Today I have two articles about growing bookworms, one about giving kids positive experiences with math (rather than focusing so much on "achievement"), and one about the value of learning through play. The first article is about the benefits of giving young children real, print books. The second is about giving kids choice in what they read. This one was written in response to another piece that cast aspersions on kids' choices, also linked here. The third piece is about ways to get kids to play with math and use it to answer compelling questions. The fourth piece shares recent research about the ways that babies and preschoolers learn (naturally, though play and inquiry). All of these articles are, ultimately, about how to nurture joy in reading, math, and learning in general. Happy reading!
Perri Klass: "I love book-books. I cannot imagine living in a house without them, or putting a child to bed in a room that doesn’t have shelves of books, some tattered and beloved, some new and waiting for their moment. It’s what I wanted for my own children, and what I want for my patients; I think it is part of what every child needs. There’s plenty that I read on the screen, from journal articles to breaking news, but I don’t want books to go away...
Part of what makes paper a brilliant technology may be, in fact, that it offers us so much and no more. A small child cannot tap the duck and elicit a quack; for that, the child needs to turn to a parent. And when you cannot tap the picture of the horse and watch it gallop across the page, you learn that your brain can make the horse move as fast as you want it to, just as later on it will show you the young wizards on their broomsticks, and perhaps even sneak you in among them."
Me: Perri Klass is the National Medical Director for Reach Out and Read, a fabulous organization that provides doctors with books to give to kids on their well-child visits. I agree with her about the need for kids to have "book-books" as she calls them, vs. eBooks. As an adult, I adore my Kindle, particularly for travel. But for my six-year-old, everything I've read, and everything my instincts tell me, says that her books should be in print, not on a screen, for as long as possible.
Jason Boog: "For decades, child developmental research has proven that children learn best when they pursue their own interests. The child’s interest is far more important than the choice of reading material. Parents, caregivers, librarians and teachers need to follow a child’s lead when choosing books—no matter what they want to read...
Stop wasting time arguing about the quality of children’s books. Use your energy to help kids chase the stories they love in libraries, app stores, and playgrounds."
Me: Jason Boog's brief piece was written in response to a Slate article in which Gabriel Roth noted kids' love of books featuring licensed characters seen on TV or in movies, rather than reading what their parents might want them to read. That piece sparked a bunch of discussion (including this piece by Catherine Nichols, defending occasional literary "junk food"). These discussions about the quality of children's literature crop up from time to time, of course, and have ever since there has been children's literature in the first place.
My own experience has been that my daughter enjoys running across books about licensed characters that she likes (from the Frozen princess to Angry Birds). She'll sometimes bring home stacks of such books from the library. I've never had any problem with this, though there are certainly (as Roth indicates in his piece) books that I personally enjoy more. My take on it is that it's not a good idea to insult a child's taste (because this may turn them off reading, which is the worst outcome), so I am generally with Boog on the idea of letting kids read what they want. But I do find, unlike what Roth describes, that if I ALSO keep the books that I like around, and offer those as an option, my daughter will end up enjoying many of those, too.
Brandon Smith: "The achievement gap is just a symptom of a bigger problem... a dissonance between the rich mathematical experiences students should have and what they actually have. This is what I've started calling the "experience gap." For example, when we teach children division with fractions, we have them memorize "Ours not to reason why ... just invert and multiply!" We don't ask kids to understand the why and how this works -- we discourage them from even thinking about it...
Great experiences have tricky problems, twists we didn't see coming, and structure that we can find if we look. Great experiences put faith in mathematics and in people. A great experience is a chance to play with mathematics -- with authentic mathematics where learning happens. We need to give students rich opportunities to learn by doing rather than static observation or rote memorization of rules."
Me: I agree wholeheartedly with Smith's point that we need to teach kids how to PLAY with math, and that it's in working to answer interesting questions that real learning occurs.
Alison Gopnik: "We take it for granted that young children “get into everything.” But new studies of “active learning” show that when children play with toys they are acting a lot like scientists doing experiments. Preschoolers prefer to play with the toys that will teach them the most, and they play with those toys in just the way that will give them the most information about how the world works....
New research tells us scientifically what most preschool teachers have always known intuitively. If we want to encourage learning, innovation and creativity we should love our young children, take care of them, talk to them, let them play and let them watch what we do as we go about our everyday lives.
We don’t have to make children learn, we just have to let them learn."
Me: A friend shared this article with me on Facebook because he knew that the conclusion (quoted above) would be right up my alley. I've seen so many times with my own daughter the way she learns by figuring things out, and playing around with open-ended toys. The whole reason for my shift in my blog's focus over this past year has been that I don't want to see traditional school negatively impact her natural tendency to learn through play and inquiry.
I think that this general dynamic remains true for older kids, too. They don't play in the same way, of course, but they learn most deeply by striving to understand things that are interesting to them. That's what I think, and it's always good to see articles published that back this theme up.