Monday, August 31, 2009

Getting boys into reading through non-fiction material

I wrote a post on 'The Challenge of Boys and Reading" in July in which I commented that boys are more likely to be attracted to books and reading when:

".....the books and the reading event (whether at school, or reading with mum and dad) offer opportunities to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do interesting things."

For many boys (like girls) the narrative form is the best way into literacy, but some boys are reluctant to read narratives. Our aim as parents or teachers is to develop boys who can read every imaginable genre when it is appropriate to their needs. We want them to read in a sustained way written text presented in traditional print forms (e.g. books, magazines, letters), electronic forms, or in fact text found anywhere within the child's world. So we should seek to explore any textual form available to introduce them to reading and then gently push them to explore other forms of reading, as well as to read in more sustained ways and for all imaginable purposes. I've tried below to offer a range of ideas for boys aged from beginning readers to young teenager. All are meant to offer an alternative pathway for pushing forward reluctant readers. They are roughly in order of increasing difficulty and age appropriateness, but some examples are relevant across all ages.

Introduce them to magazines - boys will love to flick through the pages of magazines on topics that interest them. Something like National Geographic is ideal (or a children's version of this type of magazine like 'Kids Almanac'). If they are expendable (e.g. old National Geographics), let them cut out interesting pictures and get them to make a book by sticking them in and then labelling them. Later you can write words for them that they dictate or you can encourage them from a very early age to try to 'write' (see my previous post on 'When do children start writing' here) words that go with the pictures.

Explore websites together - from about 3 years most boys will love to explore computers with you. Choose some simple websites (I list a few on the sidebar of this blog site), National Geographic Kids is worth a look. The Australian Museum has a great site called 'Wild Kids' where lots of facts and pictures can be found about animals - great fun to explore (and it's reading!). Show them how you open the site. Then explore the pages of the site pointing to and reading words. Don't make this a reading lesson, the text is peripheral to the exploration, images etc. But you are 'warming them up' to print. There are some greats sites to explore on sharks, reptiles etc.

Explore factual books together - boys love to learn new things. Borrow factual books from the library about space, dinosaurs, cars, trains, reptiles, sea creatures, insects, how things work etc. Boys will flick pages and look at pictures for ages. Sit with them and selectively draw attention to words. Perhaps use the book as a springboard to other activities (e.g. craft, drawing) and encourage the use of writing to label or supplement drawings. A brilliant example of this type of book is 'The Way Things Work' by David Macaulay (the author's website is also worth a visit here). This book explains with words, diagrams and pictures how things work, for example, electricity, pulleys, microscopes, smoke detectors etc. This can be flicked through or read. It isn't a simple book but is ideal for an older boy who isn't keen on stories but may respond to a more difficult factual book that will encourage him to read for more sustained periods. And this is one of our aims, to give them reading 'stamina'. Another great example (again) is 'Nat Geo Almanac 2010'.

A sub-category of this approach is the use of 'key fact' books. Many boys will love books that offer a mix of drawings and pictures with facts about things that fascinate them. Some of these books use extended text but others use short 'sharp' statement with good accompanying graphics or images. Popular topic areas with boys include:
  • Egyptology
  • Jet planes
  • Weather
  • Animals of all kinds
  • History
  • Sport
  • Science
  • Engineering
Here are a couple of examples:

1001 Unbelievable Facts, by Helen Otway (there is a whole series of '1001 Fact..' books, 'Backpack Books' published by DK)
100 Things You Should Know About Ancient Rome, by Fiona Mcdonald
Dinosaurs (Pocket Series), produced as part of a series of non-fiction books by DK Publishing
My Panda Book, by Stuart P. Levine. This is one of a series of books published in partnership with the Smithsonian.

A wonderful recent example of a fact book that my wife bought for me (and which I've shared with my grandson) is 'One Small Step'. This was produced to commemorate the first moon landing on July 20th 1969. The book is a replica of a scrapbook put together by a 12 year old boy whose grandad was working in the Houston Control Room on the day when man first made it to the moon. It’s a collection of Moon-landing memorabilia (e.g. space menus, certificates, transcript of the first steps exchange etc), photographs and so on. It also has more recent space science information, including the future of space travel.

