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Want to make geniuses out of kids? Read them stories, prof says

Shirley Equipado (right), lecturer of early childhood education at the Philippine Normal University, believes in the power of stories to stir children's imagination

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Summer Reading Camp participants in Pasolo Elementary School get ready for a storytelling session as City Mayor REX Gatchalian and Councilor Lorie Natividad Borja look on, May 4, 2015.

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At the Summer Reading Camp, learning to read becomes fun with the range of activities -- from storytelling to playacting, from arts and crafts to song and dance -- do in class. Experts say children learn better when all of their senses are engaged.

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For parents and teachers who want their children and pupils in the league of Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein someday, a lecturer of early childhood education has this piece of advice:

“Kung gusto mong mag-raise ng mga genius na bata, read them stories (If you want to raise children who would be geniuses someday, read them stories),” said Shirley Equipado, lecturer of early childhood education at the Philippine Normal University, echoing a sentiment commonly attributed to Einstein, one of 20th century’s greatest minds.

Speaking in the sidelines of a seminar for Valenzuela City teachers last April, Equipado said children’s stories are “rich texts” where children first learn “big words”, which aren’t often found in regular classroom textbooks that only have basic vocabularies.

“Imagine a child coming home from school, saying, ‘Mom, my teacher said I’m phenomenal.’ O, di ba? (See?),” said Equipado.

At the Summer Reading Camp, which the teachers at the seminar were preparing for,  the pupils would be reading lots of stories, classics of children’s literature the likes of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

Now on its second year, the Reading Camp is a remedial reading program organized by the local school board to help poor readers in English among third, fifth and sixth graders. The curriculum takes a story-based approach where a class tackles for one whole week a single story, on which all lessons – from phonics to reading comprehension – are anchored. This year, the camp ran from April 27 through May 22. (Read At Valenzuela summer camp, kids learn reading the low-tech – but potent – way).

Equipado’s comment on genius may sound optimistically naive, but the curriculum’s reliance on stories has yielded the desired results. Data from the Department of Education released this July show that of the 15, 205 pupils that went to the camp this year, 7,603 or around 50 per cent became instructional readers, those who can now read but with guidance from a teacher.  A total of 6,777 or 44.6 per cent became independent readers, able to recognize words, read with the right speed, and understand the material read.

The education bureau prescribes that a child should be an independent reader by the time he or she reaches third grade. However, some remain in the frustration level even well into sixth grade: they have problems recognizing words, read slow, and find it difficult to make meaning from the material read.

But for Equipado, the Summer Reading Camp should have accomplished more than teach children the mechanics of reading.

“Children do not learn under compulsion. It doesn’t happen that way, with lessons learned under threats, the teacher saying something like, ‘If you don’t read, I’ll give you a failing grade.’ Teachers must help students discover the joy of reading,” said Equipado.

Neither should children be motivated to learn how to read by material rewards.

“It shouldn’t be that children would complete the camp because they want to get the Jollibee gift certificate at the end. It should be because they want to hear their teacher tell another story,” said  Equipado. 

Here, Equipado offers a couple of tips on how parents and teachers can inspire the joy of reading among their children and pupils:

Tell homegrown stories. Start children with stories that are close to their hearts, those that are told in their native tongue and depict the local culture or children’s issues. Equipado told of an educator in the Cordillera who adapted Bill Martin, Jr.’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. The story, about the letters in the alphabet chasing each other up and down the Banawe Rice Terraces, was titled Habulan sa Hagdan.

Theatrics will go a long way. “When you read the story, the story comes alive,” said Equipado. Your facial expressions, voice and actions will help a lot in conveying meaning. “When you are able to create mental images, comprehension happens in the child,” Equipado added. For instance, by saying up and down in rising and falling voices, respectively, the storyteller is already teaching the pupils what the words mean. Equipado said the storyteller’s playful rendition of the story will encourage the children to learn to read, thinking of the fun they would have once they know how to read the stories on their own.


2015-07-29 | By: Rafael Carpio Cañete

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