Is recognizing patterns important for little kids?

I was working with a rising first grader over the weekend, using a hands-on parts-of-speech activity to help kids learn nouns, verbs, article adjectives, etc. The student’s job was to manipulate the parts of speech words over the appropriate words in printed sentences. For example, in the sentence, “The stinky dog farts,” the student put the word “article adjective” over the word “the,” “adjective” over “stinky,” “noun” over “dog,” and “verb” over “farts.”

Young boy sorting buttons.

Click graphic to enlarge it.

In a few minutes, however, my student did what all my students seem to do: she organized piles of the word “noun,” piles of the word “verb” and piles of other parts of speech. “That’s not important right now,” I told her, but she persisted as if the organizing of like words became as important to her as identifying parts of speech.

So what?

Recognizing patterns is a skill all human beings do. When doctors listen to the complaints of patients, they hope to find patterns to identify ailments. Quilters repeat sizes, shapes and colors to create pleasing arrangements. Mozart repeated patterns in his music for harmony and to tie elements together. When I was a three-year-old, I would sort my grandmother’s box of buttons by color, or by size, or by the number of holes in each button. There is something about being human being that seeks out patterns.

Finding patterns in groups of words helps children to read. I was working with a four-year-old this weekend, using letter tiles to construct letter sounds which when moved close together, created words. I said the sounds for “c,” “a,” and “t,” slowly moving the letters representing those sounds closer and closer until the child could say “cat.” When I took away the “c” and put a “b,” the child quickly said “bat.” For other words—“hat,” “rat,” and “sat,” she was even quicker. She had recognized a pattern in those words and realized she didn’t need to figure out the middle or ending sounds because they stayed the same.

Later a child will learn how patterns are important in alphabetic order; or how words with the same roots show a pattern in meaning; or how most words which end with –ly are adverbs. He will learn that stories show a familiar pattern—beginning, middle, and end, or that in fairy tales with princesses, “they all lived happily ever after.” He will learn that pronunciation of words follows patterns as do spelling rules most of the time.

If you are looking for fun pattern-building activities to do with your child, I recommend you check out the Reading Rockets website which suggests four easy activities to do with your preschooler to develop pattern thinking. This site also lists and describes five picture books which focus on pattern thinking. While you’re there, look at some of the other great information Reading Rockets provides for parents and teachers of young children learning to read.

Eye-tracking affirms the importance of vocabulary in learning to read

Eye tracking studies confirms importance of vocabulary building. In a previous blog (Is a child’s vocabulary destiny? From July 25, 2013), I pointed out that vocabulary acquisition is the single greatest predictor of reading success. Children from professional families grow up hearing 32 million more words than children from poor families by the time they are four years old. Most of these words are repeated words, but even so, the number of familiar repeated words is enormous for some children who begin to read with that oral vocabulary advantage.

Research using eye-tracking technology confirms how important a rich vocabulary is for good reading skills. With eye-tracking, the child’s eye movements are monitored using state-of-the-art technology. This technology records the jumps the child makes between words and the pauses the child makes while figuring out meaning.

Eye-tracking technology has confirmed ideas about how children read.

–When children encounter words they know well, the eye skips along briskly.

–When children encounter new words, or words used in unfamiliar ways, the eye pauses.

Researchers have concluded that children seem to have reading word banks in their brains. These word banks are organized by how frequently the child has encountered a word. The more often a child has encountered a word (e.g. “cat”), the quicker the child can understand the word. The less often the child has encountered a word (e.g. “waltz”), the more skills—and time—the child needs to identify it.

Eye-tracking technology reaffirms for me the importance of reading to our young children so that they will hear a wide variety of words. It reaffirms the importance of talking to our children frequently, using adult vocabulary right from birth, and helping children to use specific vocabulary as soon as they are able.

It also shows that there is so much more to learn about how children read, and that technology will be important in that research.

What’s a graphic novel?

