One of the things no one told me about becoming a mom is that it will
make you feel like you are back in high school again. When you first go to the playground with your kids, that is. You’re the newbie mom (or dad) and it seems that all the other parents and caretakers there already know each other. You are the outcast. Like the kid in the lunchroom who has no one to sit next to. How do you break the ice? Do you talk to the people with kids around the same age? Or maybe you size up the mom and think … yeah, she seems like someone I would get along with. Either way it’s hard to make a connection when you often have to run off in different directions to stop your little one from stealing the ball from the older kids at the park. But you look for similarities, ways you are alike, and try to make some parent friends. In doing so I realized how there is 11 types of moms (dads, even caretakers) at the playground … and these types seem to be standard no matter where I go. 1. Fancy Mom She’s in high heels, her makeup looks perfect, and you really want to know where she bought her clothes. You envy the fact she can run after her kids in a dress and still manage to look like a gazillion bucks. 2. Pajama Mom She’s comfy, cozy, and maybe doesn’t match, but she doesn’t care. She gives you ideas on what sweats would look best with what t-shirt. 3. Always Coffee In Hand Mom She’s the envy of every tired parent at the playground because she always has her cup of Joe. But it does make some wonder … is it really coffee? 4. Cell Phone Mom This mama cannot deconnect from her phone — talking or texting or scrolling. Maybe it’s for work, maybe it’s some social network, maybe she’s reading the mobile version of a magazine, but she’s on the phone so much you start to believe she does have eyes on the back of her head. 5. Photo Taking Mom This mom must have full photo albums for each day because she’s snapping a picture from every angle, for every step her little one takes. 6. “Ack! Where Are My Kids?!” Mom Let’s just say this mom isn’t paying a lot of attention to her kids. 7. Hovering Mom And let’s just say this mom is the definition of a helicopter parent, not letting her child take one step without being rightherenexttoher. 8. Peter Pan Mom Fun, free-spirited mom isn’t afraid to slide down the slide, get sand in her toes while building sand castles, and really get into playing at the park. 9. Loner Mom This type makes no eye contact, and never smiles at the other parents. It’s clear she doesn’t want to be involved with even the smallest of talk. 10. Super Friendly Mom Quick to smile and say hello, Super Friendly Mom remembers how old your kids are and even their names. She’s the mom who will text you asking for playdates. 11. Entourage Mom This mom rolls with at least two other moms wherever she goes. It’s hard to tell whose kid belongs to who in this group but they’re tight and are like the cool kids in the lunchroom. I think I’ve been every one of these moms at one time or another. Even Loner Mom … on those super cranky days. Which type(s) of mom do you think you are? What other
types of moms have you run into at the playground?
types of moms have you run into at the playground?
Does getting your child to do something feel like an impossible task? One of the reasons may be the way in which you are asking. Children are not necessarily receptive to the types of verbal instruction that we use with our spouse, colleagues or other adults. Instructions for children must be given in a way that they understand. Below are some helpful hints on how to give kids instructions that will make both you and your child more successful.
Get your child’s attention – Make sure that you have your child’s attention before you give a direction. You should be within three feet of your child so you can talk in a normal or calm voice. This helps your child know that you are talking to him/her. You can get your child’s attention by calling his/her name, making eye contact, or turning off the lights.
- Be clear and concise – Instructions should be short and to the point. The fewer words the better. A good guide is one word per year of life. (ex. Instruction for a two-year-old might be “shoes on”; where a five-year-old might be “go get your shoes on”). If there are too many words, it becomes more difficult for the child to know what is expected. The instruction should also be free of vague words.
- Give one instruction at a time – Do not give your child a long list of instructions. When you give more than one instruction at one time, your child may forget, not understand, or feel overwhelmed.
- Be realistic – Give your child instructions that you know he/she can follow. For example, do not expect a 3-year-old to get completely dressed by him/herself.
- Be positive – Let your child know what you want them to do rather than not to do. When we only describe the negative behavior “don’t run” we still leave many other options available (skipping, hopping, etc.). Telling the child what we want them to do “walk, please.” Does not allow for any other options.