Joke books - There are numerous joke books that boys will use for hours with family and friends. For some reluctant readers joke books are the place that they will drift to in order to avoid sustained reading. The aim isn't to allow this to happen, but these books if managed well can be a way to get boys reading more difficult material. There are lots of books of this type, the follwoing are just a couple of examples.

Knock Knock Who's There: My First Knock Knock Book by Tad Hills is a great introduction to humour in books with answers under flaps.
The Everything Kids' Joke Book
, by Michael Dahl offers Jokes for upper Primary children (aged 7-12 years) plus a second section on how to write jokes.
The Family Joke Book, by Brad Taylor

Books that encourage boys to make and do things - there are many examples of books of this type. They show boys how to make simple things, conduct science experiments and so on. Places like the National Geographic stores can be a good place to look for books of this type. A well-known recent example is The Dangerous Book for Boys. This book offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult.

Graphic novels and comics - While this category often uses narrative, there are many good examples that are non-fiction. It seems the Graphic Novel is making a comeback in this digital age. A graphic novel uses a combination of text and art. They can include biographies, narratives, memoirs and journals, classic story retellings etc. For example, there are now graphic-novel editions of the works of Shakespeare, and many classics such as The Red Badge of Courage, Beowulf, Greek myths, The Adventures of Robin Hood, even The Canterbury Tales. Some people lump comics and graphic novels together but they are slightly different forms. Whereas the graphic novel uses more extended text mixed with illustrations and images, the comic makes use of the speech balloon and is usually restricted to narrative forms. There is still a place for comic books (see my previous post on this here). What the graphic novel offers is a carefully crafted interplay of image and word with many other devices used to draw attention to print (e.g. different fonts, sizes etc).

It is not a new form, for example, well-known children's author Raymond Briggs has used the format to powerful effect with works like '
When the Wind Blows' (1986) that tells of the impact of an atomic blast on an elderly British couple who approach the impending disaster as if they were simply trying to survive the Blitz of WWII. He was also responsible for the very confronting picture book The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman which is a political satire about the Falklands war (this is at best a young adult book).

A final comment on literature

As I've stressed above, while it isn't essential for children to begin reading via books or fiction, there is a critical place for traditional forms like children's literature because of the importance of narrative to people. What I'm saying is that while boys might start reading in many different ways, they shouldn't be allowed to avoid the narrative form. As I commented in the third part of a series of posts on the 'Power of Literature' (here) I believe that while it is possible to learn to read without a rich tradition of books and literature, I would argue that it isn’t possible without a foundation of narrative and story. Why? Expert in narrative Harold Rosen offers the perfect answer to my question:
Narratives in all their diversity and multiplicity make up the fabric of our lives; they are constitutive moments in the formation of our identities and our sense of community affiliation.
We spend most of our lives telling each other stories. Yes, I know that there are countless language genres with their own structure, purpose, modalities and so on, but we build our relationships with one another, we share our humanity through the stories we tell about our own lives and those that we have heard from others. So our aim in using factual forms of reading isn't meant to be an alternative to reading literature. Eventually, we should aim to have our boys loving literature too.

Related posts

Key themes in children's books: Humour (here)

All my posts on boys and education (here)

Monday, August 24, 2009

2009 Children's Book Council Australia Awards Announced

The Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) has announced the winners and honour books for 2009. As I wrote in my post earlier in the year when reviewing the shortlist (here), in 2009 there was a strong list with some of Australia's successful writers and illustrators represented alongside some of the rising stars in the field. In all 451 books were considered with 31 shortlisted across the five categories. In this post I will review briefly all winners and honour books.

