Anyone with young children watching Nickelodeon recently has most likely seen the exuberant Josh with Blue the dog on the new Blue’s Clues & You show, based on Blue's Clues. Not being the bubbly sort, I was wondering as I watched the ads, will today’s children truly respond to this cheery man and his dog and the answer is apparently yes and in a positive way. From the first episode we watched, my 4-year-old daughter was glued to Blue and her clues, responding aloud to the questions, keeping an eye out for the clues and finding her own notebook to write the clues in and draw the pictures of Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper and others.
What we at BTBL have felt is essential for early literacy is vocabulary and background knowledge. I have tried to expose my daughter to many new experiences and read to her on a daily basis from the day she was born; poems, nursery rhymes, fairy tales and various story books. A parent never knows if what they are doing is actually making a difference but as I sat with my daughter watching an episode of Blue’s Clues & You, I was rewarded to see that yes, it is sinking in.
In looking for clues to the book Blue wants to read, the audience finds a moon, and I’m thinking Goodnight Moon but then the second clue is a cow and my daughter immediately says Hey Diddle Diddle, and proceeded to recite the nursery rhyme and lo and behold, the next clue was the word jump and she was correct. After reading research about the importance of children hearing and learning nursery rhymes, I have continuously read them to my daughter and so it was gratifying to see that they are now a part of her well of stored knowledge.
Seeing my daughter’s positive reaction to the show Blue’s Clues & You, I was curious about the show itself and found an article from 2002 written by Dr. Alice Wilder titled Literacy for Preschoolers: The Blue’s Clues Way. Wilder states that “so much of what a preschooler does every day involves literacy-related skills,” from exploring and making meaning out of what they do and learning and using new vocabulary words to role-playing and learning to think for themselves and understanding others’ points of view. Wilder goes on to say that “at Blue’s Clues, we understand that these sorts of literacy-related skills are important to a child’s future success as a reader. Blue’s Clues has two basic philosophical tenets when it comes to literacy for preschoolers. First, it is essential to expose children to stories, conversations, and the value of books and writing as well as provide a rich and stimulating language environment. Second, children need a balance of whole language and phonics instruction in order to learn to be a reader—one has to want to read in order to sit down with text, and one has to be able to sound out words in order to decode that text.”
Further reading brought me to an article in the New York Times: 'Blue's Clues' Returns, and Silence Is Still the Star. Blue's Clues was specifically designed with the preschooler in mind. One of the creators, Angela Santomero (who holds a master's degree in Child Developmental Psychology), says, "We wanted to do something very simple and graphic and slow. Something where preschoolers were treated like they were smart, and felt empowered, emphasizing those social emotional skills." The pauses and moments of silence throughout the show allow for interactivity, giving preschoolers a chance to play along with Blue, while working on early literacy, as well as social emotional skills and even kindergarten readiness. At the time, this was a completely new concept and paved the way for other educational shows. The new Blue's Clues & You sticks to this structure and from what I've seen first hand with my own daughter, it works.
These basic tenets of early childhood literacy have been with us for many years yet it seems that experts and educators are always searching for new ways to instruct children in reading instead of relying on the tried and true methods and the result has been declining reading scores. So, my suggestion is to go back to basics eschewing the digital gadgets and embrace the pen and notebook and help your child to search for clues to literacy.
-Kate @ BTBL
We are three generations that seek a way to get back to basics. It’s not that we eschew technology, but sometimes simpler is better, especially in raising our children. Mom was a reading teacher, Amanda is an early childhood educator and Kate a children’s literature specialist and former school librarian along with the latest additions, a daughter (now 4) for Kate, and two sons (now 1 and a newborn) for Amanda. We advocate reading aloud, the simple toys that use imagination and encourage creativity and learning in the kitchen, which can be a fun mess but also teaches life skills. Join us in raising healthy, happy, inquisitive and intelligent children.
All three of us at BTBL have worked in education with children of varying ages and have seen those that struggled with reading and the ones that ended up being placed in reading classes. More often than not, the younger children’s issues stemmed from a lack of exposure to books as well as a lack of interest, which if not addressed early is compounded in later years. The older children, middle and high school, could read the words but lacked the ability to comprehend what they read, which placed them at a severe disadvantage in an educational system that emphasizes standardized testing. When reading a passage in a test, comprehension is vital but if a child lacks a broad vocabulary and background knowledge, they cannot even make an educated guess.
If you search the Internet for how to assist your child in reading comprehension what you will find are sites that give information on explicit instruction in skills and strategies with worksheets to download and print off for a child to fill in before, during and after reading. While teaching reading strategies is not necessarily a bad thing, we would like to point out that if one is lacking background knowledge, comprehension will not occur.
Let’s see what background knowledge can mean to comprehension. Read and summarize the following passage:
Having crumbled to 214 all out, with Jonathan Trott's 84 not out the glue across an otherwise brittle English innings, the tourists were back in the contest when Paul Collingwood's brace had the hosts wobbling at 100 for five at the turn of the 21st over.
Having a bit of difficulty? We did and that’s because we are not familiar with the game of cricket as any fifth grader would be who was raised in England. This shows that even though you can read the words of the passage, you need to be able to connect what you already know to what you are reading to comprehend the text, otherwise it is just words.
Another way to strengthen background knowledge is to use various books to build connections using one to build upon another, which aids in committing the experience and knowledge to memory. For example, you can begin by familiarizing your child with the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb, if they don’t already know it, and then read Mary Had a Little Lamp by Jack Lechner, which puts a new twist on the classic rhyme. To further expand the experience, find a recording of Edison speaking into the first phonograph the words “Mary had a little lamb.” You can also use this concept by reading a non-fiction book on say trains and then finding a fiction book involving trains and perhaps a seek-and-find book and coloring pages on the subject and then visit and ride a train. Take an idea and expand on it with books and experiences.
Take an interest or topic and let it grow with your child. For example:
Reading to your child is the best way to build background knowledge. A child’s reading comprehension does not meet their listening comprehension until approximately the eighth grade. In other words, a child can understand more of what they hear than what they can read on their own, so if there is a particular book your child is interested in and it’s listed above their age level, go ahead and read it to them if you deem it appropriate. It may require some explanation and illustrations will also assist with understanding but the experience will still add positively to their background knowledge. Rule of thumb is if they are engaged and are enjoying the story, stick with it. There are many excellent picture books out there, both fiction and non-fiction, that offer rich vocabulary and engaging stories that will build background knowledge and peak interests for further exploration.
Non-fiction books are an excellent way to build knowledge but fiction does as well and may be more memorable. There are so many picture books available that have engaging storylines, rich vocabulary and detailed illustrations, which both builds background knowledge and aids in comprehension. Books of yesteryear are also great to include for the vocabulary and illustrations. We have found that many children know only what is in their own sphere and have no concept of rotary telephones, typewriters, record players etc., which older books may refer to and have in their illustrations. So, don’t discount a book because of its age for there are many benefits and knowledge to glean that just might resurface later (think vinyl records.) Use both fiction and non-fiction to ignite interest, create curiosity and build knowledge.
Titles to consider:
Books give you background knowledge without you even realizing it when you are reading. My mother read to her middle school students at the start of every class and she often had students come back later all excited that they saw, read or heard something that pertained to an idea or theme that was in the book she was reading, further expanding their knowledge, so just know that reading books give knowledge without the actual “teaching”. The idea is to read something of interest or just plain fun and the knowledge will be imparted naturally adding to a child’s “well of knowledge” to be recalled when needed. Consider the following ideas:
Even if you don’t do any extended activities, just keep reading. All reading gives knowledge and can even spark an idea that fuels the imagination.
The focus of reading should not be for test taking purposes but rather for enjoyment and to get information on subjects that a child is passionate about. The simple act of reading every day will increase background knowledge and enhance a child’s life. Books and the physical experiences of everyday life become background knowledge and therefore reading to your child is extremely important and not just until they can read on their own but into the later years as well. Learning is a life long journey. Experience it with your child through books.
-Kate @ BTBL
We are three generations that seek a way to get back to basics. It’s not that we eschew technology, but sometimes simpler is better, especially in raising our children. Mom was a reading teacher, Amanda is an early childhood educator and Kate a children’s literature specialist and former school librarian along with the latest editions, a daughter for Kate (now 3) and a son for Amanda (now 1.) We advocate reading aloud, the simple toys that use imagination and encourage creativity and learning in the kitchen, which can be a fun mess but also teaches life skills. Join us in raising healthy, happy, inquisitive and intelligent children.
We are mom Sandra and daughters Amanda and Kate, all with backgrounds in literacy and education, who want to share our philosophy of taking the basics of life; books, simple toys that encourage play, imagination and creativity, and using cooking and baking to teach math and real life skills to raise happy, inquisitive children. Join us in exploring the old and the new and sifting through the myriad of research to consider what is best for our children.