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National Editorials & Columns

Children are self-activated learners

Varied literacy promotes thinking. Children are self-activated learners with adults at best responders and encouragers.

Sadly, somewhere along the way we discourage self-activation. Think of yourself. When you want to learn something new, how do you go about it?

You own your own learning so you plug into a source. Those early questions of “Why is the sky blue?” create wonderful learning opportunities.

I still remember my grandfather’s response to such questions. He might say, “Let’s see if I know.  Perhaps...”, or sometimes, “You know Christine, I don’t think I have an idea.  Let’s look in the encyclopedia, etc.”

Even in his busy life I never remember him saying, “I’ll look it up later,” or “That’s really not important.”

A question may seem trivial to you, but in truth it is in seeking answers to our questions that determines our literacy.

The Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stated, “Experts say that a good reader is not someone who has no reading problems but someone who uses reading skills to solve them. Treat any problem not as a great difficulty, but as a puzzle that will be solved,” in its book, “Reading and Your Adolescent.”

You encourage self-activation as you:

• create your “to do” list;

• fill out a form;

• read the T.V. or radio listings;

• read aloud from signs, letters, a newspaper or magazine article; or

• copy a quotation and many other everyday things.

These not only role model the importance of reading but encourages self-activation. A child absorbs your attitude when you let them see you read, read to them, read to each other, and literacy materials clutter your home.

These influence more than any reward or an “A” on a report card. Since reading enables us to absorb information and most types of reading are beneficial, encourage a variety of reading for children, adolescents, and yourself.

It is important not to criticize types of reading, whether it is comic books or other types of literature. We all need light reading.

Reading gives adolescents insights through the experiences of others. It helps them discover, “I’m not alone!  Others feel like me!” Reading also offers solutions that might never be considered.

I personally wonder when someone proudly proclaims, “I don’t read fiction; I only read non-fiction.” As in all of life, balance is essential. A novel can investigate possibilities that a non-fiction work can’t. 

Novels paint pictures and delve into problems and solutions and we listen because we care about the characters and may apply the solutions to our own life.

Opinions such as editorials and even the type of writing I do are written for the purpose of challenging readers to think. It is neither fiction nor non-fiction.

Research is done and opinions about it are given. Readers decide to agree or not. That agreeing and disagreeing is literacy at its best.

Let’s face it. Readers know more information and investigate more solutions than non-readers. When readers follow through on what they read they often become successful.

In one sense we are what we read. Reluctant readers often won’t remain reluctant with good role modeling.  A child absorbs information from all of the senses, but by about age 12, we follow a pre-determined selection process, which is a form of self-preservation to keep clutter down so our brains don’t short-circuit.

Yet, selection remains my hardest job because I am interested in so many things. Reading and thinking help keep our mind’s computer working more effectively.

The brain is more than a huge filing cabinet, but it holds similar aspects. New information enters short term memory, retrieves the concept from long term memory, then adds the new to the old if it makes sense.

A positive self-image develops from past experiences, our personality, our environment, and the choices we make to fill in the gaps. Our past experiences cannot be changed, but our reaction to them can be changed. Thus, even the effect of our past experiences are not written in concrete.

A healthy self-esteem is never frozen in time. A person is always in the process of becoming. What makes a human being unique is his combination of desires and loathings.

Magazine and newspaper subscriptions are wonderful incentives. People who say they can’t afford magazine and newspaper subscriptions often indulge in unnecessary junk food, extravagant hobbies, etc.

You can overfeed a child with junk food, but you can’t overfeed a child with varied reading material.

No one can really stress how much sharing what we read is beneficial. A book, article, etc. opens up new worlds for readers. Not long ago, I had no time for a library run. I get panicky if I don’t have at least three books available to read.

Then I thankfully remembered a friend had loaned me a book on historical romances; my daughter had asked me to read a young adult book to be sure “mature content” wasn’t offensive; she also offered me a book she enjoyed; then, another friend had suggested a book she thought I might like and could pick it up at our church.

I felt cherished to think these people were eager to tell me about books. Then there is my book club that gives me suggestions to read and most are great additions.

So, help your child choose a good book. There are many wonderful sources of book possibilities. It is often at this point that the real non-reader gets set in his/her way.

The more variety you introduce, the broader the reading field. Meander through the library reading the section labels. Open up your world by reading at least one book from each category.

Until next week — Christine Pauley

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