- Don’t ask, tell – Do not ask your child to do something. Instead, tell your child in a firm but pleasant voice what you want them to do. Do not say “will you go brush your teeth?” To the child this implies that they have a choice. Instead, say “go brush your teeth.”
- Reward compliance – let your child know that he/she did a good job following the instruction. Praise your child. The more you praise your child the better the chances that he/she will follow directions in the future.
Examples of Good Instructions:
• John, give me the truck.
• Lindsey, go wash your hands.
• Dylan, look at the book.
• Taylor, put three blocks in the bucket.
• Jessie, walk next to me.
Examples of Bad Instructions (Followed by why it is a bad instruction):
- “Be Careful” (Too Vague)
- “Can you put your toys away?” (Don’t ask, tell)
- “Go upstairs, wash your face, brush your teeth and go to bed.” (Too many instructions)
- “Okay, I think it is time for you to go to bed” (Too many words)
- “Don’t run in here.” (Negative and too vague)
- “Stop horsing around!” (Negative and too vague)
- “Can you give the toy to your sister?” (Don’t ask, tell)
- “It is time for you to go upstairs to go to sleep.” (Too many words)
How to manage biting behavior in children
Christine Koh, Care.com contributing writer
Parents dread being the parent of the classroom or play group biter, but it happens and is a common developmental phase for many children. Here are some p
ointers to help parents and caregivers work through the challenge of biting.
- Remember that the behavior is not uncommon. Biting happens for a number of reasons. Babies and toddlers may bite experimentally (remember, they put everything in their mouths as a means to explore their world), or kids may bite when they feel frustrated, stressed, overstimulated, or powerless.
- Act immediately, calmly, and consistently. Remove your child from the situation immediately. Stay calm and tell your child that biting is not OK and will never get your child what he/she wants. Be consistent in how you respond to each biting incident. Avoid dramatic negative responses that could cause more stress and frustration and lead to more biting.
- Teach consequences. Each time your child bites, remind him that there are consequences. Tell them that whenever biting happens, you have to stop playing with toys and friends and go together to a different room to cool down. Talk about the idea that you may not be able to have play dates because it isn’t safe or fun for other children to worry about being bitten.
- Teach empathy and alternatives. Explain to your child that biting hurts the other child, both physically and emotionally. Ask your child whether it would hurt their feelings and their body to be bitten. Talk about alternative ways for them to express that they need something, such as using words or pointing or drawing a scene or acting out a play. And when your child uses these alternative behaviors, praise them to reinforce the behavior.
- Comfort the victim. Don’t forget about the child who was bitten. Once you have handled your child, go to the victim and ask they’re OK. Take your child with you when you do this so they can see your empathetic behavior.
- Evaluate other factors. Think about the factors surrounding biting incidents. If biting occurs when your child is playing with older kids, look into whether your child may feel powerless and picked on, talk to the older children about playing at a level that can include the youngest child. If your child bites due to stress or frustration, think about any recent changes to your routine and think about whether there are ways to smooth over the transitions. If your child always targets a specific child, closely supervise these play dates, or think about what is causing this relation between the two kids. For example, if there has been too much contact between the two children lately, take a break from the play dates.
- Plan play dates accordingly. If you notice that your child bites when in larger groups, or when hungry, schedule accordingly. Limit play date length and size to prevent overstimulation, make sure there is snack, and keep an eye on your child if it looks like they are starting to melt down.
- Be mindful of other parents. Don’t be embarrassed. Tell your play date parents that your child is going through a biting phase and ask all parents to keep on the alert with you for meltdowns and bites. Tell them how you are handling biting behavior, and ask for their help in reinforcing the response.
- Give them something to bite on. Whether your child is actually teething or not, as your child learns not to bite, offer an object (such as a teething toy) to bite on if they feel overcome by the need to do so.
Dealing with biting can be stressful, but it is a phase. With consistent, firm, and calm responses, your child will eventually learn to express needs in other ways.
How to manage biting behavior in children
Christine Koh, Care.com contributing writer
Parents dread being the parent of the classroom or play group biter, but it happens and is a common developmental phase for many children. Here are some pointers to help parents and caregivers work through the challenge of biting.