1. Older Readers (Mature readers)

The winner of the category for 'Older Readers' was Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia. As I indicated in my shortlist post, this is a remarkable work from a remarkably talented illustrator. It is an anthology of fifteen very short illustrated stories. Each is about a strange situation or event that occurs in suburbia - a visit from a nut-sized foreign exchange student, a sea creature on someone’s front lawn, a new room discovered in a family home, a sinister machine installed in a park, a wise buffalo that lives in a vacant lot. Central to each story is how ordinary people react to and make sense of the incidents.

In winning the award Tan is the first author/illustrator to win this section of the awards, an illustrated book has not won previously.

The judges praised Tan's work suggesting that:
"Tan breathes life and wonder into each story using his trademark illustrative style to increase meaning and enjoyment.....'Tales from Outer Suburbia' is an immense achievement.
Two honour books were named, 'Into White Silence' by Anthony Eaton and ‘A Rose for the Anzac boys’ by Jackie French. Eaton's epic adventure is the story of a group of Antarctic explorers who were trapped in an Antarctic icepack in the winter of 1922, entombing twenty-eight men aboard their ship through the dark polar night. It tells their story while offering ans insight into the fascinating but dangerous beauty of Antarctica. Jackie French's book is a tale about World War I as seen through the eyes of three young women, Midge a 16 year of New Zealander and her two friends Ethel and Anne who start a canteen in France to care for wounded soldiers returning from the front.

2. Younger Readers (Independent readers)

The winner of the 'Younger Reader' category was ‘Perry Angel's Suitcase’ written by Victorian writer Glenda Millard and illustrated by Stephen Michael King. This is the third book in the multi award-winning 'Kingdom of Silk' series. Millard's first book in the series 'The Naming of Tishkin Silk', was an honour book in the 2004 CBCA Book of the Year Awards. The second book Layla Queen of Hearts was also short listed in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards and was winner of the 2007 Queensland Premier's Literary Award.

It has taken Perry Angel almost seven years to find the place where he belongs. He arrives at the Kingdom of Silk on the 10.30 express, carrying only a small and shabby suitcase embossed with five golden letters. What do those letters mean? And why won't Perry let go of his case? The judges said of this book:
"The gentle language is enhanced by the whimsical is rich in colour, in childhood emotions, and in early understandings about how the world works."

The fourth book in the 'Kingdom of Silk' series, 'Colours of Paradise' is set to be released in September.

The honour books in this category were Catherine Bateson's 'The Wish Pony' and Morris Gleitzman's book 'Then'. Bateson's book mixes realism and fantasy in her story about Ruby who's mum is having a baby. She has just been dumped by her best friend and is struggling with the expectation of another child in her family. This is a delightful story about love, friendship, vulnerability and truth. Gleitzman's book is a sequel to his 2005 novel 'Once'. It follows Felix and his friend Zelda as they witness the atrocities being committed by the Nazis in Poland in 1942.

3. Early Childhood (Pre-reading to early reading stage)

This category is for children who are early readers. This year's winner was Bob Graham's 'How to Heal a Broken Wing'. This delightful book is the story of a little boy who finds a bird with an injured wing. He takes the bird home and with his parents help, and some rest, time and a dash of hope will the bird will fly again? The book has all the usual Bob Graham trademarks, simple and engaging illustrations and an economy of words that are well crafted. The judges commented that Graham's book is:

"Full of hope and optimism, the story exemplifies respect for the feelings and the efforts of the very young and has a warm sense of family."
The honour books in this category were Stephen Michael King's wordless (well almost) book 'Leaf' and Rosemary Sullivan (author) and Dee Huxley's (illustrator) 'Tom Tom'. 'Leaf' tells of a boy who doesn't want his hair cut. A seed drops from a bird's mouth and lodges in his poorly cared for hair. Aided by the sun and rain a tree grows. This will be well loved by preschool children.

'Tom Tom' is a story of the day in the life of a small boy living in an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory of Australia. It tracks him across the day; to preschool, lunch with his Granny Annie in 'Bottom Camp', a swim in the local waterhole, and staying overnight with Grandfather Jo in 'Top Camp'.

