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National Editorials & Columns

Greatest intellectual feat of your lifetime by age 5

A linguist once said that by the time you are 5 years old, you have accomplished the greatest intellectual feat of your entire lifetime. Think about yourself.

You learned your native language without already knowing a language of any kind. You constructed a grammar far more complex than any scientific theory, and used it instinctively for the rest of your life.

Now that you have accomplished that magnificent feat, you can encourage others. Family, friends, volunteers and the printed word do it so much better than television.

Television is also a teaching tool both for good and bad. It permeates your thinking presenting conflicts of: aggression and violence; unhealthy escape from real life; physical sex, excluding the emotional level; heroes who are mostly flamboyant and good looking; instant happiness derived mainly from material success; and instant solutions with little honest effort. 

During those first 5 years we instill our values or non-values, our passions, our interests, etc. consciously and unconsciously into our young. All our resources: television, radio, printed materials, schools, churches, etc. are at our disposal to make a positive difference in the lives of the young.

We don’t have to do it alone.

One valuable way to strengthen literacy is reading aloud regularly which increases reading comprehension, writing and speaking skills as well as expanding vocabulary. Reading aloud builds relationships providing security and it teaches respect. 

A child learns to sit quietly and actively listen to someone speaking instead of running around ignoring others. Jim Trelease, author of “The Read-Aloud Handbook,” states, “Few tasks present man with as monumental a challenge and few tasks are as far-reaching in their consequences as the challenge of learning to read.”

Why read aloud? Some other reasons are to reassure, to entertain, to inform, to explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire, and most of all to share and enjoy. Other benefits are gaining letter and symbol recognition; absorbing a variety of sentence lengths; developing concepts; enjoying a variety of language patterns that wouldn’t be heard in their everyday world.

If children only speak and play with children they are severely limited in growing in literacy. Reading aloud is a form of playing with a child constructively.

There is no way I can over emphasize the need to develop children’s attitudes toward reading by modeling adult reading and reading aloud. My parents were not readers, but my grandparents were and often as they read while I played beside them, they would suddenly start reading aloud. 

I treasured those times; I don’t know if I understood, but I felt important because they read to me. In fact, I don’t remember if my grandmother’s bedtime stories were even children’s books, but I do know they kept my attention including when she read from the Bible. 

After my bed time story, I enjoyed that precious time to read a book before I went to sleep. I still read an hour before I turn out the lights.

Reading experiences create or strengthen a positive attitude about reading. Attitude is the most important element in the ability to read. Most poor readers have poor attitudes. 

Parents and the adults who surround the young child develop the reading attitudes of their children willingly or unwillingly. Literacy is not something we can run from.

The English Language is one of the hardest languages to translate material into. One of its words may have fifty or more meanings. Various languages such as those of Native Americans aren’t even yet written down.

When I think of that part of my heritage and as Thanksgiving approaches, I think of popcorn which grows on ears. But its kernels are very hard. Each kernel contains a tiny bit of moisture inside. 

As it is heated, this water turns into steam. The kernel explodes and creates that distinctive popping sound. Just in this little tidbit you correctly interpret, at least in Iowa.

You know popcorn is not sweet corn or feed corn. You know you don’t hold it up to your ear to pop it. You know this kernel is not a Colonel. 

You also imagine its taste with or without butter. If you couldn’t read and interpret you couldn’t connect images.

The Native Americans were the first to grow and eat popcorn. They would throw the kernels into a hot fire and wait for the pop. Or they would put the seeds in clay pots filled with hot sand.

These Natives did more than eat the corn. They made it into fancy necklaces. When the first pilgrims came, they shared with them this new food. 

Today, people eat in excess of 450 million pounds of popcorn each year. Nearly all the world’s popcorn is grown in the United States.

Language is essential and I believe that literature is also.  “...the very purpose of literature: to provide meaning in our lives... the purpose of all education,”  Trelease said in “The Read-Aloud Handbook.”

This statement reinforces my philosophy of literacy. Literacy is not “reading skills” or even “success skills.” Reading is even more essential. It helps us learn about ourselves and others.

Richard Peck wrote a poem that strikes me. A few of the lines are:

“A story is a doorway That opens on a wider place”

“A story is a question You hadn’t thought to ponder”

“A story is a window, A story is a key”

Doorways, questions, windows, and keys are essential to our everyday life. These elements allow us to do great things. Let us not deny those opportunities to our children or to ourselves.

Until next week — Christine

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