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'Tween' years represent critical time in literacy development

Published: Friday, May 24, 2013 11:22 a.m. CST

How many 10- to 12-year-olds do you know? They are quite delightful and highly skilled individuals. They are often very agile and nimble at this age, as more than two-thirds of accidents occur before age 10. By age 4, 50 percent of our brain is developed, and 80 percent by age 8. By age 12 to 13, brains are 100-percent developed. So, it is a little scary, but these 10- to 12-year-olds have nearly developed brains. The people around them have done much imputing; now, they are using the information.

Does this mean that we have learned everything by 12 or 13? Definitely not. At this age, we have greatly increased our vocabulary to at least 7,200 words. By sixth grade, (11 to 12 years) our reading vocabulary is 50,000 words (compared to 15,000 words in about 1940). The “good ‘ole days,” in this case, aren’t as good.

Four reasons for this vocabulary increase include media “invasion”; realizing children’s potential, more sophisticated materials; and improved teaching methods. Due much to greater vocabulary and the media influence, these 10- to 12-year-olds are excellent talkers. They are now able to conceptualize and think more abstractly and, if their learning style differences are tended to, they learn more quickly.

By age 12, they are attentive and interested if information is seen as relevant — they want to know if others see things the same way, though they’ll argue and argue that their way is the only way. Emotionally, children ages 10 to 12 become upset very easily; they argue, fight, and talk back. Their emotional outbursts may irritate us at times.

They admit their fears and worries only if the atmosphere is comfortable. They enjoy stories and corny jokes and worry about ”Where do I fit? What am I about?” They want to be independent, yet group membership is critical. In fact, they want solo activities only when there is nothing else to do.

Socially, their use of gutter language continues, and they want a best friend and seek an enemy — sometimes the same person fills the role in one day. They gain social skills from group membership and become more active in the outside world —shopping, movies, TV, sports. Finances start to matter, and phones are important as they talk and talk (today, text and text). Clothes become important and they dress in style. Boys tend to be rough and tough and tease the girls. Sadly, this is also the age where we see the use of alcohol starting.

For all ages, literacy formation is enhanced by being listened to, talked to, read to, and receiving positive feedback. All of us who interact with this age of child need to create positive attitudes toward learning, reading, writing, and communication. Verbal interaction influences literacy — perhaps more than most people could imagine.

Another important item on the literacy agenda includes a variety of literacy materials in the home. Also, libraries need to keep up-to-date on materials to encourage reading at this age. Yes, our tax dollars provide materials, but add materials in memory or honor of someone you love. What better way to remember someone than to add to the literacy of a child?

Also, literacy materials come in many forms besides books, magazines, and newspapers. There are greeting cards, phone books, lists, posters, signs, labels, notes, etc. Our world is filled with the need for literacy and children use and enjoy these items.

One important aspect about literacy, specifically reading, is that unless a person has a variety of experiences to bring to the reading, there will be little comprehension. Experiences don’t have to be big or time consuming. By building experiences on experiences, you are developing a lifetime reader and becoming a lifetime reader.

Some family ideas to build experiences are to read passages of a book together. Make a family book where all members contribute a favorite poem, article, etc. Even the youngest can dictate what he or she wants in a book. Also, the younger children enjoy illustrating these family books. Modern laminating allows these family books to become real treasures. Reading is fun when it’s done together. Until next week… Christine Pauley

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