One of the biggest trends in children’s literature in the past ten years is the rise of graphic novels.  Not sure what I mean?  Think Captain Underpants and The Wimpy Kid.  Graphic novels are

  • Two boys reading a book entitled "Graphic Novel."comic-strip-like stories with a beginning, middle and end (not a continuing saga).
  • fiction and nonfiction stories told as much in colorful drawings as in words.
  • a hybrid form of action literature that appeals to 12 to 18-year-olds but now is working its way to much younger readers.
  • a newly recognized form of literature by the Young Adult Library Services Association, part of the American Library Association, which has been selecting the best graphic novels for teens since 2007.
  • a form of children’s literature reviewed in respected journals such as School Library Journal.

Graphic novels, like all novels, cover many themes such as romance, sci-fi, fantasy, super heroes, and modern warfare.  Not all graphic novels are novels.  Recent nonfiction titles include Pride and Prejudice, a biography of Thomas Jefferson, Poseidon, landing on the moon and the great apes of Africa.

When graphic novels started appearing, said Mary Tyner, a media specialist from Peachtree Elementary School in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, they were inferior literature and she did not buy them for her school library.  But as they improved and as they were reviewed by respected journals, she began buying, and now she can’t keep the 153 titles on her library’s shelves.

“They are an extremely motivating literature that encourages children to read,” Tyner said.  Over time, she has seen the reading level of graphic novels press downward, but there are few for beginning readers, perhaps because it is hard to have a meaningful story line in beginning reading books, said Tyner.

Another advantage of graphic novels is that they teach synthesizing skills, said Deb Schiano, media specialist at Loundsberry Hollow Middle School in Vernon, New Jersey.  “In our society children must be aware how to read images,” said Schiano, and how to combine the images with words to form meaning.  She compares graphic novels to storyboards from which the student can pick up story arcs by reading the drawings.  Combining the pictures with the words creates more complex meaning.

Graphic novels also attract disabled students, said Schiano.  “For the dyslexic student who can’t decipher words, graphic novels are another way to learn.” In her school last year one teacher used them consistently with learning disabled students.

Both media specialists said graphic novels also encourage children to write and illustrate their own stories, sometimes using online sites.

What has all this to do with beginning readers?

  • Young children will see their older siblings reading graphic novels, and will enjoy paging through them to study the drawings.  The joy that that the older child shows might encourage the younger child to want to read.
  • With time, graphic novels will probably reach down into first grade reading levels and attract younger and younger readers.
  • As a child’s reading ability improves, he might want to buy these books or to borrow them from the library.  Parents unfamiliar with this genre might scorn graphic novels as inferior, but it is worth remembering they have advantages over text-only books.  For reluctant readers, or disabled readers, or boys, they can be a way to motivate the child to read.
  • Graphic novels can also be found on iPhones and Android phones.  Expect your young children to be intrigued when they find them online, and eventually, to want to buy them this way.

Will watching TV help my child learn vocabulary or do better at reading?

Most studies of the effects of television viewing by young children show negative effects, but it is hard to single out effects on only vocabulary or reading readiness.

Child sitting in front of a large screen tv.

  • Kids two to five years old spend 32 hours a week—almost five hours a day—watching TV, DVD’s, DVR’s, videos, game consoles, tablets, and smart phones. Most of that time is spent watching live TV programs.
  • Toddlers 29 months old who spend two hours daily watching TV risk lower vocabulary and math skills, and by the time they go to kindergarten, have lower attention spans and are physically weaker.
  • Many homes (as many as 51%) report a TV on in the background most of the time. In such situations, children watch more TV and read less often than other kids. They are less likely to be able to read. One, two, and three-year-olds have shorter attention spans. Parents and children interact less frequently than in homes without constant TV. (the University of Michigan)
  • When the TV is on, adults speak 75 fewer words per hour compared to when the TV is off. Children speak 25 to 50% less when the TV is on. (the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute)

What can you take away from this research?

  • The more time children watch TV, the less time they devote to reading, academic work, physical play and social interaction—all important for a healthy, well-rounded childhood.
  • The more time the TV is on, the less time adults talk to children, and the less time the children talk—all detrimental to healthy, developing children and especially to vocabulary building which is so important for learning to read.

