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Connecting is the Key to Educating

By Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

There is not much disagreement that reading to your children for at least 20 minutes a day is a very good thing--and that's good. A quick scan of a Google search for "read to your children" will give you a pretty good outline of many of those reasons. However, the most important one is underrepresented: reading to your child provides connection—a critical foundation for a loving, learning climate. As Edward Hallowell says in his book Connect (Knopf Doubleday 1999), the most important factor in learning as well as all mental health is to connect. Great teachers bring their students together and read to them at least once a day--not while they are sitting at their desks, but packed together on the floor as close to one another as they can get.

When they are on vacation my daughter reads to my two granddaughters (ages 7 and 10) at least once a day—sometimes before breakfast. The rest of the day is filled with playing monopoly, careers and card games, building sand castles, creative play in the miniature “mouse house,” going for nature walks, picking blueberries, canoeing on a still lake at dawn, sailing, driving to Aunt Molly’s house, picking out books in the library. The play is interspersed with conflict, of course. Most siblings can usually find something to fight about. My granddaughters have been doing it so long that most of their disputes are carried out in shorthand.

But at least once a day it is important for a family come back to home base. Here, in the presence of some other voice—someone who might have written these words many years ago—they are physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, socially and intellectually reminded that they are one organism as well as three separate organisms, and this provides a safe place for them to go at it again—as they will the very next day.

For education requires launching off into the world, and for best results, we need to come home and be reconnected. Once a day is not too often, and what better vehicle than a good story?

Be open, too. Some of the best things happen when you least expect them and that includes reading time. natalie readingRod was reading to four-year-old granddaughter Natalie one evening when she interrupted him with, “Papa! You are not reading it right.” Taking the book from him she sat up straight, held it in front of her properly, and like a kindergarten teacher reading to the class, read through the book with exaggerated diction and great animation.

Of course, it actually doesn’t matter too much what you do together as long as you do it together. But together means really connecting in the activity—not being on your cell phone or having your mind somewhere else. At 9:15 some Tuesday mornings, some other grandparent types and I connect with several 4-year-olds at Decatur Day Care over at St. Mary’s. Here we don’t read, but walk, and holding hands is a critical part of the togetherness.

A lot can happen on a half hour walk. In fact exactly 1800 seconds of brain development occurs. In our first 60 seconds together, for instance, last week I got Lexi’s full name complete with spelling, and she got mine. In the next 180 seconds she reviewed her family for me, including a personal note which shall remain confidential.

To kill or not to kill the bugs on the sidewalk by stepping on them took all of five minutes and covered where they lived, and their place in the eco-system. Their nick-name (roly-poly), how cute they look when they roll up into a ball, how helpless they are on their back and a little peer pressure seems to have resulted in Lexi’s decision to stop trampling them.

This may sound trivial, but humans are designed by natural selection to divide all the other creatures in the world into two good guys and bad guys, to be kind and loving to the former, and to vilify the latter. During my lifetime—Hitler died when I was three months old—the world has become a much less cruel and violent place largely because our children and our children’s children see themselves as connected to life all over the world. No other race is dehumanized, and even roly-polies matter.

Whether or not a roly-poly dies isn’t really the point. The point is that being connected is good, and connecting with loved ones is a critical part of the process.

Posted on May 27, 2013 by Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

Rick Ackerly, M Ed is a nationally recognized educator and speaker with forty-five years of experience working in schools. He has served as head of four independent schools, speaks to parent and school groups across the country and presents at numerous education conferences. Rick is the author of The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity and Creativity in Children and lives in Decatur, Illinois. Visit his blog, The Genius in Children, or follow him on Facebook and  Twitter.

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