While she was a student, my mother was required to memorize the part of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. She recited it to me when I was a child:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all citizens are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Thus, I was brought up with the belief that the United States was a place where anyone could become successful if they were willing to work hard and follow the rules.
I was the only Jewish kid in my class at our small neighborhood school; my best friend was the only African American girl in our grade. My classmates’ parents or grandparents had come to the United States from Poland, Puerto Rico, Italy, Russia, Greece, Brazil, Norway, and a variety of other countries. We were a mixture of lower middle-class children whose parents wanted us to succeed. In our neighborhood where people came from different backgrounds, we all got along.
I did not learn what prejudice was until I attended Girl Scout camp in sixth grade and learned that some people don’t like other people because they look differently or pray in different places. This was a rude awakening for me then, and it still feels wrong to me today.
I believe that the intent behind our great county is to be a place where everyone should be able to earn a living by working hard, families can live in neighborhoods without fearing for their lives, children are all given the same opportunities for success, each person is treated like a valuable human being, and everyone is encouraged to be a contributing member of society.
Unfortunately, this is not the case today. Murders and crime reports are daily features in the news. Many US families live in poverty; even while working at minimum wage jobs, they cannot afford to house, feed, and provide necessary medications for their family members. How can people think about contributing to their country when they are worrying where their next meal is coming from?
In many communities, families with extremely high incomes do not interact with low income families. Lack of contact with children from different backgrounds can lead to skewed judgment and misunderstandings.
Although all healthy children may be born with the ability to be successful US citizens, research has shown that certain factors are essential building blocks. A sense of security, joyful play experiences, a large vocabulary, and a positive sense of self are important factors in the formation of the architecture of the brain in the earliest years of life. Loving interaction with the significant adult in a child’s life is another meaningful element in the foundation for future success.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are five simple practices, identified by the American Library Association, the Public Library Association, and the Association of Library Services for Children that can be done by parents with their children in order to level the playing field for their children: talk, sing, read, write, and play together.[www.ala.org/everychild/]
Although this does not require a large income, there are still obstacles. Some parents believe that they need academic skills in order to help their children “become smart.” Instead of realizing that they are their children’s first and best teacher, they put misplaced faith in “educational games” and “educational television.” Sometimes, they don’t even try to spend time talking, singing, and playing with their children because they are mistakenly convinced that they “don’t have what it takes.” How can we empower these parents to let them know that one of the best things they can do for their child is to talk together, play together, and sing together?
In order to keep children busy, parents sometimes hand them a smart phone or iPad loaded with apps. No matter how educational the app might be, if it does not involve one-on-one contact with a significant adult, the neurons in the brain do not make the same type of quality connections. Children learn best via a “conversational duet,” a give-and-take verbal sharing with the important adults in their lives. Studies have shown that “co-viewing” or “joint media engagement” (when parents sit with their children and play with the electronic device together), is much more beneficial than the most “educational” of apps, if the child is left to play with it alone.
The proliferation of electronic communication devices means that parents spend less time with their children. It is not unusual for parent-child conversations to be interrupted by phone calls. Work is no longer done mostly at the workplace; parents now view and respond to work-related emails on home computers and on smart phones, cutting into time that they might be otherwise spending with their children. Yet an important research study just showed that when parents interrupt conversations with their children to answer a phone call, the children learn less. (Reed, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (Under review: “Learning on hold: Cell phones sidetrack parent-child interactions.”)
Important social and emotional skills that children learn through joyful, play-based experiences are lost when children are deprived of opportunities to interact with peers, explore the properties of objects, interact with books in fun ways, feel good about themselves for paying attention and following directions. The sense of competency that grows when children accomplish what they set out to do, helping them to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills, is lost when children are not given the opportunity to use making mistakes as a learning tool.
The ability to learn how to read at grade level is hampered when children enter kindergarten without prior exposure to books, a sizable vocabulary, and enthusiasm for learning.
In recognition that early learning is “a national priority essential to our economic and civil future,” The Institute for Museum and Library Services produced a report, “Growing Young Minds” that lists ten ways to support strong starts for young children’s learning. These include:
- Creating pathways into knowledge- and skill-building through community “touch points”;
- Having “safe places where families can learn together,” where parents and caregivers can “learn how to engage in age-appropriate interactions with their children,”;
- Building brains by “offering learning environments that address the important social, emotional, and cognitive aspects of learning and foster persistence [and] self-direction..”;
- Coordinating “learning experiences and effective transition practices that..scaffold increasingly advancing skills and knowledge, [promoting] a smooth transition into kindergarten”; and
- Offering “rich collections of books and objects…and programs that foster…interest-driven learning.” ( IMLS, Growing Young Minds, p.1)
I believe Mother Goose on the Loose programs help to grow young minds in all the ways stated above. I know it is not a panacea to all ills, but I do know from getting feedback from huge numbers of parents and librarians throughout the years that it does change lives. And, as we know, helping the youngest children get a good start in life and make an incredible difference later on.
So, back to the Declaration of Independence…
MGOL is built on the belief that all children are created equal. By empowering parents with knowledge and using nursery rhymes to help children develop literacy, social, and emotional skills, we are giving the children a strong foundation upon which to build. Starting off life with with these readiness skills will place children from all backgrounds on a path for success in school, success in social relationships, and success in future jobs.
Whether or not a parent is literate, whether or not a family speaks English, whether or not a family uses electronic devices, when parents and children talk, sing, share books, and play together, a sturdy foundation is built.
Because of this, I am now on a quest to expand Mother Goose on the Loose, and to make it available to as many people as possible. I will keep you posted!