As the parent of a toddler I’ve now found that one of the ‘hot topics’ among our friends and colleagues, especially with JK just around the corner, is how ‘advanced’ our kiddos are. Now the definition of ‘advanced’ when your child is just barely approaching a 3rd or 4th birthday is somewhat relative. What exactly does it mean…and on another note…how extensively are you willing to guide your child to make sure they enter Kindergarten at the ‘top’ of their class?
Now, while I did complete Teachers’ College, I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert in Early Childhood Education, all I know is how A and I are introducing V to a world that is way more complicated that it was, even 25 years ago, when we were starting our first days at school. While I realize that each child develops talents in a variety of academic areas, for the purpose of this blog I’m going to focus on literacy. As for our approach on the topic, I think it’s an interesting mash-up of how we both were raised with a focus, for V, on ‘whole media’ literacy.
I was brought up in a household that valued traditional literacy. I remember taking weekly trips to the library, stories before bedtime and phonics workbooks to help increase my reading level and spelling abilities. We didn’t even own a TV for two years during my primary school years! Andrew, on the other hand, was brought up with a focus on media literacy; early use of computers (including web design!), video games, television, magazines and comic books. Each of these approaches had their benefits and when we talked about how we wanted to encourage literacy in V we decided a combined approach would probably be best to allow him to succeed in a world where media literacy is quickly becoming the definitely of ‘literate’. To us, ‘whole media literacy’ means that V spends equal amounts of time with TV, Computers, Tablets, Smartphones, Radio and of course, books, magazines and comics.
As an example let’s look at V’s routine during a day at home with us. V wakes up in the am and yes, brace yourselves, watches TV! He will request his favourite show (Toopy and Binoo, Dora, Bubble Guppies, etc) and thanks to the magic of ‘On Demand’ we usually cue up an episode we haven’t seen enough times to quote the entire script. Now, while I fully admit to having used cartoons as a babysitter when mountains of laundry are calling my name, what normally happens is that we actively listen to the shows with V and encourage involvement in the show. Luckily most children s programming today encourages their small fans to interact with the story lines and run their programming much like a kindergarten lesson, dividing it into: Introduction, activity, recap, extrapolation/lesson. Shockingly, the same things most parents would do when reading a book! V will sing and dance along with the music, answer questions and choose appropriate objects/activities during prompting and recap the plot with us after the show is over. Courtesy of Dora he will even answer questions in Spanish when the mood takes him. How can you not be impressed by that!?!
After TV we usually encourage creative play or crafts. He is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and will make up his own story lines with his characters. Usually James is getting into some kind of trouble and Thomas needs to save his sorry butt. Never a dull day on Sodor! Based on a combination of Thomas story books and the TV show ‘Thomas and Friends’ V is never short of locations or plot lines to draw from and create his own unique version of events. He even colours us pictures of Thomas and his buddies gallivanting around the island, although they usually require some explaining as to adult eyes they look suspiciously like blue and green squiggles.
V is also fully allowed to access our computers, tablets and phones to play a variety of toddler friendly games. I have no idea how parents did it before the advent of technology! V, at 2.5 years old, is now more proficient at using these devises than most of our older family members. He listens to interactive story books on the iPad, follows Jays twitter with his dad on the Samsung Galaxy and learns spelling, puzzles and matching games on my iPhone. He knows how to get to the section with his apps and alternates between them as long as his attention span allows. He has such a sense of pride when he finishes an activity and loves to show us the end product with a verbal explanation on what he did! We also let him bang away on the computer to encourage learning on what a keyboard and computer can do, since in all likelihood when he starts having to hand in assignments in school they will be typed or submitted electronically. Not to say that it isn’t a necessary skill but handwriting is already becoming less of a focus on today’s public schools! If you don’t believe me check out your local curriculum documents! V also asks to use Skype to talk to family members that live out-of-town. He can recognize their pictures, and as Grandma can attest, will even dial himself and leave blank messages for people to find later!
To end our day A and I always read V a story from his extensive collection. I grew up loving books and hope to instill the same wonder in my own child. We rotate a few favourites and love books revolving around his favourite characters and songs. After we’ve read a book a few times we ask V to fill in the blanks during reading with different nouns, point out objects in the illustrations or do the actions/sing along with us. It is a really special way to end the day and he loves that part of his routine.
For V there is no preference to any type of media platform and he is able to work with and entertain himself using any one presented to him at a level appropriate for his age. The fact that publishers and producers are themselves creating multimedia empires for each fictional universe definitely helps create a seamless transition when encouraging this type of literacy for your children. For example we can create a whole ‘Team Umizoomi’ Day at our house using cartoons, crafts, toys, books and apps!
V still has a year to go until he’s registered for kindergarten (and that’s a whole other kettle of fish let me tell you!) but A and I are fully confident that when he’s placed into an interactive, multi-media classroom he will flourish based on the skill set he is already developing. While I still have a great book collection in my basement and enjoy a paper copy every once in a while I’m not blind to the fact that for most of V’s life he will usually be using electronic platforms to access his literature and activities. Might as well get him started early and teach responsible use and content across all platforms!!