4. Picture Book (Birth to 18 years)

The winner of this category was Kylie Dunstan's first book 'Collecting Colour'. This is the story of two friends Rose and Olive who live in the Top End of the Northern Territory in Australia. The story follows the girls as they accompany Olive's Indigenous family on a special trip to collect pandanus leaves which they dye and weave into baskets, mats and bags. The judges in commending the book said that:
'The author/illustrator has used colour, materials, page design and artistic techniques to bring vividly to life the activities of traditional basket weavers in the Northern Territory."
The honour books in this category were Colin Thompson's book 'The Little Boy of Happy Sadness' and 'Home and Away' written by John Marsden and illustrated by Matt Ottley.

Thompson's bittersweet tale is about George who lives with his grandmother but who has a deep sadness and loneliness as a result of not having his parents. He tries to fill the emptiness by visiting places where he thinks there are other things sadder and lonelier than him. Nothing seems to work, but one Friday his life changes when he finds Jeremy a lonely dog in the last cage at the animal shelter.

Marsden's book illustrated by one of the emerging new stars of children's literature is a challenging (and chilling) picture book. Its cleverly punned title doesn't prepare the reader for the confronting nature of the content. Home and Away is framed by the hypothetical situation of Australia being invaded, and the uncomfortable notion that those with enough money can escape by boat to a supposedly better place. This is another book that Ottley is associated with that will cause controversy.

5. Eve Pownall Book of the year (
Birth to 18 years – Information books)

This award for information books has been won by a mountaineer Lincoln Hall with his book 'Alive in the Death Zone' which tells of his remarkable survival as a mountain climber after being left for dead following his successful ascent of Everest in 2006. The judges in announcing the award commented that the book:

" and absorbing, compelling, inspirational tale of endurance and survival."

The honour books in this category were 'The Word Spy' by Ursula Dubosarsky (author) and Tohby Riddle (illustrator) and 'Simpson and his Donkey' by Mark Greenwood (author) and Frane Lessac (illustrator).

Related posts

You can read my previous post on the complete shortlist here.

You can read my post on the list of 100 CBCA notable books plus some other key 'notable' lists in the USA and Europe here.

You can read my posts on the 2009 awards in the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals (UK) here and the USA Newbery and Caldecott medals here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brain Development in Babies and Toddlers: Implications for learning

I wrote a post on 'Brain Development and the Early Weeks of Life' in September last year just after the birth of our 5th grandchild (pictured left aged 8 months). The main thrust of my previous post was to stress just how complex the young brain is and our need to understand this if we are to enhance the development of our children in the preschool years. I wrote at the time that:

  • A baby is born with a brain made up of cells with enormous potential that are undergoing massive change right from birth.
  • What any child is born with is just the beginning; it's a framework for development and learning. The child's environment has a big impact on how brain cells are connected or “wired” to each other.
  • The young child's experiences, sensory stimulation, interaction with others, language, the love and care she receives and so on, will all have a huge impact on development.
  • If children are deprived of a stimulating environment the development of their brains suffer.
  • Early stimulation establishes the foundations for children’s later learning; it influences how children will learn, and how effectively they will learn.
  • Early physical and emotional stress has an impact on brain development.
Professor Alison Gopnik (UC Berkeley) has just written a helpful opinion piece in the New York Times (15th August 2009) titled 'Your Baby Is Smarter Than You Think' that raises similar issues and shares some recent research support for her arguments.
She suggests that "new studies, demonstrate that babies and very young children know, observe, explore, imagine and learn more than we would ever have thought possible." She cites three recent pieces of research including one she has been responsible for with colleagues. These three studies use some of the many new methodologies designed to assess the learning and attention of babies.

Study 1 - Researchers Fei Xu and Vashti Garcia (Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia) hypothesised that children as young as 8 months could understand probabilities. When babies were shown a box full of mixed-up Ping-Pong balls (mostly white but with some red ones mixed in), they were more surprised and looked longer and more intently, when four red balls and one white ball out of the box which would be unexpected given the greater number of white balls in the box.

