Posted on

Free Speech Part 2: Book Banning

Free Speech Part 2: Book Banning

Free Speech Part 2: Book Banning

Free Speech Part 2: Book BanningPart 1 of this series dealt with what free speech looks like in America. In this post, we’ll look at book banning, and its impact on literature and education.

Book banning is nothing new. Before the invention of the printing press, books were rare and expensive. They took a long time to write, stamp, assemble and bind by hand — and unfortunately took very little time to destroy. If someone didn’t agree with what was written in the book, burning a few copies was a reasonably efficient way to ensure the vast majority of the population would never encounter the those offensive ideas contained within.

Today, in the age of mass printing and electronic copies, it’s almost impossible to erase a book from existence. Book burning still occurs, but it’s primarily a symbolic act of condemnation now. The modern method to limit a book from being read is to convince as many libraries as possible to ban it.

How are books banned?

According to the American Library Association (ALA), publicly funded libraries cannot legally discriminate what resources they provide based on a patron’s age, sex or race, but they can encourage parents of minors to keep an eye on what their children read. New titles added to a library’s collection are often pre-approved by the library board or a discussion group, or specifically requested by patrons.

For a book to be banned, it must first be formally challenged by a group or individual. Materials are commonly cited for having sexually explicit, racist, offensive or otherwise inappropriate content, for youth or all readers alike. Still, only a small number of challenges actually result in bans.

The ALA doesn’t encourage challenging books. In fact, the association operates an Office for Intellectual Freedom, which reports on and book challenges/bans and actively discourages censorship. Still, in 2017, 491 materials (mostly books, but also other media such as databases, magazines, films, games, etc.) were challenged or censored.

In America, the first amendment makes it so government agencies can almost never ban a book, unless it falls under very specific categories of hate speech and obscenity. There are legal tests for both hate speech and obscenity. The Supreme Court has repeatedly protected hate speech against an individual or group on the basis of race, sex or religion as long as it doesn’t incite imminent violence or harm against the subject.

For obscenity, there is the three-part “Miller Test” from Miller v. California:

  • Would “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” find the work, taken as a whole, appealing to the prurient (excessively sexual) interest?
  • Does the work depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law?
  • Does the work, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value?

The Miller Test is applied in different courts differently, as it also depends on state law, but it is most often applied tobook banning pornography. If a work doesn’t fit all three parts of the test, then it likely will be protected from government censorship.

The majority of challenges don’t come from the government, anyways. According to ALA, three out of every four challenges come instead from patrons and parents. Knowing that, one would think the majority of these challenges would be to ban books from school libraries, which children have access to when their parents aren’t there to monitor what they read. Yet that’s not the case. Only 16 percent of those challenges reported in 2017 were issued from school libraries, with the majority of challenges coming from public libraries. Which brings us to our next question…

What are the ethical considerations of book banning?

Just because something is legal doesn’t always make it right. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled school officials couldn’t remove books from the school library with the sole reason being they disagreed with it. On the other hand, in 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier said school newspapers were not a form of public expression, and schools could therefore limit what student journalists say. How can both these things be ethical? School papers are available to students, teachers, staff and parents — basically anyone who asks for a copy. If you can’t limit what students read, shouldn’t that apply to the readers of the school paper?

Journalists often follow set standards for writing style and policies on confidential sources and other research tactics, but there’s no specific test or certification to be considered a journalist. And, like most journalists, students have an “editor” who can assign them topics and adjust their language. So, for all intents and purposes, high school students should be considered true journalists just as much as paid professionals.

That’s not the only, or the most pressing, ethical question when it comes to book banning. Should children grow up never learning about perspectives outside those of their parents?  Should one group of patrons be able to dictate what everybody else in a public library can read? Click to Tweet

What does book banning do to the mind of a child?

book banning First, it strains the child/guardian relationship. Reading with children from a young age has proven benefits, and can be a bonding activity with parent and child. (For more on this, see our post, “The Effects of Reading to Infants.”) If children learn that their parents are intentionally “hiding” certain material from them, it can lead to distrust.

Famous Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget specialized in studying children’s ideas of morality, fairness and justice. In his article, “The Moral Judgment of the Child,” published by the International Library of Psychology, Piaget uses the pretext of playing a game with children to study their beliefs. In the game, rules are changed by the child or the adult, and the child is asked to say whether or not he thinks it’s a fair rule. From this, Piaget concluded that moral judgment changes as children grow. When they’re young, their primary trust figure is their parent, so they will “tell on” others to the parent when they perceive an injustice. Justice, or “fairness,” is synonymous with equality in their minds; if a child understands that a parent is allowed to “hide” books from them, he or she will likely assume it’s okay to hide things from their parents in return.

Second, the theory of dissonance tells us that forbidding a person from having something only makes that person want the thing more. In a study for the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology titled “Change in attractiveness of forbidden toys as a function of severity of threat,” researchers had boys rank five toys based on how much they wanted each, then gave the boys either threats of punishment if they played with a certain toy. None of the boys played with the forbidden toy while the researchers were out of the room, but the boys who received mild threats later ranked the same toy as more attractive than they first thought it to be.

Thirdly, banning books and differing viewpoints harms a child’s theory of mind (the concept that other people have different experiences, thoughts and feelings than you do). Developing a strong theory of mind is a crucial skill; without it, people generally lack empathy for other human beings, and have trouble making friends and interact poorly in complex social situations (“Not in Front of the Children: Indecency, Cencorship and the Innocence of Youth,” M. Heins, 2007). These traits related to a weak theory of mind can then in turn lead to violence, isolation, depression and sometimes crime later in life.

In the third and final part of this series, we will look at what free speech and education look like in countries around the world and throughout time, with a special emphasis on despotic regimes.

YesPhonics writes about everything education-related, from parental advice to the latest issues facing schools today. To learn more check out our blog or Youtube channel, and feel free to request topics for us to cover in the future!

photo credit: razgriz2520 Stories Inside via photopin (license)

photo credit: Nithi clicks Indian School Boy Reading the Book via photopin (license)

Posted on

Free Speech in School

Free Speech in School

The Importance of Speech and Objectivity: Part 1

By Courtney Duke Graves

Since the ratification of the Constitution, America has enjoyed a level of free speech unseen in many parts of the world. Laws and movements threatening to stifle this right crop up from time to time, but we rely on our court system to protect us from such trespasses on our liberty.

Unfortunately, this system isn’t always perfect. Very rarely do we see free speech hit by a blanket law from Congress. More often than not, it’s hit by smaller government agencies closer to home: public schools.

It’s up to us as parents, educators and students to know our first amendment rights when it comes to school. Click to Tweet

What does free speech look like in American schools?

This is by no means trying to paint all public schools as tyrants; school boards are made of concerned parents and teachers, and I believe most, if not all, have the children’s best interest at heart.

The McCollum v. Board of Education Supreme Court case set precedent when it decided a public school board violated the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause when it allowed a private group to offer voluntary religious classes on school property, and during school hours.

Teachers aren’t allowed to “proselytize” students to their personal religious/political/ideological views, and schools cannot officially sponsor any religious/political activity. However, this rule sometimes goes so far as to wrongfully ban teachers from participating in speech and activities they have a right to.

Schools limit the speech of students while they’re on campus, too. Almost every school in the U.S. has a dress code that disallows expressions of profanity, violence, sex and drugs on clothing. Furthermore, all 50 states have laws mandating children attend some form of school, so public schools can legally discipline students for participating in walk-out protests.

In English and literature classes, the issue of free speech gets even stickier, for both teachers and students.

Teachers can’t pass out Bibles, Qurans or other religious texts, but they can assign passages of religious texts to study literary devices, ancient history records, or to explain religious symbolism and references in other texts.

How should teachers and students exercise their first amendment rights in school?

1. Express beliefs in the appropriate situations.

If a student asks a teacher outside of school about what they believe, the teacher is free to express his or her beliefs to the student, so long as he/she doesn’t use their authority position over the student to influence the student’s opinions.

2. Promote civic and religious activity of all kinds, without discrimination, outside of school-sponsored functions.

Schools may offer their grounds after-hours to host churches, political meetings, and other functions, so long as school employees aren’t directly involved in administering it, and the grounds are equally available for other similar groups to use.

3. Know your rights, and bring a case to court if you feel your rights have been infringed upon.

Schools don’t have a right to limit or punish student, staff or faculty speech outside of school. This has serious impacts for our increasingly technological world. Under certain situations, principals may search a student’s private property, such as a coat or backpack. Does that mean they can search a cell phone? Can schools punish students for cyber-bullying another student at the school? These questions have come up in court systems, but decisions have been varied and conflicting, so there’s no straight answer as of yet. The only thing that will give us a clearer answer in the future is to continue using the court system to protect individual liberties.

