Navsaria to give two lectures Monday at Appleton library.

Sharing books with children at an early age is important for their long-term learning and well-being, says Dipesh Navsaria, one of the two lecturers chosen for the Appleton Education Foundation’s 2013 Community Education Program.

Navsaria, a pediatrician and lecturer at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health, will give two presentations Monday at the Appleton Public Library on the importance of helping children build positive relationships with reading.

Will your presentation be geared toward educators?

I would say that this is geared not only toward educators, but toward people interested in literacy and the general public as well. It’s a semi-technical talk in some areas, but it’s really meant to be accessible to everyone, including policymakers. I try to digest the material in such a way that anyone can understand this and try to apply it to whatever domain they work in.

What will be the message of your presentation?

The central message is how important it is to share books with children from the very early stages of their lives. The reasoning is not so much that we want children to read early, but that we want them exposed to the convention of reading and books … For a young child, this idea that these funny black marks on a page actually have meaning is a pretty foreign concept until they’re about the age of 3.

By exposing them to books, they get a head start into this world of print and information. What happens is that, as they get closer to starting school, they learn other conventions – that books contain stories, they contain messages and information.

They hopefully have positive associations when they see a book so in kindergarten or 4K, they look at it and it means happiness for them. There are too many children where books are foreign to them. They haven’t had much interaction, and they’re already starting behind their peers on day one of school.

Does introducing children to books early help with other subjects in school later?

I don’t think we have clear studies at the moment that show it automatically helps with say, math skills or something along those lines. But what we do know is that we need print in order to convey information in almost any area.

For example, later on in a child’s education, you need to be able to read fluently in order to do well in history class. There’s a saying in education that up until fourth grade you’re learning to read, after fourth grade you’re reading to learn. That’s really key… the school system, even with reading remediation and recovery programs, it’s not designed for someone who doesn’t have fluid reading.

What can parents or schools do to promote literacy early on?

I think K12 educators do a really great job with the age groups they work with, but when we get to age 4 and below, they’re not as acquainted with what to do with early education. That’s really where you have to look at high-quality early childhood education teachers, child care centers — they have a different approach.

You wouldn’t ask a first-grade teacher to teach a college course, just like you wouldn’t ask a college professor to teach first-graders. You need to go to folks who are really trained in that area. It comes down to parents, and being able to help parents with specific barriers or concerns that they might have.

For a lot of families who may have not achieved high educational attainment themselves, this idea of reading can be very foreign from what we understand it to be. They view reading as something they were made to do in school, and they often struggled with it, and they have a difficult time understanding that there’s different ways to approach it. Of course, what were you told in school? You were told, “Read from the book, read exactly what it says. Don’t deviate, don’t hesitate, and don’t change anything that’s there.”

For the people that grew up with that, you ask them to read to their 18-month-old, and what do they do? They start reading aloud from the book, and the 18-month-old… who has a short attention span, starts to wander off because the parent is only reading and not doing anything else to engage the child. The parent sees this and says, ‘Look, he doesn’t like being read to.’ I’ve seen this time and time again from parents.

What we need to do is give parents permission to change from that set script in their brain, to say, ‘Talk about what’s going on in the pictures, don’t just read the text. Don’t read the text at all if you don’t want to.’

This interaction really draws the child in… I love it when I give a book to a toddler in my clinic, and the child holds it out to their parent in that universal ‘please read to me’ sign. They’re asking their parent for help because they’ve gotten reinforcement from their parent that reading is an enjoyable activity. But it really kills me when I see a 4-year-old who I hand a book to, and they don’t have the intellectual curiosity to open it, and five minutes later it’s still just sitting there. I can tell you without knowing much more that that child will struggle when they enter kindergarten.

Do you feel there’s a community responsibility to reach out to parents?

I think there’s a responsibility to reach out to all parents, particularly for children at risk. We’re basically putting them in a position where it won’t be easy for them to succeed, before they’ve even had a chance to start trying. Their right to be a productive citizen is already being taken away from them from the very early days of life. And it’s not that the parents don’t care … they’re trying, but unfortunately they’re trying in ways that aren’t the most beneficial for their learning.

A lot these education gimmicks like iPad apps or videos are marketed to parents so people can make a quick buck off of them. They need to be shown that even though it sounds simplistic, spending time with your child, talking with your child, playing games are what make a difference in your child’s early development, not parking them in front of some kind of video or educational toy.


By Megan Nicolai

Source: Appleton Post Crescent –