Study 2 - Professor Laura Schulz and Elizabeth Baraff Bonawitz at M.I.T. demonstrated that when young children play, they are also exploring cause and effect. They introduced preschoolers to a toy and effectively showed one group how it worked but not the other. When the exper
imenters gave the toys to the children those who had seen how it worked played less with it than those who hadn’t. They concluded that this demonstrates the desire of babies to explore things.

Study 3 - Alison Gopnik and Tamar Kushnir discovered that preschoolers could use probabilities to learn how things work and that this let them imagine new possibilities. They demonstrated this by using yellow and blue blocks that appeared to make a machine light up when placed over it. When given the chance to choose a block, children who couldn’t yet add or subtract, were more likely to choose the high-probability yellow block (the one that they'd seen light the machine up more) to try to light the machine.

Professor Gopnik concludes that it is easy to take the wrong lessons from this research. Some will assume that this means we should be pushing babies and toddlers faster, providing them with lessons, programs, focuses and structured learning environments. But the brain and the intelligence of the preschooler is different to that of adults who do learn well (often) in focused, planned and systematic ways, with goals, outcomes, KPIs and so on.

But babies are different. When we say young children can’t pay attention for long, we really mean that they can’t concentrate on the things that we want them to or think they should focus on. Professor Gopnik reminds us that babies have trouble concentrating on just one thing and shutting the rest out. As a result we tend to underestimate what babies can do, but now we know that babies are actively engaged thinking and solving problems without being goal-oriented. She comments:
“Babies are captivated by the most unexpected events. Adults, on the other hand, focus on the outcomes that are the most relevant to their goals….Adults focus on objects that will be most useful to them….children play with the objects that will teach them the most. In our study, 4-year-olds imagined new possibilities based on just a little data. Adults rely more on what they already know. Babies aren’t trying to learn one particular skill or set of facts; instead, they are drawn to anything new, unexpected or informative."

You can read Professor Gopnik's complete article (here)

Other Resources

I've written a lot about play and other ways to stimulate children in the early years. The labels on the sidebar of the blog will help to find these, but you can access a series of posts I did on play here.

For a more detailed discussion of the brain's development as well as problems with development, there is an interesting introduction that I found helpful - Fertile Minds, by J. Madeleine Nash in Time magazine, Feb 3, 1997.

Dr Kim Oates gave a series of three public lectures that I hosted at New College in 2006 that might also be of interest, especially the first talk titled "The amazing early years of life" that can be downloaded as a pod cast here. I also found these very helpful.

Early Childhood Cognition Lab at M.I.T. (here)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chapter Books for Younger Children

The Importance of Reading to Children

I’ve written before on this blog about the importance of reading to and with your children (here). However, I’ve been asked a number of times for help with more substantial books to read aloud to children as they grow in language and reading proficiency. Melitsa, one of the readers of this blog recently asked in response to a post on 'The Challenges of Boys and Reading', “Are there any other authors or chapter books you'd recommend for 6 yr old boys to hear?”. I thought that in this post I’d do this and a little more by suggesting some good chapter books for children aged 5-7 years (boys and girls).

Is my child ready for chapter books?

In one sense, this is an easy question to answer. If he or she won’t sit still long enough to hear a chapter through, then it’s too early. But, then again, you might just be choosing dull books or books that are just too hard and complex as narratives. You might also need to sharpen up your story reading (see my post on this here).

Here are some quick questions that you might think about in assessing whether your child is ready:
  • Can your son or daughter listen for 30 minutes plus of reading aloud from picture books?
  • Do they seem to enjoy the text as much as the pictures?
  • Do they seem to relate to the characters and can they follow more complex picture books?
  • Do they ask you to read favourite books over and over?
  • Are they showing growing understanding of written language and asking questions about it (e.g. “What does calamity mean?” “Why does it say….?).
If you answer yes to most of these questions then they are probably ready. Children who have been read to constantly during the preschool years are typically ready to listen to chapter books from age 5 years and up (some even earlier). I also add that some children will be ready before 5 years. My two daughters and my two oldest grandchildren all started to love chapter books before 5 years of age. The starting time will reflect their maturity, language proficiency and the depth of the literary and narrative experiences that they have had in the early years.