Remember that the behavior is not uncommon. Biting happens for a number of reasons. Babies and toddlers may bite experimentally (remember, they put everything in their mouths as a means to explore their world), or kids may bite when they feel frustrated, stressed, overstimulated, or powerless.
Act immediately, calmly, and consistently. Remove your child from the situation immediately. Stay calm and tell your child that biting is not OK and will never get your child what he/she wants. Be consistent in how you respond to each biting incident. Avoid dramatic negative responses that could cause more stress and frustration and lead to more biting.
Teach consequences. Each time your child bites, remind him that there are consequences. Tell them that whenever biting happens, you have to stop playing with toys and friends and go together to a different room to cool down. Talk about the idea that you may not be able to have play dates because it isn’t safe or fun for other children to worry about being bitten.
Teach empathy and alternatives. Explain to your child that biting hurts the other child, both physically and emotionally. Ask your child whether it would hurt their feelings and their body to be bitten. Talk about alternative ways for them to express that they need something, such as using words or pointing or drawing a scene or acting out a play. And when your child uses these alternative behaviors, praise them to reinforce the behavior.
Comfort the victim. Don’t forget about the child who was bitten. Once you have handled your child, go to the victim and ask they’re OK. Take your child with you when you do this so they can see your empathetic behavior.
Evaluate other factors. Think about the factors surrounding biting incidents. If biting occurs when your child is playing with older kids, look into whether your child may feel powerless and picked on, talk to the older children about playing at a level that can include the youngest child. If your child bites due to stress or frustration, think about any recent changes to your routine and think about whether there are ways to smooth over the transitions. If your child always targets a specific child, closely supervise these play dates, or think about what is causing this relation between the two kids. For example, if there has been too much contact between the two children lately, take a break from the play dates.
Plan play dates accordingly. If you notice that your child bites when in larger groups, or when hungry, schedule accordingly. Limit play date length and size to prevent overstimulation, make sure there is snack, and keep an eye on your child if it looks like they are starting to melt down.
Be mindful of other parents. Don’t be embarrassed. Tell your play date parents that your child is going through a biting phase and ask all parents to keep on the alert with you for meltdowns and bites. Tell them how you are handling biting behavior, and ask for their help in reinforcing the response.
Give them something to bite on. Whether your child is actually teething or not, as your child learns not to bite, offer an object (such as a teething toy) to bite on if they feel overcome by the need to do so.
Dealing with biting can be stressful, but it is a phase. With consistent, firm, and calm responses, your child will eventually learn to express needs in other ways.
The following New Year tips are from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). For additional re-sources from the American Academy of Pediatrics visit their website at www.aap.org.
- I will clean up my toys and put them where they belong.
- I will brush my teeth twice a day, and wash my hands after going to the bathroom and before eating.
- I won’t tease dogs or other pets – even friendly ones. I will avoid being bitten by keeping my fingers and face away from their mouths.
Kids, 5- to 12-years-old
- I will drink milk and water three times each day, and limit soda and fruit drinks to once each day.
- I will apply sunscreen before I go outdoors on bright sunny days. I will try to stay in the shade whenever possible and wear a hat and sunglasses, especially when I’m playing sports.
- I will try to find a sport (like basketball or soccer) or an activity (like playing tag, jumping rope, dancing or riding my bike) that I like and do it at least three times a week!
- I will always wear a helmet when bicycling.
- I will wear my seat belt every time I get in a car. I’ll sit in the back seat and use a booster seat until I am tall enough to use a lap/shoulder seat belt.
- I’ll be nice to other kids. I’ll be friendly to kids who need friends – like someone who is shy, or is new to my school
- I’ll never give out personal information such as my name, home address, school name or telephone number on the Internet. Also, I’ll never send a picture of myself to someone I chat with on the computer without my parent’s permission.
Kids, 13-years-old and up
- I will eat at least one fruit and one vegetable every day, and I will limit the amount of soda I drink to one glass daily.
- I will take care of my body through physical activity and nutrition.
- I will choose non-violent television shows and video games, and I will spend only one to two hours each day – at the most – on these activities.
- I will help out in my community – through volunteering, working with community groups or by joining a group that helps people in need.
- When I feel angry or stressed out, I will take a break and find constructive ways to deal with the stress, such as exercising, reading, writing in a journal or discussing my problem with a parent or friend.
