“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
That simple proverb may seem wearied and overused, but at its heart, it holds some truth: People need balance in life, especially balance between their imaginations and their intellect. But work and play don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Play and learning can be combined. In fact, many experts, from educators to psychologists, believe play is learning. They’ve discovered that it develops a host of cognitive and emotional foundations essential for later life. Even Plato knew this more than 2,300 years ago:
“Our children from their earliest years must take part in all the more lawful forms of play, for if they are not surrounded with such an atmosphere they can never grow up to be well conducted and virtuous citizens.”
Current trends push kids to learn more and learn early, with approaches to teaching that are usually reserved for higher grade levels. The hopeful result is that the more one learns early on, the better. Some experts believe it doesn’t quite have the effect intended. They believe the push for absorbing a great deal of knowledge at a young age can have negative effects on development. They figure that students who just sit and consume information for the sake of gaining more information lack the opportunity for real-world engagement and critical thinking. Teacher-directed instruction and mass testing have pushed kids to be information consumers who learn facts, figures, and historical narratives with the basic goals of getting a good grade or passing a test.
Play is often viewed as that—just play, or recreational activities with no goal other than to have fun. Some people, however, insist it is much more. Those who encourage play, and play as learning, say kids need to be free to discover and imagine. Play involves exploration, experimentation, and cognitive engagement. All perform a role in academic success and success in career paths, and they’re important for leadership and innovative thinking. Education experts have developed a comprehensive list of how different forms of play lead to serious intellectual, physical, and emotional benefits. With a focus on activities such as games, puzzles, drawing, and writing, play helps students learn no matter where they are. Playing board games in particular encourages critical and strategic thinking and opens the door for teamwork experiences.
[bctt tweet=”Play involves exploration, experimentation, and cognitive engagement.”]
Play helps children engage the world around them, and engaging it is the first step to understanding it. Play-to-learn advocates promote play as an essential component of learning that goes hand-in-hand with traditional academic instruction. There’s even a formal gathering for like-minded people. The Cincinnati Museum Center hosts a Learning Through Play Conference for educators and parents. Separate events are curated for each group.
People have chosen the end of the year as a special time for honoring, celebrating and giving, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. For thousands of years, people have revered this time of year for a variety of reasons and with distinctive flairs in every culture. Celebration and ceremony continues today all over the world from Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to more specialized solstice happenings, such as Dong Zhi in China, Shab-e Yalda in Iran, and Shalako in the American Southwest.
Over the years, countless traditions have become part of the celebrations, too. It’s these traditions that give holiday celebrations their personality, whether they are simply ornamental fun or symbols of deeper meaning. Here are a few from our more common holidays.
One day during the Christmas season in Germany in the early 1600s, someone chopped down a pine tree, brought it inside, and decorated it. People apparently loved the idea, and the tradition caught on, though it was slow to take hold in the United States because it was seen as a pagan relic. Today, the Christmas tree is probably one of the most notable symbols of the Christmas season. Now people strap them to car roofs and rush them home, and it’s where everyone goes to give and receive presents.
For a several-week time span in the late fall in Iceland, publishers release a lot of books, and people buy them at a furious pace. It’s called the Christmas Book Flood, and Icelanders crowd the local bookstores seeking to extend their personal libraries. This massive book drive is also closely related to the tradition of giving books to one another on Christmas Eve. Icelanders then spend the evening reading while waiting for old St. Nick.
It would not be right to overlook the great Yule tradition of donning Christmas sweaters in holiday competition to determine who has the most obnoxious outfit. This American tradition has quite a following as a cultural trend, though it lacks the venerable pedigree of the Christmas tree or caroling. To take part, all one needs are like-minded people and a red or green sweater excessively embroidered with Christmas symbols.
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights, and lasts for eight days. It honors the reclaiming of a Jewish temple from the Greeks about 2200 years ago. After reclaiming the temple, the people sought to light a menorah. They discovered, however, that only about one day’s worth of oil was at hand. But to everyone’s amazement, they got eight days of oil from the lamp. Since then, people who celebrate Hanukkah keep a menorah, a special candleholder, and light it each night of Hanukkah. On day one, they light one candle; on day two, they light two candles; they continue until the eighth night when all eight candles blaze.
Because of the significance of oil in the temple lamp, cooking foods in oil is an important tradition at Hanukkah. Tables overflow with fried indulgence, such as potato latkes and jelly donuts. Dairy foods are significant as well in honor of Judith, so cheesecake and blintzes are not an unusual sight.
Jewish tradition included giving money, rather than presents, at Hanukkah. Today people can still expect to see some money during Hanukkah, but they also might see another kind of currency: chocolate gelt, or chocolate coins wrapped in foil.
Relatively new to the end-of-year-celebrations, Kwanzaa sets it foundation in a desire to bring African Americans together in community. The holiday derived from a collection of traditional African harvest celebrations, and it involves storytelling, poetry, feasting and candle lighting. Kwanzaa candle lighting is similar to Hanukkah candle lighting. For Kwanzaa, people light seven candles, each corresponding to the seven principles (ideals to honor). As a candle is lit each night of Kwanzaa, people discuss one of the principles.
The sixth day of Kwanzaa brings the people together for feasting. This tradition begins with an artistic performance. Next, a ritual drinking ceremony takes place followed by a reading and drum performance. Then people eat. After the feast, the host or hostess provides a farewell speech.
The period from Thanksgiving to New Years that inspires people to go out and perform kind acts for their community. According to a 2012 Guidestar survey, 50.5% of organizations claimed majority of their donations came during the fourth quarter of the year. As the year closes, people are far more generous than at any time of the year. People open their hearts more at this period of the year for many reasons: part of it is the spirit of giving, part of it is tax deductions for the end of the year. For whatever reason, charities and nonprofits benefit greatly from this season of giving. That is why #GivingTuesday, the day after the biggest shopping weekend of the year, is so perfectly placed. With the holidays and end of the year in front of us, there are plenty of ways you can help the charities in your community.
50.5% of organizations claimed majority of their donations came during the fourth quarter of the year.
The simplest way to help is to donate money. There are many fundraising sites out there that help you give with just a click of the mouse! We are partial to Razoo, who handles our charitable donations. Indiegogo, a very popular crowdfunding site for business, offers Generosity. It is their powerful tools put to use for charity. Charity Navigator is one of the largest fundraising sites for nonprofits. You can research the company you are going to donate to and then donate without leaving the website. All of these sites have a searchable index of charities they are working with, so you can aid your favorite cause. Of course, you can just surf over to your favorite local charity’s website and donate directly to them.
You can passively give just through shopping at individual stores. Kroger has their Community Rewards Program, which Kids Read Now (#16777) is a part of, and Amazon offers their Amazon Smile Program (which works with Prime!). If you are looking for a particular charity to donate to, many of them have become savvy and started their shops. (RED) has been around for a decade, partnering with a variety of major companies to create specialty products. Purchasing those products makes a donation to HIV/AIDS research. When 826 National found a retail space for their nonprofit to help children write, it was zoned retail. To use the space (and raise some cash), they created a pirate supply store. The model stuck and a superhero supply store was born a few years later.
There is no need to have wealth to make a donation. One thing that every charity and nonprofit can use is the gift of your time. At Kids Read Now, Bonnie in the warehouse can always use some help organizing the hundreds of books we receive during the winter and ship out during the summer. Helping all of these eager readers keeps up on our toes! You can contact us at email@example.com, and we can work around your schedule. Other groups are seeing record numbers of food, clothes and toys coming through their door. They can also use help sorting and organize these generous gifts. VolunteerMatch is a website that helps match volunteers with the local nonprofit of their choice. It will provide a list of events where you can volunteer or some skills that they may need. Philanthropic groups need bookkeepers and marketers too!
No one has ever become poor by giving. ― Anne Frank
Do you have items laying around? Are you purging as you clean to get ready for guests, or to make room in the closed for more gifts? Many charities will accept those items, clean them up, and sell them as a means of revenue. You can donate everything from clothes to cars. Salvation Army and Goodwill are always willing to accept gently worn clothes, furniture, and other home goods. Goodwill even will take that car donation! Gifts to local charities and shelters are welcome as well, as many of them see more need during this time of year. Of course, if you are getting rid of any children’s books, those would be gratefully accepted. While Kids Read Now does not accept books as donations, we certainly encourage spreading the gift of reading!
