Library Notes

  • The library has a new AWE Literacy Station geared for children aged 2 to 8 years old. (See post.)
  • Book signing for author of "The Adventures of Stinkerpup" Isis Grayling on Saturday, June 3, from 2 - 4 p.m.
  • Summer Story Hour "Make A Better World" is coming! Beginning Wednesday, June 14th, this seven week program will continue every Wednesday from 10 - 11 a.m. through July 26th. (See post.)
  • The Arthur Johnson Memorial Library Board will hold their next meeting on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. in the meeting room at the library.
  • Are you interested in joining a new Writer's Group? Meetings held on Fridays, at 10:00 a.m. This is for any writer who wishes to meet with other writers. Beginners, experienced, published, unpublished, writers of fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, bloggers - all are welcome.
  • Preschool Story Hour is conducted every Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. We read books to the children and there is a project every week. It's never too soon to introduce your children to the library!
  • Schedule a meeting at the library. Call 445-9711 to get on the calendar in advance. The library stays open until 6:00 P.M., Monday - Saturday, except for Thursday, when it stays open until 9:00 P.M.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Learning to Read

I have heard and read a lot lately concerning children and teens with problems reading. This is not a new issue. In 1955, Rudolph Flesh wrote a book titled "Why Johnny Can't Read" (available at the library). That book was a best seller and is still in print today. Flesh addressed a problem that cropped up when the 'whole word' method of teaching took over the educational system. Instead of phonics (teaching the sounds of not only individual letters, but short vowel sounds, consonants and combinations spelled with two or three letters, vowels and vowel combinations spelled with two or three letters, the five long vowel sounds, and irregular spellings), children were taught to recognize words as a whole. Phonics was all but eliminated for a period, and eventually a generation of children grew up who did not have the tools to recognize that 'not' and 'knot' and 'bought' all had the same vowel sound but different spellings.

Reading is meant to be a smooth experience. With the right skills taught from the beginning, the eye will eventually recognize whole words without having to sound them out and a sentence will run smoothly together, its meaning clear because pauses to puzzle out a word are not happening every few words.

I know a couple in which the husband was taught by 'whole word' method and still has some difficulty reading and certainly has difficulty spelling; while the wife was taught from the beginning by a combination of 'whole word' with simple words such as 'a', 'the', 'it', 'Mom', 'cat', 'dog', etc., and with phonics to decipher all the consonant, vowel, and combination sounds that happen regularly. She reads well, spells well, and writes well.

So today's problem with children who are passed from grade to grade and read so haltingly that it translates into poor to non-existent spelling and writing skills is nothing new. But it is a larger issue as more and more children and teens seem to have this difficulty. The problem hasn't gone away - it has gotten much bigger. Part of the reason is not just the lack of phonics (because phonics did make a partial comeback), but with other factors that weren't identified in the 50s.

One issue was the way information dissemination changed. In the day, there was the printed word. If you lived at a distance from Washington, D.C., you read about what the government was doing in the newspapers. You read about what was happening with distant family in letters. There was no telephone. There was no radio. There was no television. And there was certainly no texting or tweeting with its own non-standard method of spelling. Reading was an extremely important skill and treated as such by teachers, parents and therefore, students. Spelling and writing naturally followed, since non-verbal communication was also a written skill.

With the development of technology and the spreading of news and communication by the spoken word, illiteracy was not such a severe problem. You could find out what was going on without having to depend on what you heard other people discussing. You could call your relatives. You could 'watch' the news.

So over the decades, functional illiteracy has increased. It often happens in family groups, from generation. Children whose parents don't read well or do not read regularly, and who see that it is possible to survive without reading, spelling and writing skills are much less likely to read well themselves. No matter what the teacher attempts to teach in the classroom (and math skills are vanishing as well with the invention of calculators and cash registers that figure totals automatically), unless the importance of these skills are on display in the home or are emphasized and proficiency encouraged by family adults, many children will not reach the level of their own individual ability, the level that almost any child who went to school a hundred years ago automatically achieved.

My parents were readers. They read for pleasure, they read for knowledge, and they read to their children. I remember learning to read myself and wondering impatiently in the first grade when I would be good enough to get past "See Spot run", and read the good stuff for myself. No more waiting for someone to read an interesting story to me. I wanted to do it on my own.

Perhaps that is what children, from a very young age, need to learn. Reading is fun. Books are hilarious or amazing or engrossing. Reading is cool. And while school might not be a child's first priority, because they love reading at least it won't be hard. Reading time will be fun, writing a paragraph easy, understanding the textbooks possible. Reading has a very important place in learning the skills necessary to get passing grades, earn a diploma, get a good job that you might actually enjoy, and of course, entertain yourself when there is nothing good on TV - or even when there is.

Reading to children who are still too young to read to themselves is a first crucial step to engaging them directly with the printed word. DVDs and video games are fun, but they will not help anyone learn to read, spell or write. Pick books, especially ones with pictures for young children, that interest your child. Not every child wants to hear about Cinderella. They might want to read about Scooby-Doo or trapdoor spiders or lightning or horses or dinosaurs or giant digging machines. We have books for young children on all of those subjects and many more, including wordless books where you and your child can make up the story to suit yourselves. To a little child, making up a story to go with pictures in a book is reading and it will introduce them to the concept of a story to be 'read'.

This library makes an effort to select and purchase books to entertain, interest, and aid children from birth through high school. Throughout the year pre-school story hour, summer story hour, and now Nature Tales are programs where children can be read to by adults and have a good time. Children can come to these programs at the library in Raton and get a head start on learning to read themselves. We invite you to bring them in.

Preschool Story Hour - Every Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.
Nature Tales - Twice a month on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. (Call 445-9711 for the next date.)
Summer Story Hour - Every Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. during the summer.