Why read chapter books to younger readers?

In a post I wrote last year on ‘Guiding children’s learning’ (here) I talked a little about Jerome Bruner’s concept of “scaffolding”. This idea was devised by Bruner to explain the behaviour of adults helping three- and five-year-old children. He identified scaffolding as a process where an adult helps children to learn in advance of their developmental level. The adult does this by doing what the child cannot do by themselves; allowing students to slowly take over parts of the process as they are able to do so. In many ways, this is the most fundamental reason to read chapter books to your children once they have become avid listeners to stories and beginning readers. They can listen to more complex stories than they can read themselves as emerging readers.

In practical terms, chapter books offer children:
  • More complex narrative forms and plot development
  • Richer and more complex language
  • New areas of knowledge about their world and the human condition
  • Different literary devices
  • They train your children to be able to sustain longer periods of reading
As well as the above, chapter books will enable you to build an even richer shared literary history with your children. Shared books will become part of your shared history within the family, and more broadly, they will help to connect your children to a literary culture that others will share with them.

A couple of warnings

Having said all of the above, there are a couple of warnings that I’d give:
  • Don’t push your children too quickly; all learning requires periods of consolidation before moving on to more difficult terrain.
  • Be aware that while your children might be able to follow the story line, relate to the characters and so on, they may not be emotionally ready for some of the content.
  • Be prepared to offer support - with chapter books you may need to explain new words, discuss new concepts, offer new knowledge etc.
  • Don’t forget, that reading a chapter book still needs to be interesting and enjoyable and that it will be harder to achieve this without pictures so you’ll need to work harder on varying your character voices (see my earlier post on reading to and with your children HERE).
One final warning. Don't assume that once you commence chapter books that picture books no longer have a place. Young children still need to read picture books and hear them read to them. They continue to have an important role in children's literacy development throughout the primary years of schooling.

Some Chapter Books to try

The list below is not meant to be extensive, just illustrative. It has a particular Australian flavour (but not entirely). I preface the following suggestions by saying that individual children will handle these books at different ages. The age guide that I have given is meant to be a ‘group age’ guide for teachers sharing such books with larger groups. Parents reading to a single child will perhaps find that their child can deal with books I’ve listed at an earlier stage. Conversely, your child might not be ready for some of these books as suggested. You may also find that they can handle even more difficult books not on the list (but don’t forget the warnings above).

a) Suitable for 5 year-olds

‘Aurora and the little blue car’, by Anne-Cath Vestly, 1969
‘Arlo the dandy lion’, by Morris Lurie, 1971
‘Charlotte’s Web’, by E. B. White, 1952
‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, by Roald Dahl, 1970
‘Morris in the apple tree’, by Vivian French, 1995
‘Pippi Longstocking’, by Astrid Lindgren, 1945
‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’, by May Gibbs, 1940
‘The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill’, by Dorothy Wall, 1939
‘The Littlest Dragon Goes for Goal’, by Margaret Ryan, 1999
‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, by A.A. Milne, 1926

b) Suitable for 6 year-olds

‘The BFG’, by Roald Dahl, 1982
‘Billy Fishbone King of the kid’, by Dianne Bates, 1997 (Bushranger series)
‘Bud Buster’, by Sofie Laguna, 2003 (Aussie Nibbles series)
‘Dragon ride’, by Helen Cresswell, 1987 (Colour Young Puffin series)
‘Elephant in the kitchen’, Winsome Smith, 1980
‘Grandma Cadbury’s Trucking Tales’, Di Bates, 1987
‘James and the Giant Peach’, by Roald Dahl, 1961
‘Hazel the Guinea Pig’, by A. N. Wilson, 1989
‘Mr. Popper's Penguins’, by Richard & Florence Atwater, 1939
‘Rabbit Hill’, by Robert Lawson, 1944.
‘Superfudge’, by Judy Blume, 1984
‘Tashi and the Genie’, by Anna Fienberg, 1997, (series)
‘The Shrinking of Treehorn’, by Florence Parry Heide, 1971
‘The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race’, by Morris Lurie, 1969
‘The Wind in the Willows’, by Kenneth Grahame, 1908

