Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pre-literacy and Kindles; 1-0 for Development vs Environment

My achilles heal for 'greenification'... books. Oh how I heart books, the smell of their pages, the print, how they look on my shelf. Growing up, we weren't rich, but books were always a justifiable expense.

As kindles, 'kobo's and various other e-readers have been flooding the media and marketplace, we'll slowly move to non-paper reading. Which I will never get completely accustomed to, but I can understand the ecological savings and value in using an e-reader. As an adult.

But when it comes to children books I am a firm 'hard copy' believer. 

 Me and my new book 'Crazy Hair' by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean
The mantra 'read to your children' isn't repeated a zillion times just for fun. Children who grow up reading, being exposed to books in their homes, having books around them to touch and feel and being told that reading is fun, are extremely more likely to succeed academically. It's a sad fact that our public school systems are set up for children who have good literary skills. Every subject, even math, depends on good reading and writing skills.

 Awesome rhyming and adventure in this book, perfect for my 4-5yr old clients!

From my perspective, I see those children prior to school entry who are MOST at risk for difficulties with reading and writing. Having difficulties with language and sounds is directly linked to struggling with literacy. Although for most of us it's been years since we learned how to read, it involves a lot more than simply sounding out the letters on a screen.

Pre-literacy skills start with understanding how to hold a book- right side up, knowing that those weird squiggles are somehow words and that a story has a beginning, middle and end.

With good parental support, children learn that letters are powerful and have meaning and that we read from left to right (via using your finger to move along the page). They start to learn that letters have sounds and that words can be broken up into letters, sounds and 'beats' (syllables). All those nursery rhymes? They're phonological awareness (pre-literacy) games built into regular culture.

With e-readers children don't turn pages, there is no concrete, visual beginning and end, the screen can adapt to the position you hold it (so right side up doesn't make sense anymore) and it becomes more difficult to read like a traditional book.
 Seriously, octopus in his crazy hair... love it!

We could briefly talk about the current research on television-screen exposure and the link to developmental delays, language delays, obesity and attention difficulties... but that would require a whole other post. I'll just say that children do not learn language from a computer-television or other 'e-learning' device. Children learn language from play, conversation and peer-adult interaction. If you're interested, I could definitely write another post on this topic- just let me know :)

So- here is where the eco-line is drawn. More developmentally appropriate eco-options for your little one:
  • Get a library card and visit frequently! This will instill the value of library-lending at a young age and up the chances they'll use it as teens and adults. Also, libraries often have free events like circle times, book readings etc that would give your child the opportunity to interact and play with children their age.
  • Buy books from second hand book stores- they have been previously loved.
  • Look for local book-exchange groups, or start your own! 
  • Check out yard sales or hit up family members for books their children have outgrown.
  • Buy from local bookstores so that you're supporting local!
  • Last resort- buy good quality books that will last, choose selectively for level appropriate for your child's age or find some that are made from sustainable materials.  
 How about it? Have any non-ereader children book ideas?


article and photograph copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. I fully agree with this. I don't want to give up books, either. And as someone who is a licensed Reading Specialist (who never uses her license, ha ha!), I COMPLETELY AGREE that kids need to handle books. I feel this is essential for a child's literary progress. Great post!

  2. I know, it's my weakness too. There's something about the tactile-ness of holding a book, owning the knowledge, knowing where it is and being able to leave bookmarks in your favourite sections that an e-reader just can't compete with. Not to mention that my eyes really don't enjoy reading on a screen for long periods of time.

    Maybe they'll do something about that eventually.

    I was a precocious reader who could read before I went to primary school. In fact, I was reading my older brother's readers and he was two years older than me.

    Now, I enjoy reading with my older niece (the younger one is a little too young just yet) and agree that having the book to point at, turn the pages and hold is so important (not that I'm an expert in this area).

    Sigh... do we know of any eco-book publishers out there that print on alternative materials instead of paper?

  3. @A Green Spell: so cool that you're a reading specialist- you would make a FABULOUS SpeechLanguage Pathologist ;)

    @svasti- I also was reading (in French) prior to school! I agree, reading on a screen NOT very great.

    re: eco-books, I actually bought a children's book (French actually) made from post-consumer recycled paper a month or so ago. It is SO cute.
    I'm hoping this will be a trend... although the book I bought was actually about how the child saves the planet like their parents do... so maybe not representative of books for the most part?

  4. I will never give up books. I love them. I still have stacks of books that I fell in love with as a child!! And I accumulated even more getting my English degree. Awesome post. : )

  5. We LOVED the library as kids, and every once in a while when the "book fair" would come to the school it would be such a treat to buy a new book! Classics can be kept for the next generation, given to a friend or secondhand store... so it's not like they are going to waste!

  6. What a terrific post! The importance of reading to children just cannot be overstated. It's so essential.

    I too love books and just can't make the move to e-books. I love to make notes and underline and go back to my books later. And I love bookshelves and bookstores...absolute heaven! I also love the library, and some of my best childhood memories are of visiting our local library.

