Teach your baby to . . . lay bricks.by Marc Severson on Oct. 23, 2011, under Education
Driven into the front fascia of my house are two, 16 penny nails. They are nailed in about one inch into the wood and stick out about three inches. They are spaced at the width of my ladder. Back in the days when I used to work on the cooler, or vainly try to patch my leaky roof, I would put my ladder here and the nails would ensure that it wouldn’t fall down while I was up there.
There are also two nail holes on the fascia in the back of my house where the roof is lower. But I stopped using that spot to access the roof back in the summer of 1982.
I can still see the moment in my mind. I was reciting certain arcane incantations that should not be heard by children over the faltering ruin that was my cooler, vainly trying to bring it back to some semblance of life yet again when I heard a sweet little voice that I knew only too well say, “Hi daddy.”
Almost against my will I swiveled my head ala Linda Blair in the Exorcist and saw my daughter Sarah peaking up over the edge of the roof smiling at me. I would have said something but my heart was right beside my tonsils so I smiled back and as nonchalantly as I could I made my way to the ladder and suggested that my (almost) two-year old daughter should climb back down first and Daddy (the dope!) would climb down too and play with her.
Have you ever yelled as a parent? Of course you have. Have you ever yelled in a whisper? Yes, again, you have. Yelling as softly as I could to my wife inside the house I was rewarded by her voice immediately saying, “Sarah! Get down from there!” when she was already about halfway down. “She’s on her way down.” I admitted while stretching over the roof keeping a hand behind her as far as I could reach. She got to the ground finally with her Mom’s help, I didn’t go headfirst over the side and in the end everyone was fine.
The sad thing is, you know what I was thinking in the back of my mind, the whole time? “Wow, she climbed that ladder all by herself, that’s amazing for a two year old!” That’s right in the midst of a life threatening situation I was puffing up like a proud poppa! But I never accessed the roof from the back yard again. As a parent I know where to draw the line — one life threatening experience per child.
Two year olds should not learn to climb ladders; certainly not 8 foot ladders. They do no have the skills or knowledge necessary to understand the ramifications of being that far off the ground, let alone the coordination and facility. They are not ready for it. And yet they can learn it, my daughter is proof of that.
As a developmental educator I recognize the fact that a three year old can be taught to read. That is, they can be taught to recognize the symbols and patterns we call reading. But is it important to them? Do they have the skills to use that knowledge properly? Can they make a cogent argument that Frog and Toad represent an unequal symbiotic relationship? Should we teach a three year old to read?
Something I have noticed is that some of the kids in my current class are good readers but their writing stinks. It’s not just that the content is lacking, they actually can’t form the letters properly. What is my solution? Have them write on the chalkboard more. I know that in order to control the skill of being able to hold a writing instrument and form recognizable letters on paper, one must have several prerequisites in place. The hand must have the proper grip and the strength and sustainability of making the fine movements. The wrist must be flexible and stable. The elbow must be able to hold a position at a radical angle from the body and the shoulder must be stable and strong.
In other words, in order to be a good writer, you need a strong shoulder. It’s why I bought my girls a big truck for each of their first birthdays. They pushed that truck around and got strong, stable shoulders. Strong shoulders helped out later in Bobby Sox too.
But the physicallity is only the mechanics of the process. If you want the writing to have depth and pith you must understand the meaning of reading so that you can respond in kind.
It gets really complicated. That’s why reading is so magical. It is not just recognition of the symbols and their language linked phonetics, it is the morphology and the connotation. it is not just understanding the meaning of what someone has written but how to respond to it.
So my advice to you if you want your child to be a good reader, get them a large easel, with a chalkboard on one side and a painting area on the other. Make sure they have a sandbox and when they turn one year old, buy them a big truck. And finally, talk to them, verbally script everything. Don’t teach them to read — hold conversations with your baby. Teach them to know. I did all those things with my daughters and look where they ended up — on the roof!