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Wrote v. Rote: battle of the baby brains

March 20, 2010

I know that this is a book blog but there would be no book blog if I had never learned to read.

Ok, duh.

If you know me, you know that, aside from shelter, food and nonviolence, literacy is my number one requirement for a healthy childhood and a continuing healthy adulthood.

I think people assume that because I talk about literacy so often that my husband and I go in for Baby Einstein and My Baby Can Read. We do not. For one, we are not t.v. people so the DVD thing is out of the question. The other reason we’ve turned up our noses is that we’ve always emphasized “learning the process of learning” rather than learning straight memorization.We’d prefer Kai “read” all of the books on his shelf, making up stories as he goes, loving the action of reading, than never pick up a book but be able to tell you how to spell his first and last name at one and a half.

I think, on a macro scale, it goes along with our philosophy on higher education in that we, generally, prefer a curriculum that expands neuroplasticity through experience rather than one that focuses on standardized boxed exercises. For example, as assessment, I’d rather my son be required to write a five page paper and participate in a class discussion on Animal Farm, than be required to take a twenty question “reading comprehension” test.

Ok, back down on the micro scale, you can probably guess that flashcards for six month olds are not our cup of tea. So far, Kai has learned about half of the alphabet by associating letters we find (on signs, in books, during bath time with shampoo bottles) with names of friends, family members, animals and objects.

It’s a little unorthodox, probably but he’s learning just the same, DVD and flashcard free.

Well, sort of.

You see, a friend recommended http://www.starfall.com, today, which is a website started by Stephen Schutz, a once struggling 9 year old reader cum PhD holder. It was created to help kids who might otherwise be struggling as Stephen did. Well, while I promised myself I wouldn’t use anything but actual books and mommy/daddy time to build literacy in our house, I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with Star Fall. I think the reason it works for me is that it operates like a curriculum and was born from classroom ideas on engaging students, rather than fancy parlor tricks (I’m sorry I really do have feelings I need to workout about the above mentioned companies, apparently) for six month olds.

Also, it’s free. Because it was created as a vision of public service rather than someone’s wallet lining, sellable concept, it just strikes me as a bit more wholesome than other options.

Their homepage copy reads:

Starfall.com opened in September of 2002 as a free public service to motivate children to read with phonics. Our systematic phonics approach, in conjunction with phonemic awareness practice is perfect for preschool, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, special education, homeschool, and English language development (ELD, ELL, ESL). Starfall is an educational alternative to other entertainment choices for children.

As to the detail of the site itself, we’re, thus far, just learning letters (we are, after all, only two) but Kai is really digging it. It operates on the same basic patterns we’ve been winging it with, like emphasizing the sounds of the first letter in words and names.

It’s also very interactive which forces it to be a parent-and-me activity due to Kai’s current computer skills or lack there of.  I just sort of get creeped out by the “plop the baby in front of the t.v.” approach.

Needless to say, I’m pretty psyched about the discovery and think it will be a fun and educational supplement to the reading and letter work we do at home along with his preschool class curriculum. If you haven’t checked it out, be sure to do so and let me know what you think!

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