For the most part, students are allowed to bring and/or pass out whatever books they want to school, as long as it doesn’t interfere with instruction time and it’s not obscene. That will bring us to our next post: “Free Speech in School, Part 2: Book Banning.”

YesPhonics writes about everything education-related, from homeschool advice to the latest issues facing schools today. To learn more subscribe to our blog or Youtube channel, and feel free to request topics for us to cover in the future!

photo credit: Philippe Put autumn boy via photopin (license)

photo credit: Pip R. Lagenta McKinney School: The Essay via photopin (license)

photo credit: naosuke ii 市川学園旧校舎 via photopin (license)

Posted on

iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

How much technology is too much?

iPads in Schools: Pros and ConsSome things about the back to school days never change. Teachers are still asking for #2 pencils and composition notebooks. Parents are still taking photos of their kids as they get on the bus for the first day.

But some things have changed: as schools become more technologically advanced, they’re also becoming more technologically dependent. Smart boards and rented Chromebooks and iPads are now commonplace installations in classrooms. As with almost any situation, this one brings its own trials and benefits. The important thing is to be sure parents and teachers are kept informed of what types of — and how much — technology is best for a child’s learning and development.

What type of technology is best for your purposes?

Out of all the options available for school technology, there seem to be three that dominate the market: SmartBoards, Chromebooks and iPads. It can be a little (or a lot) daunting at first to decide what technology, if any, is best for your students, but a little bit of research goes a long way. Here are a couple common advantages and disadvantages to the popular tech items:

 SmartBoards allow teachers to retain control over the device the entire time it is in use. Students can engage with the board and also play a variety of educational games on it (think Jeopardy with trivia from recent lessons or a two-sided race to click all the prime numbers). This is a big advantage over personal devices for students because it greatly reduces the chance of off-task multi-tasking.

In the average sized grade school classroom, these distracting activities aren’t usually an issue anyways. School-owned devices can be programmed to block non-educational sites, and there’s often a teacher or aide walking through the desks to help students and ensure they’re doing what they should be. But it is important to stop bad technology habits early, before students go into college or the workplace. A 2012 study found that university students who didn’t text, email, use social media during lectures significantly outperformed those who did. The study concluded that “attempting to attend to lectures and engage digital technologies for off-task activities can have a detrimental impact on learning.”

The fact that it’s not a personal device, however, also limits a SmartBoard’s capability. They can really only be used for group activities and lectures. Students can’t work independently with it, which means the activities can’t be tailored to their individual needs. Students can do the same educational activity on a personal device, and be able to go at their own pace, track their progress, and repeat parts they had difficulty in.

Technology should always be used for a purpose — not as a substitute for natural play and family interaction. Click to Tweet 

With all this technology, how much is too much?

There have been multiple studies over the last five years on the impact iPads and other personal devices have on learning, and all have shown some positive benefit.iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

In 2014, the International Machine Learning Society published data that said the biggest educational advantage that mobile devices have (compared to traditional print materials) is not a better teaching strategy, but simply more motivation factors for the students. Those factors include control over the students’ own goals, a sense of ownership, an entertaining platform, and continuity between contexts afforded by the devices’ portability.

All benefits have their limits, however. The Pediatrics Societies Meeting analyzed parent-reported screen times of 900-plus children aged 18 months, and gave preliminary results in 2017. One out of every five children had about 30 minutes of screen time a day, and as screen time increased, so did the likelihood of up to 50 percent of the children developing a speech delay.It is suggested that children only start using educational technology sparingly, and only after their basic speech patterns have already developed. For most children, this means don’t worry about iPad games and educational television shows until the child is at least two years old.

Then, once you do start introducing technology, ensure that it has set goals, start times, and end times. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that smartphone or tablet use during “family times” such as meals, outings and game times — by parents or children alike — could foster feelings of abandonment and encourage bad behavior by children in attempts to get more attention, and increase distracted thinking (and therefore fatigue) in parents.

For more parental and educational advice, subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel.

photo credit: courosa RIP Steve via photopin (license)

photo credit: US Department of Education 08092014 – AD – Bus Tour – Chattanooga 104 via photopin (license)

Posted on

How to Reverse the Summer Brain Drain

How to reverse the summer brain drain and still have fun

How to Reverse the Summer Brain Drain

Three Sure-Fire Ways to Get Your Child Motivated and Excited

How to reverse the summer brain drain and still have funSummer’s coming to a close, vacation trips are over, and back-to-school gear is popping up in all the stores. More important than your kid having the right three-ring binder and matching notebooks is that they have the right mindset for the new school year.

