Saturday, October 07, 2006

Raising Readers: Happy Kids, Peaceful Parents by Dr Shannon Knepper-Maveety

I was drawn to this POD guide to raising readers because my son is in first grade now, and is experiencing difficulty in the fluency of his reading. As a helpful guide for parents, I felt the book got a solid B plus, but not an outstanding A, mainly because the author spends too much time with anecdotes and admonishing parents to teach their children, and keep them from watching TV, and less time on actual strategies for making your child a reader than I would have liked. Still, there is good information here, and help with common sense items like reading books to your child before bedtime and other ideas. I found myself wondering, though, if Dr Shannon was one of those women who, like militant breast-feeders, believes that there is only one right way to do things, and that any other way leads directly to the handbasket of hell. She has a long-winded chapter on the horrors of allowing children to watch TV, any TV, and admonishes parents that they, too, will become mindless idiots if they have the temerity to watch the "boob tube" themselves after their children have been sent to bed. Tsk, tsk, BAD PARENT! I happen to have watched more than my share of cartoons as a child, and stupid TV shows like Gilligans Island and the redoubtable Star Trek, and I was reading by age 4, and have been a lifelong-reader and college graduate. My mind did not become mush, nor does it turn to mush because I happen to be a fan of the marvelous TV series "House" and "Gilmore Girls." I still read constantly and enjoy books tremendously. A friend of mine, Syne Mitchell, who is a genius and had many degrees by the time she was 15, also watched cartoons and reruns of Gilligans Island as a child, and she didn't turn out mush-minded at all, and in fact is a successful mother, wife, Microsoft employee and author of stellar science fiction books. I just think that the panic-inducing screech I hear from teachers or self-help authors about the evils of TV is overblown and ridiculous. There is no conclusive proof that TV turns anyones mind to mush, children or adults. Excessive TV watching is like anything in excess, of course, but I don't believe that most parents allow their kids to watch 6 hours of TV a day. I certainly don't, nor do I know any parents who do. Nick watches some TV, but gets bored with it easily, and usually will play with Legos, complete some lovely origami or come to me with a book in hand to read at least once a day. I have been reading to Nick since I brought him home from the hospital at the end of January, 2000. The first book I read to him was "Goodnight Moon," by Margaret Wise Brown, a classic. It is still one of his all-time favorites. But I don't know that my reading to him consistently for the past 7 years has really turned him into a reader, as Dr Shannon seems convinced it will. He loves being read to, of course, but still struggles with reading books himself. I believe that there are people who are wired to be readers, and people who are more tactile, or kinesthetic learners who like to create with their hands. Nick likes to build things--he's always been that way. I was always more language oriented, the kind of person who loved words. And preschool isn't always as good a thing as Dr Shannon suggests in her book. My younger brother was the only kid in our family to go to preschool, and he hated learning, and was a very poor student throughout his life. My elder brother and I didn't go to preschool, and he was a brilliant student who got straight As, while I was a very solid B student through high school and most of college. I think kids burn out if they are in school before they can walk. I also think that not all parents are good teachers. There are people who are born to the profession, like my father, who have the patience and excel at helping young people get an education. I am not one of those people. I don't have the patience, nor the talent to be a teacher. And I rather resent the implication by Dr Shannon and others that I should be a teacher, and that if I am not up for being a tutor my son will suffer greatly for it in school. That's hogwash. I can help him with his homework, and he and I can work on his reading together, but I am not homeschooling my child in addition to his going to public school--I can't imagine him thriving under that kind of stress and pressure to perform. Kids need time to relax and play, and they need guidance and help from their parents, certainly, but they shouldn't be constantly bombarded with lessons all day and all night, without respite. That is why I don't understand the subtitle of this book "Happy Kids, Peaceful Parents." There is little peace for parents in this book. They must be constantly on their children to learn, learn, learn, read, read, read, and they must never allow that child time to watch TV, play or do anything fun. Their young minds might become, gasp, mush! Despite its slightly fanatical tone, I still recommend this book, if for no other reason than to enjoy the great book lists and the wonderful quotes about reading and libraries.

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