TAG Reader…one mom’s thoughts

As a teacher, when I first heard about the TAG reader, I have to say that I was not very open to the idea of kids using this device. It is an electronic “wand” that when used with special books, will read either the page or each word separately to the user. I thought that it would take away the opportunity for children to work through text on their own. I thought, what child would want to learn to do that on their own if given the choice to have a device read their books to them? I also thought it would be very limiting to children’s reading experiences, as you have to use it with the special TAG books, each sold separately.

For Christmas, my son got a TAG reader along with a stack of books to go with it. He was very excited to try it, so we set it up for him. After downloading the books that would fit (only 8 at a time), he set out listening to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. He listened to the whole page, going through the whole story. Then he went back, and looked for letters and words that he knew, squealing with excitement when he was “right”. He played the interactive games that are “extras” on each page. He spent a good 20 minutes reading and re-reading that book, then moved on to another. He was so motivated, and he used the TAG system as a tool to check his own understanding, and to push himself to learn a few new words in that one session.

Now I still think that there are limitations to this tool. Most of the books are not exactly the “high quality” books that I would choose for my son. There are many books that feature popular Disney and Nickelodeon characters, and relatively few without. Most of the titles are fiction, although it seems that some tools for learning featuring nonfiction are being added to the offerings. But given these limitations, it still seems to be a highly motivating tool that helps foster early literacy skills and fluency as children use it.

Now, we are several weeks into living with the TAG reader. Given the early experiences with it, though, I will be on the lookout for more TAG books whenever I pass the clearance toy section at Target. It might be a toy you want to consider adding to your library.


Handwriting Ideas for Little Ones

As an educator, I often notice that young school-age children have difficulty writing.  I don’t mean the creative process (although there is that part), but rather the physical act of holding a pencil and writing letters.  Forming letters and holding a pencil correctly are difficult if children don’t have the hand strength, stamina and eye-hand coordination needed for these tasks.  Writing becomes a chore and children will work very hard to avoid doing any writing at home or in the classroom.  Since writing is an important part of literacy development, these difficulties can lead to problems in all areas of school.

What can parents do? From an early age, playtime can provide many opportunities for children to develop the hand-strength and coordination needed for writing tasks in school.  Infants can be allowed to pick up Cheerios or other small foods at meal time.  Playing with blocks, stacking and knocking them down, putting each on in a bucket, can be a chance to develop hand-eye coordination.  For older preschoolers, playing with clay, finger paints, coloring, and lacing beads can develop some of the same skills.  Allowing children to use scissors at an appropriate age, or to use a spray bottle filled with water, will increase hand strength.  Doing puzzles and crafts, buttoning, zipping and tying, and using eating utensils correctly will all help develop your child’s abilities.

So get in there and get messy!  A child learning to hold a spoon correctly is going to spill, but mastering that task is a stepping stone to holding a pencil.  Paint, clay, craft projects all take time (and plenty of cleaning supplies), but involve the start of many skills needed for success when writing.  Those crayon scribbles are just the start of what will be a wonderful story.

Reading With Little Ones…

I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with Petra and her post about 1000 books before kindergarten.  As a reading specialist, I work with many students in grade levels K through 5th, and I can usually tell which children have a rich literacy life at home.  These are the children who have strong vocabulary, who understand story structure, who can make predictions about and connections to the stories we read in school, because they already have so much experience with reading from their lives at home.  These children may not know the specific literary terms that teachers use, but they pick up on those things quickly because they have the understanding of the concepts.  And this is just in kindergarten.

So that is a wonderful concept: reading with the preschool set.  But have you ever tried to read to a squirmy two-year-old?  They seldom want to sit still, let alone listen quietly as you read each word on the page.  For these wonderful little learners, we have to expand the concept of reading just a bit.  Reading may mean skipping pages, saying the “gist” of what is on the page and moving on, or reading the story as your child plays with toys nearby.  With time, a routine will be established, and your child will want to sit and share the book with you.  But in the meantime (or on those not so cooperative days) you will have to adjust and be flexible to get in those reading experiences.

You may wonder if what you are doing is making any kind of difference.  After all, your child doesn’t even seem to be paying any attention!  But there will come a day when you are simply amazed as your child begins to participate in the story, providing some of the words, or pointing to things in the pictures.  I know I felt nearly like crying in wonder when this began while reading with my son, who will be 2 this week.   I took a chance while reading with him, giving him some wait time to say some of the words.  If he was feeling cooperative, he would surprise me with how much he knew of the story.  That is the proof that you are making a difference.  You just have to trust that all those times when you thought he wasn’t listening, he really was.

Here is a short video of my son “reading” to me.  You will see that it is not what we traditionally think of as reading, but for a little boy not yet two, I think it is the beginning of something wonderful.