How can you reverse the summer brain drain while still enjoying the last bit of summer?

It used to be said that summer learning loss was only a problem in America, where the average summer vacation is longer than that of most international schools. As a result, most of the research on the topic focuses on American students. A 2015 UK study looking at American vacations and standardized test scores estimated “that students’ learning at best stagnates, or, worst case scenario, losses of up to one month of grade-level equivalent learning occurs. Furthermore, the long summer vacation creates a gap of approximately three months in achievement between children from high and low socioeconomic status households.”

Recent European studies (in which a summer vacation is typically 6-9 weeks, compared to America’s 12), however, have indicated the problem is shared among all schools with any amount of vacation.

Any quality curriculum will assume at the beginning that the student may need a refresher on the information from the previous session. But that refresher is only brief, and if your student has forgotten a significant amount over summer, they may find themselves behind before the class has really even started.Click to Tweet

Fortunately, there are exercises you can do now, a couple weeks in advance, to get a major head start on that refresher. These exercises are designed to be built into your daily life activities, so your student will thank you when he or she doesn’t have to sit in front of a textbook for hours, while his or her friends are all out playing.

…if your student has forgotten a significant amount over summer, they may find themselves behind before the class has really even started.Click to Tweet

How do you start?

How to reverse the summer brain drain These exercises are set up into three weeks, but you can adjust the pace depending on how much time you have until school starts. Most of the activities take ten minutes or less per day, so they can easily be combined.

Week 1: Dig up old curriculum

  • Look up some of the lessons and projects your child worked on in their last session, and bring them up in frequent conversation. Perhaps even show them projects you saved, and ask them how/why they made it the way they did. Simply getting your child to talk about things they learned can jog their memories. Even if the memory’s hazy, the more they talk, the clearer it is likely to become. It’s like a book report without the book.
  • If your student is at the stage where he or she is just beginning to spell, the critical knowledge for them is more procedural. This means it’s more important they know the steps and strategies to sound out words, write the shapes of letters and recognize sight words than it is for them to memorize a specific word list. Try the variety of free PBS games online to reinforce these skills, or make up your own game. Or for a more hands-on approach, you can play the letter drawing game, where you take turns writing a large letter on a piece of paper, and having the other person draw something around it using that shape. (A “Y” for example, could become the trunk and branches of a tree.)
  • Apply lessons to everyday activities. Have them figure out which product gives a better deal at the grocery store, or how many gallons of gas you can get for $20. Talk about chemistry when they’re playing with slime. Ask them to read out the recipe and measure ingredients when you’re cooking.

Week 2: Follow their own interests

  • How to reverse the summer brain drain Take a family trip to the library and let them pick out books that interest them. Many libraries also have children’s story hours or “maker space” time. See what your local branch has to offer.
  • Have your summer movie night be something educational and entertaining like Planet Earth, Dead Poet’s Society, The Great Debaters, Matilda or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Just make sure it’s age appropriate.
  • Take a career field trip. If they want to work with animals, take them to the zoo or a local animal shelter. If they want to be a doctor, find one who would be willing to show them around a clinic. Most people enjoy talking about their jobs, and will more than likely be excited to help an interested young student.

Week 3: Get a head start on the new stuff

  • Take a look at the upcoming curriculum to see what’s in store for your child. If you homeschool, you should already have the materials, and if you do public school, a rough curriculum and reading list should be available from the school administration. You could have your kid start reading a required book or practice some of the first lessons ahead of time, or you can take a more informal approach like with the curriculum in week 1.
  • Emotional preparation is just as important as educational preparation. If you sense your child is nervous about the upcoming school year, it may help him or her to tour the classroom or talk with the teacher before school starts. Or maybe they just need a new back-to-school outfit to increase their confidence. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy them all the trendiest things. As long as they know they have a reliable support system at home, they’re set to have a good school year.

So go out there, enjoy the last few days of summer, and sneak education to your kid like vegetables in spaghetti sauce. For more fun lesson ideas and other educational resources, subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel.

photo credit: elviskennedy 100 Days of Summer #80 – Splash via photopin (license)

photo credit: JeremyOK siblings-reading via photopin (license)

photo credit: abbilder Bubblebrothers via photopin (license)

Posted on

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

photo credit: marcoverch A giant storm on Neptune is disappearing and for the first time scientists are able to see it via photopin (license)

Childhood Speech Disorders

Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

For most of my childhood, I had problems with my speech. As mentioned in Part 1, speech errors are normal while children are first learning to talk, but the errors should resolve themselves naturally by the time the child is in kindergarten. My errors, however, weren’t resolved until I was in fifth grade. It took years of speech therapy classes for me to finally pronounce words properly. Looking back, I realize now that there were a few lessons I had back then – both from my school and my family – that I had to unlearn before I could progress.

What should you avoid doing?

Over-emphasizing phonemes

There are three effective speech therapy methods for those with a phonological processing disorder (discussed in part 1):

  1. Demonstrating how to pronounce the sounds correctly
  2. Having the student identify which sounds are correct and incorrect
  3. Having the student repeatedly practice troublesome words.

The first method is where we come to our first common mistake. When teachers and parents demonstrate the correct pronunciation of words, they often over-emphasize phonemes (the units of sound in a word). If a child is dropping his or her r’s, for example, the first reaction is to make the r’s stand out in the demonstration. Rather than saying “rabbit” or “bathroom” normally, many are inclined to say “R-R-Rabbit” and “bath-Room.” This can lead to the student developing disjointed speech patterns, or over-emphasizing the phonemes themselves.

Phoneme awareness is a useful method for articulation students, but should be implemented only after the student is able to read. A 2010 study found that “most children in the study were not cognitively ready for more advanced, abstract phoneme manipulation tasks” until they were able to read, anyways. That way, phonemes can be emphasized more on paper by highlighting/pointing to letters than by vocal cues.

Limiting therapy to professional sessions.

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in TherapyAnother important aspect of therapy is that it should be constant. Professional therapists are helpful, but they can only interact with the student for a couple hours at a time. The role of parents as therapists is increasingly praised in current research, and should be encouraged as often as possible.

The “parental therapy” method is extremely beneficial because it can be implemented anywhere and anytime, and it incorporates fun family bonding activities (story time, play time, shared meals, etc.) to make speech therapy seem less like a chore. Check out Mommy Speech Therapy or Home Speech Home for speech therapy activity ideas you can do at home.

The “parental therapy” method is extremely beneficial because it can be implemented anywhere and anytime, and it incorporates fun family bonding activities… Click to Tweet 

Allowing people to “parrot” your child

Let’s face it, some speech mistakes are cute, especially when little ones make them. Some mistakes are so cute that adults or other children are inclined to adopt the words themselves. My cousin used to say “namik” for “napkin” when she was two, and our whole family started telling her to wipe her hands on her “namik” at dinner because we thought it was cute. This made it more difficult for her to break the habit when she grew older.

Hopefully, knowing the current research on speech therapy can help parents and educators avoid some of the same difficulties I faced in my education.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more language education advice.


photo credit: barry burke1 flower girl via photopin (license)

photo credit: Oleg Green (lost) DSC05045 via photopin (license)

Posted on

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders

Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the BasicsSpeech-language impairment has been called the “most common and least diagnosed disability of childhood,” affecting approximately one in every 12 children. 46 percent of children enrolled in early intervention programs have communication impairments, while 26 percent have developmental delays in multiple areas, usually including language skills (NIH). If not identified and treated early on, a child’s communication disorder can lead to behavioral, cognitive or emotional problems later in life.

Nobody expects a baby’s first words to be perfect. They’re going from gurgling to learning a sophisticated language in a couple of months. Bumps in the road are to be expected. Speech development errors are very common in English-speaking preschoolers. These errors usually resolve themselves naturally by the time the child reaches kindergarten. If the errors persist by the time the child is six, or if a younger infant or toddler is missing several milestones, it may be a sign they need extra help from a pediatrician or speech-language pathologist.  before we can help them, we must understand the root of the problem.

What causes speech disorders?

Speech is more than simply knowing what sounds go with what letters. There are a lot of complex processes that go on in a person’s mind and body for them to be able to speak. First, he or she must hear the sounds correctly, both as someone else is saying them and from their own mouths. This is where phonological processing disorders spring from, including:

  • Fronting: when a sound that should form in the back of the mouth forms in the front (e.g. saying “baf” for “bath” or “sue” for “shoe”).
  • Backing: when a sound that should form in the front of the mouth forms in the back (e.g. saying “gog” for “dog”).
  • Consonant deletion: skipping one or multiple consonants in the beginning, middle, or end of words (e.g. saying “seep” for “sleep” or “ouse” for “house”).
  • Metathesis: switching the order of sounds in a word (e.g. saying “pasgetti” for “spaghetti” or “aks” for “ask”).
  • Gliding: substituting “liquid” L and R sounds with W and Y (e.g. saying “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “yady” for “lady”).
  • Syllable deletion: skipping “weak” syllables, commonly in the middle of longer words. (e.g. “bum-bee” for “bumblebee” or “te-phone” for “telephone”).

photo credit: marcoverch <a href="">A giant storm on Neptune is disappearing and for the first time scientists are able to see it</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>The good news about phonological processing disorders (PPDs) is that they are a mere matter of auditory perception. There is nothing physically or mentally stopping a person with a PPD from making the correct sounds. He or she must simply pay attention to which sounds are right and wrong, break his or her old speech habits, and learn new patterns.