  7. I am a huge, huge fan of children's books and will never outgrow them! :) I highly recommend Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola.

  8. I was a voracious reader as a kid (still am--or would be if I had the time!). My mom read to us ALL the time and we always had tons of books. She taught us words using homemade flashcards. (She is an occupational therapist, so she has a little speech-path mojo in her background.) I think a great "reading is awesome" activity is actually making books with kids--they love to be creative, and it's a huge confidence boost to show off something they've made. My first book was all about unicorns, and I illustrated it myself too. ;) Crayons/markers and folded construction paper are all you need!

  9. @Vegan Burnout- YES what a fantastic idea!!! Children LOVE making their own books :)

    I have learned SO Much from OT's... they have such helpful insights on individual's abilities and how to accomodate them.

  10. Quick note on sustainable printing... supposed to be catching up on work so may say more later as I also LOVE books!!!

    David Brower published his wonderful book Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run - A Call to Those Who Would Save The Earth on kenaf through New Society Publishers way back in 2000. And - instead of some books just quietly published on alt paper, he actually talks about it in the book.

    The thing feels and looks just like reg paper and from what I remember, it's just an overgrown hibiscus like plant! Why don't more people do this???

    Great post, couldn't resist checking it... now back to work :)

  11. wonderful and inspiring post! i've actually just started working with a literacy organization (the quebec english literacy alliance), so i've been spending a lot of time thinking about the value of books and reading. the organization i work for is concerned with fostering literacy skills in adults - a much bigger challenge since, as you point out, the love for reading and books is instilled in childhood. but i think that the value of 'hard copy' books applies just as much to adult learners as it does children. and so do your great tips on doing this in an eco-friendly way!

  12. Is it actually more environmentally sound to produce these electricity-dependent plastic devices and batteries than it is to draw on a renewable resource to create books? Maybe it is - it just strikes me as something worth questioning and I haven't researched it extensively.

    I don't think there will be a serious shift away from actual books anytime soon. In the US, for instance, we cannot/do not insure that all children have enough food to eat. Many schools don't have enough pencils, chalk, etc...or books for that matter! But somehow all students will start using these very expensive, breakable electronic devices every day?

    I hope I don't sound angry at you. I'm not! I get frustrated with the broad statements people have been making for some time about these ereaders changing all our lives.

    You make a lot of great points in this useful post. I just wanted to add some other thoughts.

  13. Great post!! I love your suggestions for "green reading" and you make really valuable points about learning to read with actual books, I hadn't considered some of them... I, too, have wondered about the true "eco cost" of e-readers. The oil & fossil fuels used to produce them (materials & construction) and then energy required to use them, plus the overall life-span of them.... I won't be switching anytime soon, I love actual books, and I think libraries and share/swap programs are fantastic!

  14. I'm a strong believer that kids can have too many toys, but they can't have too many books....

  15. What a great post! Yes, children need books and I would definitely love for you to expand on the topic. As a mother of a 9 year old, any tips to help me get her more engaged is wonderful. She does very well academically but struggles with reading. I did too, but got great grades, so I'm hoping as time goes on she will grow out of it. Thanks for this. I love the tips!

  16. Yes please - more about anything to do with development and reading!!


  17. neil gaiman is a crazy man. he also comes out with like 5 books a year. and, um, ive mentioned this before about him, but he lives in wisconsin, which makes him extra cool.

  18. just as an update- read this story in my speech sound group this morning and it was a HIT! the rhyming is perfection, the graphics are awesome and the actual story is the perfect length for 4-5 year olds. :)

    ps- emma I agree, Neil Gaiman is one crazy guy. Andrew reads his adult stuff...

  19. Great post about reading to children---fabulous bonding time, gets kids off on the right start, etc. But I've got to say, even as a greenie, I'll never be able to use the kindle or online book options. I'd much rather buy the paperback and then pass it along to five or six other people. Staring at any type of screen kills my eyes after an hour or two regardless of what it's for. And I love being able to underline things, etc.

  20. You are adorable! Thanks for posting pics, Eco Yo. Love seeing what everyone looks like in the blogosphere.

  21. I love holding a book too. One thing my parents did when I was little was sign me up for our Library's Summer Reading club. Basically the kids pick books to read and then come back to the library and give a little oral book report to prove that they read the book. For every book you read, you got a sticker on a certificate and at the end of the summer, you could win prizes! My greatest achievement was when my little first grade self wanted to check out a book marked a few grades above mine. The librarian wouldn't let me check the book out because it was supposed to be too hard for me but my mom insisted to let me check the book out. I read the book and found it easy to read. The librarian grilled me on the book report convinced my mom read the book to me - she didn't. I got my sticker when I told that lady that the books for my grade were baby books because they were too easy to read and boring. I have my mom to thank for reading to me early for my precocious reading skillz.


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.