c) Suitable for 7 year-olds

‘Boss of the Pool’, by Robin Klein, 1986
‘Bottersnikes and Gumbles’, by S. A. Wakefield, 1969
‘Boxer’, by Ian Charlton, 1999
‘Boy’, by Roald Dahl, 1984
‘Callie’s castle’, by Ruth Park, 1974
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, Roald Dahl, 1964
‘Charlie up a gum tree’, by E. A. Schurmann, 1985
‘Dear writer’, by Libby Gleeson, 2001
‘Dog tales’, by Emily Rodda, 2001
‘Foggy’, by Allan Baillie, 2001
‘Frog thunder’, by Jill Morris, 2001
‘Hating Alison Ashley’, by Robin Klein, 1984
‘James and the giant peach’, by Roald Dahl, 1961
‘Jodie’s Journey’, by Colin Thiele, 1997
‘Just So Stories’, by Rudyard Kipling, 1902
‘Let the Balloon Go’, by Ivan Southall, 1968
‘Little House on the Prairie’, Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1935
‘Little Old Mrs Pepperpot’, by Alf Prøysen, 1959
‘Matilda’, by Roald Dahl, 1989
‘Mike’, by Brian Caswell, 1993
‘Misery Guts’, by Morris Gleitzman, 1991
‘Onion Tears’, by Diana Kidd, 1989
‘Over the top’, by Ivan Southall, 1972
‘Penny Pollard’s Diary’, by Robin Klein, 1983
‘Selby’s Secret’, by Duncan Ball, 1985
‘Storm Boy’, by Colin Thiele, 1976
‘The adventures of Stuart Little’, by Daphne Skinner, 2000
‘The amazing adventures of Chilly Billy’, by Peter Mayle, 1980
‘The borrowers’, by Mary Norton, 1958
‘The Eighteenth Emergency’, by Betsy Byars, 1973
‘The Iron Man’, by Ted Hughes, 1968
‘The enemies’, by Robin Klein, 1985
‘The lion, the witch and the wardrobe’, by C.S. Lewis, 1950
‘The penguin friend’, by Lucy Sussex, 1997 (Collins Yellow Storybook series)
‘The Twits’, by Roald Dahl, 1980
‘The turbulent term of Tyke Tiler’, by Gene Kemp, 1977
‘Wiggy and Boa’, by Anna Fienberg, 1988
‘Wendy’s whale’, by Colin Thiele, 1999

Book series

I’ve written about book series in another post (here), but it’s worthwhile remembering that there are a number of book series that children aged 5-7 years will enjoy, here are just some:

Alf Prøysen’s ‘Mrs Pepperpot’ series
Arnold Lobel’s ‘Frog and Toad’ books
Astrid Lindgren’s ‘Pippi Longstocking’ books
Donald Sobol's 'Encyclopedia Brown' series
Enid Blyton's 'Faraway Tree' series
Hugh Lofting's 'Dr Dolittle' series
Jeff Brown's 'Flat Stanley' series
Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Ingalls family' series
Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington Bear’ series
'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis

I could list dozens more but for a wonderful list you can consult online, go to one of my favourite libraries (where I used to take my children when living in Indiana), the Monroe County Library in Indiana (here).