- When faced with a difficult decision, I will talk about my choices with an adult whom I can trust.
- When I notice my friends are struggling or engaging in risky behaviors, I will talk with a trusted adult and attempt to find a way that I can help them.
- I will be careful about whom I choose to date, and always treat the other person with respect and without coercion or violence. I will expect the same good behavior in return.
- I will resist peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol.
- I agree not to use a cell phone or text message while driving and to always use a seat belt.
American Academy of Pediatrics, 12/10
Picture an arborist puzzled by an ailing tree. He has tried giving it more water. He has protected it from blight. Why won’t it grow?
If the tree stands for public education, the arborist is today’s education reformer. Ideas continue to pour forth on how to help students, fix schools and revamp No Child Left Behind. But none tackles the environments the tree experienced as a sapling, when its roots never got the chance to stretch out and dig in.
Few would dispute that public education is in trouble. Last month’s reading scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that two-thirds of U.S. fourth-graders cannot read well enough to do grade-level work. Many schools are not measuring up to federal standards.
Now consider what dominates the debate on how to make amends: charter schools, public school choice, dropout prevention programs, linking teacher pay to student performance. President Obama has embraced many of these ideas, which might help some children in some districts.
But have we forgotten to look underfoot? Experts talk too often about poorly performing middle or high schools and dismiss elementary and preschool time as the “cute” years. But these are the years we should focus on.
Science continues to provide insights — and warnings — about how much of a person’s capacity for learning is shaped from birth to age 8. Young children need to experience rich interactions with teachers, parents and other adults who read to them, ask questions of them, and encourage their exploration of myriad of subjects.
Unfortunately, the state of early education is not good. In a 2007 national study in Science, researchers found that only 7% of children in the elementary grades were getting consistently high-quality instruction and attention to their emotional needs.
Kindergarten, which faces unstable funding, is troubled, too. School teachers get little training on the best methods for reaching 5-year-olds.
Lag in preschool
And many children are still not getting the benefit of preschool. While a few states, such as Georgia and Oklahoma, offer universal prekindergarten, in others only 10% of children are enrolled in a public preschool program, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Expensive private programs are not an option for many working families.
To earn the label of true education reform, the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind must recognize these earliest years. The law should include a fund that extends to third grade. It should encourage districts to use their Title I dollars (which go to districts with economically disadvantaged families) to build better programs and partner with existing preschools. It should require districts to integrate data from children’s earliest years with K-12 data so that parents, schools and communities can track how their children are progressing relative to the kinds of programs they experienced before and during elementary school. It should ensure that funding for professional development extends to preschool teachers and principals.
Above all, the law should reward states, districts and schools that create high-quality programs and have the data to show that they work.
If No Child Left Behind cannot help foster better learning environments from the beginning, we will forever be that arborist, scratching his head at why, despite so many fixes, our students still aren’t reaching for the sky.
Our kids looked so cute! We loved seeing everyone dressed up and having fun so we thought we would put this slideshow together for our Family’s to enjoy!
Our education system starts at age 5, pays little attention to children’s development and achievement until third grade, and is strewn with remedial programs to get older children back on track.
Meanwhile, studies keep pouring forth that highlight the importance of children’s earliest years – birth to age 8 – in developing the mental capacity that enables life-long learning.
In short, our education policies don’t align with the latest science on how and when children learn. American public education is out of whack.
Two new books drive home this point: Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills All Children Need and Britain’s War on Poverty. A third piece of reading — a landmark study in the journal Child Development published this spring – also makes the argument for getting smarter about policies that affect young children and their later achievements in school.
Now, I don’t mean to get too heavy. I know summer is for beach reading about the girl with the dragon tattoo, not education and child policy. So let me summarize as quickly as I can:
Mind in the Making is, in essence, a parenting book. But author Ellen Galinsky, the president and co-founder of the nonprofit Families and Work Institute in New York City, doesn’t talk about diapers and baby food.
She bases her arguments on dozens of experiments on how and when children form ideas about the way the world works and what they need to learn. The science makes clear that children need adults in their lives who recognize that abilities are not preordained by genetics. When parents and caregivers engage in one-on-one conversations with toddlers, for example, they help children develop the language skills needed to succeed at reading, writing and communicating in their later years.
