Friday, October 7, 2011

What I Read on My Autumn Vacation

The Social World of Children Learning to Talk, by Betty Hart & Todd R. Risley: As promised, this is the sequel to Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young Children. To the surprise of no one, including me, it is exceedingly boring. It's going right back into the used-book ecosystem. The only takeaways I can offer you are these:

(1) I thought this was an interesting chronology of grammatical language development in the children, collectively: "At 20 months old, children began adding an article before a 21 months they began adding an -s after a noun to mark 22 months old, children began adding adverbs so 'I do' could become "I do again" or "I do now"...between 20 and 23 months old, the average child's recorded vocabulary more than doubled to 215 22 months, children were using 55 different words per 100 23 months, children began adding -ing after verbs...after 25 months children began putting 'can' before a 27 months, children began adding words to put a two- or three-word phrase after a verb, e.g. 'I get some more eggs' 28 months, the children replaced the present auxiliary with the past, e.g. 'I was playing with it' 28 months old, the children had gained skill with all the grammatical morphemes to be added to nouns and verbs in order to mark possession, number and 29 months, the children began joining two 30 months, they introduced infinitives and 32-33 months old, they began using wh- and relative clauses." (pp 63-66)

(2) "Our data showed that children who practiced more in conversation with their parents used more different words and had larger vocabularies. But talkativeness, amount of practice in itself, did not lead the children we observed to display at earlier ages the grammatical categories listed...This suggests that, as studies of physical maturation have shown, practice may have little influence on a genetically endowed rate of development." (p 194) This is totally comforting to me because while Jackson has a great vocabulary, he has yet to break through to multiple-word combinations or sentences. If it's developmental, I can just let it ride. :)

(3) Overall this book should have been a website, but eh, so it goes. One of the particular elements that would do well online is their vocabulary database for the kids and their parents. I thought the "unique words," meaning words that only one child of out of the 42 said during a particular developmental period (during the observation hours only, of course), were fairly intriguing to word nerds. A selection of ones that caught my eye.

Animals: Octopus, buzzard, partridge
Vehicles: Road grader, hot rod, glider
Food and drink: Soufflé, peppermint, artichoke
Outside things: Crocus, license plate, space
People: Prizefighter, knucklehead, wizard
Other nouns: Design, melody, navy
Description words: Calico, open face, frontward

Ready, Set, Read! A Start-to-Finish Reading Program Any Parent Can Use, by Barbara Curtis: This is a thin volume, but it's also a quality introduction to teaching reading and writing Montessori-style. It did succeed in making me feel bad for teaching my the names of upper-case letters instead of the sounds of lower-case letters. Oh well, we do what we know to do when we know to do it.

In other news, I was relieved to find that this book is only about eight percent Christian proselytizing, compared to a solid 45 percent Christian proselytizing in her book Small Beginnings.

FWIW, her recommended children's books are utterly routine, with a smattering of Bible stories and parables included to mix it up a bit.

Curtis is a former teacher, which might be why she thought to include a pullout box on developing Listening Skills (p 57). Most reading books don't address this directly, but maybe they should!

She also talks about "reading three ways" (p 102); I love this breakdown and it's yet another reason to read-aloud many times, allowing multiple approaches to the book!
1. Comprehensively: spending time on each page to discuss and ask questions
2. Technically: noting sentences, words, letters ("Do you see an 's' on this page?') 
3. Dramatically: presenting materially uninterruptedly, with focus only on the story, holding any questions or comments until the end

Last but not least, she has one interesting tip in her section on "providing enrichment" (p 117): "Art reproductions hung at eye level offer opportunities for many open-ended questions, encouraging your child to think and use his imagination. Boys especially love Winslow Homer's work; the boys playing crack-the-whip and the fishermen racing home before the storm are rich in conversation possibilities."

Babies Need Books, by Dorothy Butler: I saved the best for last. Oh my goodness, I adore this book! Dorothy is a New Zealander who has owned a children's bookshop, written children's books, mothered about 10 kids of her own plus 20 or so grandkids. She first published this book in 1980 before what she was saying about the paramount importance of early reading was either trendy or buttressed by MRI studies.

In any case, Dorothy's tone is the tone of a wise old friend who has forgotten more about children and their books than you will ever know. Plus, not only are many of her book recommendations hard to find in the United States, they are all totally "out of date" (even in the revised edition) and therefore they are often past out-of-print and into the range of impossible-to-find-at-any-price. Naturally, I am in bliss at the thought of tracking them down and providing my kiddo with a slightly off-center Anglophilic or Antipodean-style education!

Beyond hundreds of unique storybook recommendations, she knowingly reveals information like which of the complete Beatrix Potter tales are best to read at which ages, which of the "beast fairy tales" are best to read when, and which should be saved for later, and she's delightfully cranky about the literary merit of Richard Scarry.

The book is divided into sections, with a chapter each for each year between one and six, although she combines the booklists for the fours and fives because she says there is such a developmental range in those years that it's hard to say what particular kid should be reading at that age.

There is a sequel, Five to Eight: Vital Years for Reading. Suffice it to say, that one's already been ordered, and I'm also eyeing her two-volume autobiography, but that'll be pleasure reading for another trip!

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