The principal sent home a letter asking parents to de-emphasize television and video games, and “promote literacy every day.” Between my new husband and I, we have five children, ages 5 to 11. After a hard day at work, it’s tempting to feed them and toss in a DVD until bedtime. How can we “promote literacy” with five kids?
Promoting literacy simply means giving your children many opportunities to develop a love of reading, writing, listening and talking. The principal isn’t asking you to teach your children to read, for example, but she wants you to show them how you use the skill in your everyday life.
Study after study has shown that children whose parents make a conscious effort to limit TV consumption and integrate reading, writing and conversation at home do better in school in all their subjects.
Promoting literacy with children of varying ages is easier than you might imagine. “This aspect of parenting is underrated and the time required overstated,” says literacy expert Dr. Danny Brassell, associate professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills.
Brassell suggests the following activities:
– Read in front of your kids, with your kids and to your kids: “Our children may be ‘digital natives’ but they still need to master the printed word and develop a love of reading to succeed in life,” says Brassell. “If you sit down with People magazine, you’re promoting literacy by showing your children that one way you relax is to read for pleasure.”
The more things they see you read, and the more access they have to reading materials, the stronger readers they become. If a bedtime story times five is too much, try “family story hour,” where everyone gathers to hear a chapter of a compelling book each night.
– Keep a school-year scrapbook: Get a big three-ring binder and divide it into five sections. Have kids add exemplary work, stories, lists of favorites and photos. Have kids dictate stories to you, then print out and insert. “This activity not only records highlights and progress throughout the year,” notes Brassell, “it promotes writing and the reading of each other’s stories. By May, you’ll have a big family diary of the school year.”
– Eat dinner together: “This may sound old-fashioned, but it’s essential for families to gather each day to share and talk,” says Brassell. “Research shows that children who take part in daily conversations develop vastly superior vocabularies than those plopped in front of a TV set.” Pick topics kids are interested in and you’ll never run out of things to talk about.
– Play games with your kids: Board games, cards games, team video games, all good! Brassell, in his book, “A Baker’s Dozen of Lessons Learned from the Teaching Trenches” (Shell Education, 2009) even makes a game out of kids’ excuses. “When kids have the ‘can’ts,’ ask them to list of all the excuses they can think of, then suggest ways to overcome them, no matter how silly. When siblings respond to ‘I can’t go because I can’t find my shoe,’ the results can be hilarious!”
– Schedule ‘family party night’: Once a month, throw a fete! Let the kids pick the menu or go out for a family activity. Give prizes for accomplishments in school, sports and scouts.
When it comes to helping kids succeed in school, “parents have a tremendous home field advantage,” says Brassell. “You lay the intellectual foundation that all of your children’s teachers will build upon.”