One of the dumbest purchases I ever made
.. Let me qualify that: One of the dumbest purchases I ever made as a parent was a certain book about imagination.
Some background: We live in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, in a leafy green neighborhood with beautiful old-growth trees; nice (but not ostentatious) brick homes; and, if you can believe the parents, a genius child on every block.
I’d like to say I’m immune to the hyper competitiveness of the D.C. region, but that’s not true. And so it was that about a year ago, in the course of my job, I read about an American Psychological Association book on stimulating your child’s imagination, and something in me snapped.
“Got to have it — or else!” the frantic parent in me said. And so I bought it: Twenty-five bucks down the drain.
Now, not to dis the APA or anything, but was this really necessary?
Sample conversation with my 3-year-old:
“OK, Alison. Time to stop being a kitty and get on your imagination exercises.”
But these things are necessary for many low-income parents. The idea that the rich (or well-educated) get richer is as true in cognitive development as it is in general health. (Our pediatrician, for example, said the kids whose parents buy them vitamins are the ones who don’t need them.)
And, as you well know, many poor children do need help when it comes to language development. We all know the importance of reading to your children. But, according to two thought-provoking articles in the Harvard Education Letter, it’s also important to talk to them.
Among the programs that help is the “Let’s Talk — it Makes a Difference” campaign in Cambridge, Mass. The program shows new mothers how to encourage their children’s language development with “talk workshops” and “reading parties.”
“Parents want to do best by their children,” says a literacy coordinator. “But the talking and reading don’t come as naturally to some parents as others.”
In some cultures it’s not polite for children to “speak up,” yet conversation is critical for developing strong reading skills. Also, there’s the problem of time. Few parents say they have enough of it, but it’s even tighter for low-income families. If you’re poor and struggling to pay for housing, medical care, and groceries, having long conversations with your children may be low on the list of priorities.
Most children in the affluent Washington suburbs — my children — will do just fine, even if they don’t get into the University of Virginia or Virginia Tech. Certainly, these children should be given every opportunity to reach their potential.
But don’t forget — I know you don’t forget — the children for whom just reading at grade level will be a struggle. Programs like the one above may offer more tools in your effort to see that these, and all children, get the education they deserve.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor