane could have both modeled empathy and asked her daughter to show it: “You know, sweetie, how you get cranky when you haven’t had your nap? Many people had to wake up really early for this flight and might want to sleep, so let’s pretend we’re mice and use our quietest voices.”

. . . getting in the habit of living as if other people matter makes you more likely to be employed by them, to be liked and respected by them, and even to be loved by them. Sure, it’s good to be king. But it’s ultimately far more satisfying to be kind.

Nobody likes a brat — on a plane, in the home or in the workplace.

Snakes on a plane? At least, they’re quiet.