Britain’s War on Poverty, by Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University, is a book for policy wonks. It tells the story of a country getting it right.
In 1999, the United Kingdom pledged to halve the poverty rate among the nation’s children. At the time, 26 percent of children lived in poverty – a number that was higher than any other European country and mortified many Brits. Ten years later, the rate is 12 percent, while the rate in the U.S. is on track to hit 22 percent, according to recent data from the nonprofit Foundation for Child Development.
How did Britain do it? Waldfogel goes into rich detail about the multitude of policies that were changed to help families with young children. These included generous paid maternity leave, better benefits for single parents on welfare, improvements in the quality of child care, universal access to preschool and improvements in elementary schools.
The Child Development article, led by Greg Duncan of the University of California at Irvine, showed that babies, toddlers and preschoolers who grow up in poverty are more harmed by its effects than older children.
Other studies have shown that the effects of poverty on brain development are linked to cognitive ability in later years. But Duncan demonstrates that the impact of being poor is still evident, 37 years later, in incomplete schooling and jobless rates.
The harm starts at birth, with poverty elevating the stress parents feel, which can cause an increased likelihood of harsh parenting practices. These have the greatest impact during the early childhood years when the mother-child relationship serves as the foundation for a child’s ability to regulate his emotions.
That regulation, in turn, has an effect on children’s achievement, behavior, and health.Meanwhile, with little money to spare, parents cannot afford to financially support emergent literacy with books and high-quality child care or preschool.
All three readings lead to one conclusion: It’s beyond time to give all American children – especially those in poor circumstances — exposure to language-rich and cognitively stimulating environments in their earliest years. This doesn’t mean just increasing access to preschool, though that would help.
(More than 5 million children under age 6 live in poverty, according to Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Head Start, the federal preschool program for poor kids, is available to about a million children birth to age 5. State-funded pre-k, where it’s available, covers another million. That means we’re leaving more 3 million children out – and that’s not including families with moderate incomes who still find preschool and child care unaffordable.)
An education system aligned with the latest science would help poor parents increase their incomes so they can provide for their children. It would create better parental leave and “extended time off” policies to help parents find time to care for their children and learn along with them.
And it would offer a comprehensive early childhood system with effective teachers who help children develop and learn, starting at birth and including preschool if parents wish, and extending all the way up through the early grades of elementary school.
Yes, the recession and the federal budget deficit make this difficult. But there’s no better time to revamp public policies to match up with our new understandings.
Cognitive and social development starts in the womb and requires sustained, high-quality nurturing throughout childhood. We can keep waiting for more books that make us feel like we live in a backward country. Or we can start transforming policies to revise our education system with children’s earliest years in mind.
Do digital books help young kids learn to read,or are they mostly fun and games?
When Julie Hume, a reading specialist in University City, MO, first saw the potential of a children’s ebook, it was larger than life. The book was projected on a smartboard at the front of a classroom, with huge, easily readable words, brilliant graphics, and an engaging recorded-voice narrator. A teacher trainer stood nearby, demonstrating to Hume and other reading specialists how to pause the narration to point to artwork on the page and ask students questions about what they were hearing. “It gave me chills,” says Hume, who works with third, fourth, and fifth graders who are struggling to read fluently. It wasn’t just that she was overcome with that feeling of “wow, cool,” she says, but also that she could imagine how the ebook program—called Tumblebooks—might help students at her new school, Pershing Elementary. Hume didn’t have $400 in her budget for an annual subscription to the program, nor was she entirely sure, despite her excitement, that it would make a positive difference to the more than two dozen students she would see in “pull-out” sessions each day. So she requested a grant from a local education foundation to fund an experiment. At the beginning of the school year, she divided the children randomly into two groups. One group got the “Tumblebook” treatment, spending time at a computer reading and listening to ebooks that were either at or just above their reading level. The other small group received the same reading interventions that she had used in the past, with Hume sitting at a table and assisting them as they read along in their paper books. Which group would show the most improvement? Hume didn’t know it at the time, but she had just set out to answer a prime question descending on preschools and elementary schools this year: Are electronic picture books good for kids, and can they get them hooked on reading by expanding access to engaging titles? Or are digital books one more step down that slippery slope to less and less interaction with print just when children need it most?