No matter what you give to philanthropic pursuits, it is always greatly appreciated by those receiving it. The people receiving the donation are not the only ones that get a benefit; studies show many benefits from the individual who is donating! #GivingTuesday is an opportunity not just to give for the day, but to make a plan to volunteer for a group, set up monthly donations, or give gifts to the organizations making your community a better place. How will you help your community today?
John Chapman was born just before the start of the American Revolution in 1774. His father was a soldier as well as a farmer, passing his wisdom to his son. John was attracted to planting orchards and set off on his own to start planting orchards through the land. Partially because he loved to work the land, but he claimed a good deal of property as well. On the frontier, if you planted fifty apple trees, you could claim the area. John owned over 1,200 acres of land doing this through five states, earning him the nickname Johnny Appleseed. He patiently developed the land he claimed, selling most of it to settlers as they moved out west. The seeds Johnny planted and quietly cultivated gave Americans a hardy apple they could call their own. The seed was the key; had he used other methods, the final result may not have been as robust or enduring.
Spending time reading with your child builds more than just literacy; it builds a love of learning.
Like Johnny discovered, focusing on development in the early stages of the process helps to develop more balanced outputs. There has been a growing movement in the country to focus more resources on early education, learning from preschool through third grade. These years are considered some of the most critical in the development of young learners. In a study done at the Perry Preschool by HighScope, there were significant benefits shown to early education. Beginning a student’s educational journey as young as age three can help increase their chances to graduate college, earn more over the course of their life, and avoid trouble with the law.
There are no barriers for starting to teach children early. Playing educational games at home or just reading to children during the day can help with a child’s development. Even parents with busy schedules can find short periods of time to read with their children or incorporate learning into daily activities. A study done by Rhode Island Hospital saw that reading to children as young as eight months old can improve their vocabulary and love of reading. Spending time reading with your child builds more than just literacy; it encourages a love of learning.
Teachers that work with younger students observe other benefits from early education. It improves attention span and concentration, two skills that are critical in learning as we go through school. It relates learning to a pleasurable experience, which in turn makes school that much more alluring. It will give your child the confidence they need to acquire new lessons and explore for themselves. And children like to copy what their elders are doing. If they see parents and grandparents reading at home, it is more likely they will want to learn to read as well. Books also expose children to a wider vocabulary than most adults use with toddlers and kindergarteners.
If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people. – Confucius
Johnny Appleseed nurtured his orchards until they were ready to sell to fresh-faced settlers heading west. It was a combination of his efforts while the trees were young and the new owner’s efforts to maintain and improve the crop that gave us the apples we have today. Kids Read Now, through encouraging students to learn at home at a young age, offers parents a low maintenance way to help children develop essential learning skills. Skills that will create lifelong learners and help give them opportunities to thrive in their education.
One of the strongest desires that parents of young children have is the ability to communicate with them. While they know a howling baby is uncomfortable in some way, they do not know why. Years are spent modeling speech to toddlers, saying words and pointing at objects to cement a visual link to the concept they are trying to teach. Toddlers, for their part, are incredibly amusing as they learn this skill. Every adult male becomes “Daddy”. Sometimes the family pet becomes “Daddy” as well. But they learn this skill through verbal demonstration and visual connection.
The writer is an explorer. Every step is an advance into a new land.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Teaching a child to read is a similar process. We sit a child on our lap, or lay them down at night, and read them a story. If they can see the words, their curiosity gets the better of them and they start asking questions. They learn to read in the same way they learn to speak; repeating what the adults say until they connect the word and the concept it conveys. The visual components to reading are letters and words. Teaching students at a young age to write improves their reading skills by helping them recognize the connection between the letters they see and the sounds the letter make.
Parents are instrumental in helping children link writing to reading and speaking at a young age. Like with speaking, they do not understand writing letters. They want to mimic what they are seeing on the page. This is how young learners start to write, known as emergent writing. Emergent writing is the way many younger students start writing. They start with scribbles, and over time hone those random slashes into letters. As they learn their letter forms, they are able to turn them into words. This adds another tool in their communication arsenal, linking the spoken and written word together. Adults help by encouraging this scribbling and guiding into letters. As young writers move from scribbling to writing poorly to writing well, they begin to move into other writing skills that are related to reading, like reading left to right and top to bottom. Understanding how punctuation affects what is read creeps into their writing.