When is the best time to prepare babies for reading?

Click on the graphic below to enlarge it.Questions

Anwsers:  Question 1, Question 2, Question 3, Question 4, Question 5  (each answer will open a browser tab)

Pregnant mom talking to baby in womb.What has this to do with reading?  Babies who have been spoken to often pick up the sounds of their native language.  They learn the patterns of sound that make words and sentences.  They learn that when there is a pause in the sounds, that is a good time for them to respond (with babbling at first).  They learn vocabulary.  When the time comes for them to connect sounds, intonations, pauses and vocabulary with written letters, they are way ahead of children who have limited exposure to oral language.

It’s fair to say that the groundwork for teaching a child to read begins in the womb.  –Mrs. K



Give your child the gift of books. Give your child a library card.

I remember getting my first library card in kindergarten.
Child excited about her first library card.I needed to be able to write my own name with my mother promising to be responsible. As the librarian looked on, I carefully printed my name in block letters on a paper. Then the librarian put a blank library card into a typewriter, typed my name on it, and handed me the gift of books.

I felt so grown up, like when I earned my driver’s license years later. And did I ever use that card!

Luckily, my public library was three blocks away from my home, on a corner I passed to walk to kindergarten. Once a week my mother would meet me there after school and I would pick out two or three books. How I loved wandering through the tiny children’s section to pull my own selections. How I loved it when the librarian stamped my book!  My mother would take out books for my younger siblings using her card, but I took out my books on my own card.  And when I was in first grade, I could go all by myself, two or three times a week, and exchange books I’d read for new selections.

If your library allows young children to get their own library cards, this is a rite of passage worth celebrating. Keep the library card in your own wallet, if you think your child might lose it, or find a special place for it at home, but get your child a library card.  Take your child to the library, and let her relish the thrill of using a library card. Take her picture with her spanking new library card to show that you consider this an important milestone.

Just like enrolling your child in school, encouraging her to be a faithful library patron is one of the best investments in her education that you can make. And summertime is a great time to get a library card and to take part in the library’s summer reading program. –Mrs. K

Getting my own library card was a momentous occasion. Luckily, I had a short name so I could print it in the tiny space allotted. Back then, a library card was made from card stock. Each library book had a card and a pocket in the back for the book’s card. I never could quite figure out the system for keeping track of it all. But the stamp with the rolling date! I’m not even sure if those are sold anymore!

Living in a city, the library was available on a daily basis. Summer days it was a place to go! And it was free! Yes, the library was then and has always been a big part of my life. –Mrs. A

How many books are enough books for a preschooler?

Preschooler looking at a tall stack of books.1,000 books is a great goal, according to the 1,000 Books Foundation, a nonprofit organization which has enlisted the help of libraries across the US to promote reading. Their effort, “1,000 Books before Kindergarten,” has a simple goal: Children should be read 1,000 books before they start kindergarten.

1,000 books before kindergarten? Yes. They can be all different books or some of the same books read over and over to a child. The reading can begin in utero, or when the child is an infant or toddler, but the counting must stop by the day the child starts kindergarten. Parents are encouraged to write down the name of every book and the date it was read (Log sheets are available at 1000 books).  Writing down the names promotes accountability, and the growing list encourages persistence.

1,000 books might sound daunting, but if a parent reads one book a day for three years, that is more than 1,000 books. Many parents read more than one book a day, making the feat even easier. And if a parent reads a book to two or three children at a time, that counts as a book for each of them.

Some libraries provide their patrons with a journal in which they can list the titles. Some libraries offer stickers to children for meeting benchmark goals. Some local newspapers publish the picture of all children who reach 1,000 books.

Have you participated? Were you able to reach 1,000 books? Let our readers know. –Mrs. K

Of course there are some parents who may be turned off by the idea of listing the title of every book read every day. I know that would become tedious for me. It reminds me of diets where you list every food eaten every day. After a few weeks, most of us cannot maintain the daily log. But how about just a check mark or a number on the calendar…adding up the total at the end of the month and then adding on as the year continues. –Mrs. A