The young ereader
Until recently, ebooks for young children haven’t been part of the hyped vernacular of “game-changing” technology. Instead, ebook conversations have focused on textbooks for older students or text-heavy, adult-oriented titles downloaded to ereaders like the Kindle, Nook, and Sony e-Reader. The arrival of portable, full-color, touchscreen devices is rapidly changing that. A year ago, Apple’s iPad tablet arrived on the scene, turning digital glossy magazines and colorful digital books into a reality. The iTunes App Store is now brimming with vivid graphics and creative games for kids, including hundreds of booklike offerings, such as Green Eggs and Ham and Pat the Bunny. Not long after the emergence of the iPad, Barnes and Noble unveiled the NookColor—a $250 device with a color touchscreen slightly smaller than the iPad’s. It features Nook Kids, an online shop where you can purchase from a growing collection of classic and popular picture books. Judy Schachner’s “Skippyjon Jones” series (Dutton) and Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing (Knopf) are among them. Now you can sit on the sofa with a five-year-old and experience a digital version of cozy co-reading, still basking in a book’s beautiful illustrations and even hearing the pages turn. The bonus is that, unlike with print books, readers can pull up additional titles, at any time and in any place, as soon as a child says, “I want to read that one, too!” School librarians who receive commercial pitches know well that e-picture books are not, in fact, brand-new. They’ve been available on the Web and in software packages for many years, dating back at least to the electronic version of Stellaluna published by Living Books in 1997. In addition to Tumblebooks, other options include Scholastic’s BookFlix, One More Story, Big Universe, Disney Digital Books, and MeeGenius. Those services require some form of payment, usually as a subscription, but some ebooks cost nothing. For example, Storyline Online, sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, has many well-known picture books read by celebrities such as Betty White, James Earl Jones, and even Al Gore. And the International Children’s Digital Library, a nonprofit website created eight years ago by researchers at the University of Maryland at College Park, offers nearly 4,500 free books in 54 languages from more than 200 countries, complete with an iPad-friendly interface and an iPhone app.
School libraries: Ready to adopt?
Yet elementary school libraries haven’t been major adopters. According to School Library Journal’s (SLJ) 2011 technology survey, only 29 percent of elementary schools had ebooks in their collections, compared to 64 percent of high schools. Online ebooks have been typically seen as extras, mere drops in the bucket when it comes to a library’s goal of exposing young readers to new stories and high-quality children’s literature. What if, however, those drops in the bucket formed a tidal wave? School librarians appear to be bracing for a shift: SLJ’s survey showed that a majority of elementary school librarians said they either will (18 percent) or may (46 percent) purchase ebooks in the next two years. States and school districts are starting to make deals with ebook companies to provide yearly subscriptions to thousands of students at a time. Starting this summer, Iowa’s department of education will offer access to BookFlix to any school in the state that wants it. Another sign of change comes from Scholastic’s 2010 reading habits survey, which shows that the youngest respondents—six- to eight-year-olds—were more likely than their older counterparts to have read an ebook. That exposure, says Judy Newman, vice president of Scholastic Book Clubs, may reflect the fact that little children have younger parents who may be introducing them to online content at home. Checking out books from the school library will start to take on new meaning as more teachers and parents insist on 24/7 access in school and at home. Instead of waiting for library day at school, students can log in at any time (provided they have access to a computer and can find the password that might be on that flier at the bottom of their backpack) and browse digital bookshelves. In some media centers, children may be able to borrow Nooks and iPads to take home. More likely, they will start pestering their parents to let them use theirs. And it’s not just the small portable devices that’ll change the paradigm. As Hume witnessed in her Missouri school, e-picture books are starting to be coupled with computerized whiteboards, meaning that more children are experiencing literature on big screens. Picture books are already morphing into something much more flexible than those traditional hardbound beauties that have come to symbolize quiet one-on-one moments between an adult and a child. Coinciding with all these possibilities is the growing urgency centered on the literacy crisis in the United States. Two-thirds of fourth graders aren’t reading at grade level, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test that’s administered to a large sample of children across the country every two years and is referred to as our nation’s report card. The numbers are even worse for black and Hispanic children, with roughly 84 percent not reading at grade level. Policy makers and education experts see school librarians and reading specialists as key allies in the battle to improve children’s literacy skills. Researchers such as Stephen Krashen, an advocate of free voluntary reading (see www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6367048.html), and others who study what helps children learn to read, consider providing kids with easy access to an abundance of nonfiction and fiction books of paramount importance. Should libraries turn to electronic picture books to help them provide that access? Will ebooks help or hurt? When Hume set out last September to experiment with Tumblebooks, she didn’t have much to go on. The pace of change has far outstripped what traditional reading research can tell us. If ebooks are destined to be a significant part of a young child’s early literacy experiences, how exactly should they be used?