Why start at such a young age? Early aptitude in writing is an indicator of a child’s reading ability. Up to middle school, children are sponges of information. They learn the things parents and teachers reinforce, like positive habits and important life skills. It is during this time frame that teaching them new skills are most effective. Helping them develop an aptitude for writing is a tool that will help them through their entire life, from taking notes in school to writing resumes and cover letters for jobs. It is important to keep them interested and enjoying writing while not forcing it. Pushed too hard, and they will get burnt out and frustrated. Writing becomes a chore, starting a bad relationship with writing and letters. This could start a bad relationship with reading as well, further hindering future prospects.
Teaching students at a young age to write improves their reading skills by helping them recognize the connection between the letters they see and the sounds the letter make.
Everything we can do as educators to build a strong relationship with the written word is important for a child’s future development. Giving students the tools to write the words they are reading is a major step to improving their literacy. Building their confidence in these abilities at a young age starts them on the path of being lifelong readers and learners. Kids Read Now knows the importance of building literacy at a young age. Reading to younger children supports their desire to learn to read and write, creating better students.
As we head into the Labor Day holiday, we pause and look at the impact of the American worker. Appearing at the end of the 19th century, laborers have spent the first Monday in September enjoying a well-earned day of rest. Productivity has steadily increased since the Bureau of Labor Statistics first started measuring the data in the 1950’s. Manufacturing has been returning to the United States over the last few years, and minimum wages have been increasing around the country to help low-income workers earn a better salary. Add a reasonable 4.9% unemployment rate to the mix, and the job picture in the United States is a rosy one. Our highly skilled and well-educated labor force plays into those impressive statistics. Labor and literacy have a special bond, especially as our economy hums forward in the Digital Age.
The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker. -Helen Keller
Entering a workforce that increasingly uses data and technology can intimidate those with lower levels of literacy. Barriers workers have to scale to find a job start with reading the application. According to the Employment Policy Institute’s (EPI) 2010 data, over 27 million Americans do not have the reading skills needed to fill out an application. Computerized applications create another barrier to getting a job. Almost two-thirds of people at the two lowest levels of literacy are not familiar enough with a computer to input the necessary data.
The barriers are not just in the reading and comprehension of the application. The National Commission on Writing published a study titled “Writing: A Ticket to Work or a Ticket Out…”. Employers indicated that writing a weak resume or errors on an application was an instant rejection for many jobs. The study suggested that the stable, salaried jobs went to workers that proved they could read and write well. Hourly jobs required less reading and writing and went to lower-skilled employees. They are also much less stable. The unemployment rate for those with lower reading skills can be twice as high as those who can read.
When a job does open up for someone with below average literacy, they begin to experience other setbacks. They earn weekly than their better-educated peers. According to the 2002 “National Center for Education Statistics: Adult Literacy in America” report, workers at the lowest levels of literacy make $110 less per week than even average readers, and up to $450 less per week than the highest performing readers. They are employed less during the year, working only nineteen weeks.
The low wages reflect their inability to scale the corporate ladder to better paying managerial jobs. Jobs that require more reading, writing, and reporting than a minimum wage, minimum skill job. With the push for a higher minimum wage, employers will hire the candidates with the highest skills, driving some of those jobs further out of reach. Many occupations we consider to be low skilled require the ability to work a computer or read data. We have to prepare a workforce for the challenges of the increasingly knowledge-based economy.
The unemployment rate for those with lower reading skills can be twice as high as those who can read.
Kids Read Now has been celebrating the labor our students put in this summer to improve their reading skills. Investments we are making in their education now will pay off for them while they are in school. Those same advantages will continue when they leave it to go into the workplace. Students that build their reading skills are laying the foundations to improve their future. Spend a little time on Labor Day relaxing with friends and family after all the work you have done for the year, put aside some time start that book you have wanted to read. You might find a child wants to sit down and read with you.
Rote teaching is bad. Experimentation is good.
Getting children to learn more, quicker, and at a younger age, has been a top priority among Parents and Policy Makers. This is great. However, the trouble is that a majority of people think that most learning is done in a school setting. Parents should then act like teachers while teachers and policy makers need to justify their investment in early childhood education. Creativity, playtime and imagination corners get replaced by standardized testing and rote teaching. Learning at home then becomes focused lessons to produce particular kinds of knowledge. But what about play as a learning tool? A way for children to make new discoveries through experimentation and observation?
