by Becky Cerling Powers
I once read a story by Ruth Beechick about a school district that tried a reading experiment with two groups of kindergartners. The district gave the first group a lot of formal reading instruction and gave the second group hands-on science. While the first group memorized the alphabet and sounded out simple words, the second group played with magnets, grew plants, melted ice cubes and learned about animals. Although teachers read to the “science” group and encouraged them to look at books and pictures, they gave these 5-year-olds no formal reading lessons.
By third grade the “science” children’s reading scores were much higher than the “reading” children’s scores. Their vocabularies and thinking skills were more advanced, and they could understand higher-level topics than the first group of children.
Why? My husband Dennis calls his explanation “The Velcro Theory of Learning.”
A Velcro fastener has two parts. One side has many teeny hooks, and the other side has teeny loops. When the two come together, thousands of hooks grasp thousands of loops, making a strong connection.
The contents of a good book are like Velcro loops, and a child’s life experiences produce, inside his mind, something like Velcro hooks. The better the book, the more learning loops it has. The more varied a child’s experience, the more learning hooks his mind develops for grasping those learning loops.
There is an optimum time when each particular child is ready to learn to read, usually between the ages of 6 to 9. All children, however, are ready to learn about the world around them. In the school district’s experiment, the “reading” group of children spent their time learning skills that were hard for them at that stage but that would become fairly easy for them to pick up a few months or years later. The “science” group of children spent that same time developing learning hooks. Later, when the children’s reading material become demanding at the third grade level, the “science” group of children had a rich supply of learning hooks to grasp the new material firmly. The “reading” group had missed out.
Here are a few tips for parents who want to nourish their children’s love of learning:
Nurture your children. Love them with your eyes, your touch, your words, your focused attention; provide healthy routines and sound discipline; draw them alongside you in your work and leisure activities; talk to them, listen to them, encourage their special interests.
Provide quality toys that stimulate the imagination and help develop motor skills. Examples: blocks; building sets like Legos; sturdy cars, trucks, and trains; dolls and stuffed animals; puppets; puzzles; play dough, markers and other art materials.
Take them on trips. Go to museums, parks, libraries, theaters and concert halls, construction sites, fairs and fiestas, ranches, farms and factories.
Read to them. Let them see you reading, and start reading them picture books when they are babies. Keep reading to them even after they can read for themselves.
Limit TV viewing. Spend the time playing, working, talking, listening, creating, reading, thinking or inventing ways to avoid boredom.
originally published in the El Paso Times April 11, 1992