Thursday, 27 November 2014

The book with a hole

Books are so fantastically diverse; that's what's so great about them! Some books stretch the boundaries of what a book should be to the point where its pages transform into a toy, a prop, a prompt, a springboard into our imagination...

One such book is The book with a hole by Herve Tullet. It is exactly that, a book with a hole right through the middle, but instead of there being something missing, it provides a host of endless possibilities with which to weave our own stories and scenarios. Tullet's black and white illustrations are simple and allow the reader to be as inventive as they like; one minute the hole can be a statue, a scene of what's on a TV set, a face, a plate of food, a scary crocodile that's just waiting to snap off someone's fingers. Questions prompt the reader to begin imagining an answer and so the stories begin...

It's a fantastic book to share with children and the kid and I had some fun with it and her little baby sister the other day. This book is sure to result in an afternoon of giggles and silliness!

"Did she eat too much too?"

"Who lives here?"

Monday, 17 November 2014

The reading divide

Lately I've been reading Maryanne Wolf's Proust and the Squid: The story and science of the reading brain and she begins by touching on a big socio-cultural divide between those children who were read to before the age of five and those who were not. She calls it a "little-discussed class system" and refers to a study that found a gap of 32 million words between children from print-rich homes and print-poor homes in children of kindergarten age. She's very right of course, it does create a type of class divide which plays itself out in academic achievement and ultimately future opportunities.

I know that this is an international problem, but in a South African context, the divide is even more stark. We have the double problem of homes where parents (or often grannies who are the primary caregivers) are functionally illiterate and, perhaps more problematic, a population that places little emphasis on the written word; South Africa really lacks a culture of reading. The The South African Book Development Council (2012) estimates that only 1% of South Africans are regular buyers of books and only 14% can be considered "committed" readers (of a literacy rate of 88.7%). 

I strongly believe that this reading gap in the early years perpetuates an already very divided education system. The sad reality is that by the time that a child from a print-poor background enters school (through the now compulsory kindergarten year) it is already too late. They are already at a disadvantage. As Wolf writes: 
"Children who begin kindergarten having heard and used thousands of words, whose meanings are already understood, classified, and stored away in their young brains, have the advantage on the playing field of education. Children who never have a story read to them, who never hear words that rhyme, who never imagine fighting with dragons or marrying a prince, have the odds overwhelmingly against them."
 I think part of the problem is that for many, reading is associated with school and learning, and not necessarily fun which adds to a self-perpetuating and downward spiraling cycle of reading. The result is two-fold: firstly because reading isn't viewed as pleasurable, it becomes a chore (for example homework for older kids in the family) and watching TV is what families do to relax. Secondly, while the importance of reading may be acknowledged, it is often seen as belonging in the domain of schools and teachers, which means that for many children their first real interactions with books begin in school. Besides being too late, so many South African schools do not have a functional, let alone inviting, library that will inspire a love of reading.

And so the reading divide continues...

Old work photos I took of various rural and township schools and their libraries in KwaZulu-Natal

Monday, 10 November 2014

Punctuation saves lives

What to do when a bit sleep-deprived and the little one is finally soundly asleep: catch up with the to-do list, right? Well no, my English-teaching brain distracts me from getting ahead with the cooking by seeing vegetables that look like punctuation. 

Never underestimate punctuation! 
Image from here

Friday, 7 November 2014

It's been busy...

Time flies. The new little one is growing and changing almost on a daily basis. Nights and days take on a different rhythm. Sleep slips away elusively. Moving house means not much rest and constantly being on the go, tucking the little one into the sling and getting on with life. Lots of changes and adjustments, finding your footing again. That's life at the moment...


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