Like you, I’m a grandparent—first time for my husband, Larry, and my- self. As a long time student of child development, and as a mom of three daughters, you can imagine my delight at finally having grandchild to nurture! In this, my first column for you in Grand, I want to show you, not tell you, the importance of our chatter with our grandchildren, their chatter back, and our grandchildren’s eventual independent entree into the world of books— the making of a reader. I’ll wrap my column up with a few ideas.
The chatter relationship is, in turns, endearing (“Boogers! Grandma”) and amazing (“Mountains over dare!”). But, it’s also crucial—right from the “get go.” Picture our two-year-old grandson, Saulie, walking through the door in his father’s arms: “Hi, guy,” with the stress on “Hi.” Hear it? That’s what Saulie’s grandpa says every time he crosses our front doorstep.
And with “Hi, guy,” Saulie lifts his arms and leans toward Larry. Soon Saulie is on Grandpa’s shoulders putting his hands through soft black hair. My son-in-law and I are left to swap bags (sweatshirts and diapers come my way, chicken fricassee his) and to deliver the kindly good-byes. The front door closes and once again, Saulie is all ours. Becoming a life-long reader involves far more than knowing the ABC’s. It begins with children becoming sensitized to the sounds of language. When your grandchild goes to school, the teacher will talk about how the letters in “cat” make the sounds, /k/ /a/ /t/.
But not yet! First it’s our turn! “Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers.” Do you hear the /p/ in “Peter Piper”? “A, B, C/ Tumble down D/ The cat’s in the kitchen/ And can’t catch me.” Hear the long /e/ in “can’t catch me”? Alliterative and rhymed poems like these help our grandchildren learn that words are made of sounds. Because of you, your grandchild will understand his or her first grade teacher who says to his class, “Listen: /k/ /a/ /t/, what do you hear? That’s right, ‘cat.’ Now let’s look at how those three sounds are spelled!”
And, when Saulie says, “Mountains over dare,” the amazing remark I shared earlier, we say, “Yes! Mountains are over there.” He gets the /m/ in “mountains” already, and he’ll just as surely get the /th/ in “there.” That’s because we talk and listen to our grandchildren. The more words Saulie hears, the more words, with all their sounds, he’ll learn to say and eventually read. So the door closes and Saulie is ours!
At bedtime Larry will read, “The owl and the pussy cat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat….” In the morning there will be biscuits to make, and biscuits to talk about. And for sure, Larry will finish The Owl and the Pussycat.
Tips for Grandparents Tips from Grandma Ruthie:
Make sure to read lots of poems out loud, but pause sometimes and let your grandchild fill in a missing word. Make a huge, big deal out of every new word you hear your grandchild say: “Amazing, you said ‘mountains!’”
Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in July-August 2006 Issue
RUTH NATHAN, Ph.D