Adventures in family learning

Guest blogger Tina Chovanec is the director of Reading the authoritative online source for comprehensive and accessible information about teaching young children to read and helping those who struggle. Reading Rockets is one of four multimedia educational websites created by Learning Media, a division of WETA, the PBS affiliate in the Washington DC area.

Last week, the news media was abuzz over a startling stat: newspaper circulation in the U.S. had dropped 10% in just the past year – the steepest decline ever.  Blame the Internet and its cheap, easy access to the news.

I’m still an old-fashioned ink-on-my-fingers newspaper subscriber. I like thumbing through the pages, the serendipitous find of a story that I might not have searched for online. I love to share a punchy political cartoon with my husband and grownup kids. I still clip out political maps, travel maps, really good op-ed pieces, recipes. So I was kind of pleased to see a letter to the Washington Post editor from a dad who had recently decided to re-up a lapsed subscription to the paper and who noticed some unexpected dividends: instead of sitting in front of the computer with his back to the world, he’s at the kitchen table with his family, engaged in informal conversation and activities centered around the newspaper.

When parents engage their children in reading and conversation about the big (or small) issues of the day, it’s helping their kids build vocabulary, visual literacy, and critical thinking skills. It also shows kids that adults don’t know everything and that they can explore the world together, following their curiosity wherever it leads.

November 1st was National Family Literacy Day, but family literacy is something to be celebrated every day of the year. Here are some thoughts to help parents jumpstart reading and learning together:

Read aloud. Most kids love the closeness of sitting with a parent and sharing a good book or two. Reading together is an active experience: try the PEER method when reading with your child. Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman has written a wonderful series perfect for tandem read alouds: You Read to Me, and I’ll Read to You. And if you stumble upon vocabulary you don’t know, look it up in the dictionary with your child. My husband still remembers that he learned the word “soporific” during a bedtime (!) reading of The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies with our daughter.

A home for my books. To build a home library, go on a treasure hunt! Bookstore sales, garage sales, flea markets, used book stores, book swaps, and sales at your local library are great places to look for books, magazines, and comic books (don’t forget the nonfiction!). Put books on the top of your wish lists for birthdays and other celebrations.

Game night. Start a new weekend tradition centered around family games. Rediscover classics like Memory, Scattergories, or Scrabble, or explore something new.  Parents’ Choice always has a fresh new list of games of memory, matching, strategy, and scavenging.

Are we there yet? Great family adventures can happen almost anywhere: a walk through the local park on a fall day, your county historical center, the apple orchard, the train station, or an outdoor cultural festival – even the grocery store is full of fascinating stuff, especially if you are lucky enough, for example, to live near an ethnic market. Ask your child to navigate by puzzling out the map, share something he learned from the signage, or think up questions to ask a tour guide or to investigate on your next trip to the library. Here are more simple ideas for getting the most out of a family field trip.

Surfing. Okay, so I started this post warning of the unsociable nature of the Web. But there’s no denying that the Internet is chockfull of rich information. My latest great find: the amazing online resources at the Library of Congress. Side by side with your child, dip into Everyday Mysteries, America’s Story, American Memory…and much, much more. The surf’s definitely up at this site.

The world is big, complicated, and fascinating. Jump in feet first and take your kids with you!

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Posted in Books & Reading, Guest Blog Posts, Literacy
One comment on “Adventures in family learning
  1. Tiger Kinney says:

    I tried to submit a comment earlier, but it hasn’t shown up. I imagine your spam filter may be broken?