We don’t want to produce a bunch of students that just know how to imitate but also know how to innovate.
Children have been learning and developing for thousands of years, before the invention of schools. Observation is one of the key components to a child’s ability to learn and think critically. “Experimental studies show that even the youngest children are naturally driven to imitate.” Multiple studies have been done where adults will manipulate a particular item while young children observe. Whether it be turning a light on in a box or performing various combinations on a toy to make music. Without any explicit instruction, the young children observed and created solutions to a problem. They did not just copy mindlessly but carefully observed which motions worked to make something operate. This is “active learning”. When kids play with new toys they act like scientists performing experiments. They want to know what will give them the best results and teach them about how the world works.
Teaching has its benefits, but explicit instruction can also be limiting. When a child recognizes he or she is being taught, they are more likely just to reproduce what has been shown instead of creating something new. The kind of teaching that comes with schools and parenting these days pushes children more towards imitation and away from innovation. This information age demands creativity, but we are limiting the creative outlets for children. We need to let them learn as much as we need to teach them.
“To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition.” – Albert Einstein
It’s important for kids to think and wonder. Which is why our copyrighted discovery sheets inside each book are designed to elicit comments, ideas, and exploration. To make books come alive as learning tools. Even before kids can read, they learn about physics, motion, sequencing, processes, emotions, storylines, and different behaviors. A child’s naturally evolved ability to learn is more suited to creatively solving a problem than the teaching methods over the last two centuries. We want to encourage learning, innovation, and creativity. By allowing them to come to their conclusions, they recognize that there can be more than one way to problem solve or even think.
Kids Read Now, and elementary reading programs are designed to get parents involved in a child’s learning while letting kids observe and learn on their own. We want to produce students that know more than how to imitate. We want them to discover how to innovate. The Discovery Sheets are guides for exploration, and there is no one right answer. Rote teaching has its place, but it does not teach everything. We need to stop limiting creative outlets for children and start letting them explore their minds. Let young children get into everything and let them actively learn.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. ” -Frederick Douglass
Literacy is a strong component when it comes to predicting the success of students. The earlier we build that foundation, the better off the student will be in the long run. Studies show that the end of third grade and beginning of fourth grade is a crucial time in a scholastic career. Children who are not proficient at reading by this point are four times as likely to drop out of school than their better-read peers. That is only if students compared exist on the same income level. Add the challenges of being from a low-income home, and those same students are thirteen times more likely to drop out. Students that drop out are much less liable to be employed and far more liable to end up using government resources like low-income housing, food stamps, and possibly correctional facilities.
For those who are at the lowest income levels, the challenges in school can be the least of their concerns. Their attendance can be inconsistent because of family needs or transportation issues. They are often undernourished, causing them to be distracted when they need to focus on lessons. Students at the lowest income levels may not be able to afford even the basics like pens, paper, or shoes. And families of poor students may not be able to offer educational support like helping with homework or attending school activities. This can be due to their work schedule or a lack of education themselves. Their lack of education perpetuates a cycle that keeps these families on the low end of the social and economic scale. At this end, the drop towards criminal activities is not too far.
“For those who are at the lowest income levels, the challenges in school can be the least of their concerns.”
There are strong ties between incarceration and having a poor education. Those relationships start with students not having a high school diploma, or equivalent, having a much more difficult time finding a job. High school graduates are almost twice as likely to find a job than a student that has dropped out. People who cannot read at an 8th-grade level have a more difficult time reading newspapers (most written at a 9th-grade level) to find jobs or even applying for jobs. When the option for growth become limited, many dropouts will turn to crime. Studies estimate that up to two in three inmates read at the lowest levels or are functionally illiterate. Recidivism is much higher for those who have not improved their reading as opposed to those that have. Seventy percent of poor readers will end up back in jail, as opposed to sixteen percent that read well.
We have the opportunity to help break this cycle by focusing on literacy early. Kids Read Now provides tools to help students embrace becoming better readers by giving them the books they want to read in the critical kindergarten through third-grade years. Parents are encouraged to participate by helping them read the books, answer the questions, and obtain the next book for their child. Through the efforts of the entire community, we can build readers at a young age that will become learners and leaders in the future.