What’s an ebook anyway?
Jeremy Brueck, an Akron, OH-based pioneer in children’s digital reading research, spends his days grappling with the cacophony of questions raised by children’s ebooks. With help from grants from the U.S. Department of Education, he’s examining how electronic materials should be used in early childhood programs, including Head Start. He’s urging librarians, teachers, and parents to pause to get a handle on exactly what they mean when they say “ebook” in the first place. “We have to get out of saying ‘ebooks,’” argues Brueck, who codirects Akron Ready Steps, an early literacy program, and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Akron. “It’s just too broad.” At one end of the spectrum, there are PDFs of printed titles, while on the other end are electronic resources with animated characters, interactive quizzes, and online games that accompany texts that can be “played” while each spoken word is highlighted on the screen. With such a range of possibilities, “there is not enough known yet to know what best practice is,” Brueck says. Akron Ready Steps is now developing a “quality rating tool” that can help identify the features in an electronic title that will help children learn and become engaged with a story—and which ones are merely bells and whistles. Brueck often targets vendors of ebook subscriptions. “It’s frustrating to see people put money into developing something that isn’t sound from a pedagogical standpoint,” he says. Brueck is still collecting data, but he’s already concerned about the quality of what’s commercially available. In ratings of nearly 100 ebooks, his research team found very few titles with high marks for their ability to support emerging readers. “Good ebooks for the purposes of literacy instruction for young children are hard to find,” he wrote in a recent post on his blog, Raised Digital.
Help or hindrance?
Consider the myriad ways in which children interact with what, at least for now, people still call ebooks: In William Steig’s Pete’s a Pizza (available from OneMore Story), kids can only hear a narrator read the book—that’s it. The service intentionally avoids any form of animation. In Bruce Degen’s Jamberry (available from Nook Kids), on the left-hand page there’s a cute white duck that quacks when a child touches it. In Robert Munsch’s 50 Below Zero (Tumblebooks), the artwork becomes animated and the words on one page light up as the narrator reads them. Meanwhile, on the opposite page, a character jumps up and down and doors creak open. In Toy Story Read-Along (Disney Digital Book), some pages have no text at all and online games are at the ready. Children watch the story unfold as if seeing clips from the movie. Which, if any, of these features are necessary to enhance engagement and improve a child’s comprehension of the story? Which ones are nothing more than distractions, eye candy, elements that derail the very act of reading? Ben Bederson, codirector of the International Children’s Digital Library, last year downloaded Toy Story on his iPad for his five-year-old daughter. “She loves it,” he says. With the animation and the sound track, “it feels like it’s alive.” But Bederson isn’t sold on the Toy Story book for its reading experience. “I felt like it was a slippery slope,” he says. “It was 25 percent book and 75 percent movie.” The way his daughter requested the title was telling: “Could I watch a Toy Story book?” she asked. Scrambling the context of what makes a book a book is what worries Gabrielle Miller, national executive director for Raising a Reader, a nonprofit organization that distributes picture books to families. She’s not against digital media; she sees it as an important way to increase access in disadvantaged communities. “But without the balance of children holding and touching and learning how to take care of a book, you run the risk of children losing a sense of what books are and how they feel,” Miller says. “You lose the understanding of how they came to be.” Scholastic’s Newman dismisses anything with 75 percent animation, saying that at that point, “it ceases to be a book.” Then there’s the question of what will happen to the physical space of school libraries. Could the easy availability of downloadable picture books—whether “static” or packed with animation—render the stacks obsolete and give children fewer reasons to visit? Marsha Hauser, a K–12 librarian for the Edgewood-Colesburg District in rural Iowa, is a proponent of ebooks but also worries that they could eventually crowd out printed books because many libraries can’t afford both print and digital collections. She plans to hold fast to old-fashioned storytime in her elementary school library. “This won’t change library time—not for Mrs. Hauser,” she says. The