Welcome! This is the first post in an ongoing series in which I’ll review literacy-related books for parents and educators. Maybe you’ll decide to pick up your own copy, or maybe these highlights will be just enough information for you.
Overview: Jason Boog is a dad who leveraged his time at home with daughter to serve as field research for a book about reading with your children in the 21st century. Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworks in a Digital Age–From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between intersperses information about child development from standard experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics with the perspectives from a wide range of literacy-related sources (e.g. children’s authors, researchers, app developers, teachers) and stories about his own parenting experiences. His repeated message is, “It’s not only important that you read to your kids, but how you read to your kids.” The book is organized around his “Born Reading Playbook,” a list of ways for parents to interact with their children while enjoying books and digital media. Each chapter after the introduction focuses on a year of life from birth to age five and contains suggestions for books, activities and digital media for that age.
Parents of Children Ages 0-4*
Parents who want to make reading more of a focus or feel like they could “do a better job” reading or productively using technology with their children will likely find this book helpful. It’s a good book to keep on the bookshelf and read a chapter as your child approaches that age.
New York City’s Children’s Librarian Betsy Bird says it well in her introduction: “[Jason Boog] is perfectly aware that while you’re good at other things in your life, maybe the simple act of reading something like Nina Laden’s ‘Peek-a-Who?’ to your infant could be potentially terrifying.” (I remember the first few books I read to my oldest son feeling so strange, even though I’d read aloud to countless children as a childcare provider and teacher.) Boog gives suggestions such as: “Ask lots and lots of questions…even before your child can answer with words,” “Dramatize the story” and “Discuss personal opinions about a book.” He includes specific examples of how he used these strategies with his daughter and includes descriptions of her gradually more interactive responses to books. This book can serve as a confidence boost for parents, and provides enough research backing up the suggestions to be compelling. For instance, he cites a landmark study in which children who were exposed to interactive reading strategies like these for a month were found to gain 6-8 months of verbal abilities compared to a control group. (See a summary of this study and related studies here.)
Parents who sometimes feel stuck as to how to encourage creative play will also find Boog’s book-related play ideas helpful. For instance, he describes a “detective” game he made up with his daughter after reading The Berenstain Bears “Bear Detectives” that made me wonder, “Well, why didn’t I think of that?” He also advocates creating a “bundle” of related experiences for your child centered on a book he or she enjoys. When his daughter loved Cosmo and the Robot he made an effort to gather more fiction and nonfiction books about space exploration, suggested pretend play scenarios in which they were “space explorers,” and found space-related videos online.
While Boog’s repeated recommendation that the best way to for children to consume digital media is alongside their parents may be off-putting to parents who rely on TV and iPads to be virtual babysitters on occasion (present company included), the app and eBook suggestions are more extensive and thoughtful than other resources I’ve seen. Book’s lists includes song and story apps, apps that focus on alphabet and early numeracy, knowledge-building apps about cooking, music, science, etc. and even apps for children to create their own digital books.
Early Childhood Teachers
Teachers may find this book helpful to suggest to parents who want to “do more at home.” The book could also spark discussions with parents about technology use, or help shape policies about technology use in your program. Much of the content described above could also be applied to curriculum planning: read aloud strategies, classroom book suggestions, literacy-related exploration and play ideas, and ways to effectively infuse audio books, apps and eBooks into your program (if you choose to do so.)
*The final chapters cover “Kindergarten and Beyond” and “How Born Readers Can Thrive With Common Core Standards” so technically the book is also aimed at parents of older children. However, I think the book fell flat here. Boog departed from his actual experiences with his daughter and his writing is largely extrapolation about how to prepare elementary students to meet educational standards and navigate standardized testing. There are better resources on these topics.
Reading this book made me think more about the conversations I have with my children during and after reading. Even though the information about the benefits of interactive reading wasn’t new to me, revisiting it made me realize that it’s easy to fall into the trap of reading straight through a book without stopping to talk with my kids at all (especially at bedtime) and that this constitutes a missed opportunity. The book was also a good reminder about the power of extending exploration of stories and book content into playtime.
Regarding technology use, as I said above, I definitely use the TV to keep my older children busy while I cook dinner (the baby is still happy banging on pots and pans or throwing stuffed animals at me from his pack and play.) Reading this book inspired me to set up a better system for my kids to enjoy audio books (which they love in the car) at home and to try out some of the suggested apps as alternative (and more productive) approaches to screen time. I’ll report back on my experiences!