Some related links

The importance of literature (here)
How to listen to your child reading (here)
Supporting comprehension (here)
Helping children to choose books (here)
The benefits of repeated reading of literature (here)

Friday, August 7, 2009

The dangers of television for young children

General research on the impact of new media

As I have written previously on this blog, a study conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Yale University has analysed the more general effects of new media across 173 research studies. It considered studies across a period of 30 years that addressed the impact of television, music, movies and other media on the lives of children and adolescents. Many studies showed that there is a significant relationship between time devoted (i.e. excessive time) to new media and a variety of health or behavioural problems, for example:
  • 83% of studies found a relationship with obesity
  • 88% found a relationship to sexual behaviour
  • 75% found a relationship to drug use
  • 80% found a relationship to alcohol use
  • 88% found a relationship to tobacco use
  • 69% found a relationship to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

In releasing the report one of the researchers, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, of the NIH, commented that:

"The results clearly show that there is a strong correlation between media exposure and long-term negative health effects to children. This study provides an important jumping-off point for future research that should explore both the effects of traditional media content and that of digital media -- such as video games, the Internet, and cell phones -- which kids are using today with more frequency."

The impact of media and technology on very young children

While there are many wonderful benefits of new media, the upshot of the above studies is that too much exposure to 'new' media appears to be harmful. There has also been more recent research into the impact of media on very young children, particularly the impact of television in the preschool years. This research has raised very serious questions about the potential impact that video games, television and related technology mediated images may have on children's learning. In fact, some researchers have suggested that too much exposure to television may have an impact on the developing brain (see my introductory post on early brain development here). We know from the research of neuroscientists that environmental experiences can shape brain development due to the plasticity of neuronal connectivity in the young brain. They suggest that significant and repeated exposure to specific stimuli may have an impact on the child's intellectual and emotional development. This they believe can occur by setting up specific "habits of mind" or by depriving the child's brain of other significant experiences.

The same experts suggest that language rich environments with lots of interaction with adult caregivers, stimulating opportunities for play and other forms of stimulation to learn, enhance brain development. However, they conclude that in contrast, those that encourage passivity and limit social interaction, creative play and problem solving "...may have deleterious and irrevocable consequences". As a result of such findings the American Academy of Paediatrics has recommended that children under 2 years of age do not watch television and that children over two should have no more than two hours of media (e.g. TV, computers, gaming) use per day. This recommendation reflects the repeated identification of varied effects from too much television viewing, including those listed at the beginning of this post.

What does this mean for parents of toddlers?

The first thing to note is that the potential damage caused to the young child's intellectual development is caused as much by what the child isn't doing as the screen-based stimulation itself. If, for example, lots of television viewing replaces, play, story reading, interaction with adults etc, then this is problematic and could have a negative effect on your child's health, development and learning.

The second thing to note is that in a multi-child family where there is a television that it's hard to stop toddlers from watching. As well, children do learn many things from television and this can stimulate other worthwhile activities like storytelling, creative activity, literacy learning etc. TV isn't all bad! It's simply a problem if uncontrolled and over-used.

The third thing to note is that small amounts of televisions seen around the edges of family life should not be a major concern. This type of inadvertent viewing is not likely to cause significant harm if in limited amounts. There may be issues with children seeing adult content, but this is another topic and once again, it requires parent care and control.

Finally, I'd stress that the first 12 months of life is the most critical period. I can't see any good reason for television viewing as a planned activity at this age. If you do allow your toddler under 2 to watch television I'd argue for it to be strictly limited. Short sessions of 5-10 minutes with your active participation are a very low risk. Choosing the right programs is important. I see value in programs that invite the active participation of the child (e.g. actions, dance, singing, clapping etc). If television can be avoided for the first two years it may well be wise, but in many families this won't be practical. For me the key is to emphasise play, language stimulation, story telling and reading, physical activity, problem solving, manipulation of objects, real life experiences etc. Don't allow television to become a baby sitter for children under two years where they sit transfixed for long periods. This is what research is showing to be problematic and potentially harmful. I've listed some of my previous posts that relate to this type of stimulation below.

Related links

My previous posts on play (here)

My previous posts on learning (here)

My posts previous posts that address the impact of TV (here)

My previous posts on language experience (here)

American Academy of Paediatrics policy on 'Children, adolescents and television' (here)

'Understanding TV's effects on the developing brain' (here).

Media Awareness Network article, “Television’s Impact on Kidshere

Brain wave: How technology changes our thinking, by Gerard Wright