most pressing question may be not if but how teachers and librarians should use ebooks. In one of the projects at Akron Ready Steps, teachers are taught to be very intentional when using them with young children. Before starting the electronic part of a reading activity, children are introduced to new vocabulary words. Tumblebooks are used on touchscreen computers with small groups of three or four children, guided by teachers who pause the ebook’s narration so that they can ask young children to predict what will happen next. And they continue to use printed books throughout the day. Local libraries deliver print copies of books that children see on screen. Pam Oviatt, a literacy coach at Akron Ready Steps, says she has seen the power of ebooks. One time last year, she saw three Head Start boys giggling along with the narrated e-version of Doreen Cronin’s Diary of a Worm (Tumblebooks). A week later, she says, when the boys’ teacher announced that she had received a printed copy from the library, the children rushed to see it. “They would pore over it,” Oviatt said. “And they would say, ‘Oh, I like this page!’ They were connecting what they had read with what they had seen before on the touchscreen.” To Oviatt, the audio features are “another way of hooking them into new stories.” Plus, ebooks are much easier to use than the Books on Tape of yesteryear, she says, which required listeners to turn the page after hearing a “ding”—something that many children would miss.
Bigger collections, easier access
Some librarians and teachers are intent on using e-picture books simply to increase how many books kids get their hands on. The possibilities of 24/7 access to new content are a big factor for Pamela Jackson, a media specialist at the Brentwood Magnet Elementary School of Engineering in North Carolina’s Wake County Public Schools. Children should be able to check out new materials at any time, Jackson says. “I say to my kids, ‘We’re going away for the holiday but the library is still open.’” Laura Hodges, a principal at Churchville Elementary School in Augusta County, VA, says Tumblebooks are helping her school attain its goal of “embedding technology into instruction,” while saving money on books. Teachers who want to give children access to picture books in their classrooms can make them available on computers without the school having to buy multiple copies of the same book. Then there are the teachers like Hume in University City, MO, who are motivated by one primary goal—helping struggling readers. When she decided to experiment with ebooks, she had an inkling that the narration and animation might help, but she wanted to be sure. Hume tested her two randomized
groups before they started their reading intervention programs to get a baseline of their abilities. And she assesses them on a regular basis, using texts that are different from what the children hear on Tumblebooks or in her traditional small-group reading sessions. The results are remarkable, she says. The students using Tumblebooks leapt ahead of their peers. Last November, three months after starting the project, the average fluency rate for the Tumblebook group was 23 percentage points higher than that of the control group. Students using the ebooks had moved from a Lexile level of K to M. By January, the entire group of children in the ebook program had achieved fluency to the point that they were “exited” from her pull-out sessions and integrated back into their regular classrooms. It took the control group two months longer. She credits the success to the ebooks’ ability to narrate the story, while allowing students to feel like they’re in control of what and when they read. “When students repeatedly have a strong model of fluency, the more they hear that, the better they get it,” says Hume. The experiment was so successful that her school district decided to pay for Tumblebooks for all four of its elementary schools in the next school year. Still, Hume isn’t ready to proclaim that all children’s books should go digital. “I think Tumblebooks should be for intervention only,” she says. For confidence-building and self-esteem, she explains, the electronic book is unparalleled. But at some point, she says, you have to stop “the hand-holding.” Hume’s experience highlights what reading experts have come to recognize about emergent readers in general: you can’t treat them as a monolithic group with one-size-fits-all needs. The same could probably be said of ebooks and how they should be used. But researchers will need to tease out the variables—what works with what kinds of children in what settings under what conditions? Says Brueck of Akron Ready Steps: “There’s a lot of work to be done yet.”
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