Other speech disorders are much harder to overcome with speech classes alone. Physical traits such as poor motor skills or a cleft lip may affect speech, but often require medical attention in order to jump that hurdle. In the same vein, speech disorders can coexist with psychological issues (e.g. trauma or autism), and may call for the help of a counselor or mental health professional.

How effective is treatment?

It will take time, hard work, and patience, but almost all communication disorders can be improved by therapy. Click to Tweet 

According to an Indiana University study in 1998, “children who receive phonological treatment exhibit both narrow and broad changes in their sound systems that enhance their overall intelligibility and general communicative functioning.”

As a bonus, we have more resources available at our fingertips now than previous generations ever dreamed of. In addition to therapy, people with communication and speech disorders canlear secondary language skills (e.g. writing, sign language) and take advantage of modern communication aid apps. We’ve also included an in-depth guide for everything you need to know about communication disorders. 

So don’t give up hope, and look out for our next post, “Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Common Mistakes in Therapy.”

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more language education advice.


photo credit: Oleg Green (lost) DSC07784 via photopin (license)

photo credit: marcoverch A giant storm on Neptune is disappearing and for the first time scientists are able to see it via photopin (license)

Posted on

The Effects of Reading to Infants

The Effects of Reading to Infants

The Effects of Reading to Infants

Reading and the Link Between Language Development

The Effects of Reading to InfantsWe’ve all heard the saying, “start them young.” These days, the starting point for formal education is getting younger and younger. People are buying computer coding books for babies and sending three-year-olds to prestigious preschools for $43,600 a year. But don’t worry. One of the best head starts you can give your baby is a lot cheaper: reading to them.

That may sound like common sense, but there’s a lot of science behind the practice of reading to babies. And with science comes questions. Why is reading important? How young should you start? How much time should you spend per day? Do you really have to read Goodnight Moon for the thousandth time? The following information should help you answer all these questions for yourself, while encouraging you in your choice to do what’s best for your child.

Why is reading to infants important?

Studies have shown that there’s a clear link between reading and language development. The more babies hear language being used, the more their brains are stimulated. The more they are stimulated, the more likely they are to start speaking at a healthy age. Establishing this routine when they are young also makes it more likely they’ll enjoy reading when they’re older, because they associate it with valuable family bonding time.

Outside of academics, there are also several emotional benefits to reading to babies. Babies in the womb begin toThe Effects of Reading to Infants hear at 18 weeks. By seven or eight months’ gestation, they can recognize their mother’s voice from other voices, and they respond to it by calming down and lowering their heart rate. For newborns, hearing their mother’s voice is one of the only familiar constants they have in this new world outside the womb, and it can have a powerful calming effect on them. Reading to infants provides emotional benefits to the parents as well. Babies aren’t the only ones going through major life changes in the time after their birth, and reading has been shown to provide parents with a much-needed sense of control, intimacy and normalcy with a newborn.  

How should you do it?

There’s no exact recipe for healthy infant reading habits; the most important thing is that you do it, and do it while they’re still young. Click to Tweet

How young is up to you. If you want to start before they’re born, go ahead. If you want to wait until you can physically hold them in your arms, that’s good too. If you get tired of reading baby books, feel free to read from one of your books, magazines, or newspapers. They’ll develop language skills and bond with you regardless of the content. Both you and baby should enjoy this time, and you should do whatever you need to do to make it not feel like a chore.

You can subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more classroom advice. Happy reading!


Lariviere, Janice and Janet Rennick. “Parent Picture-Book Reading to Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as an Intervention Supporting Parent-Infant Interaction and Later Book Reading.” Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 32(1). Jan. 2011. Web. 1 June 2018.

Marx, Viola and Emese Nagy. “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch.” Public Library of Science 10(6). 8 June 2015. Web. 1 June 2018.

photo credit: MTSOfan My Grandmother Reads to Me via photopin (license)

photo credit: Paul of Congleton 2nd of April 2016 via photopin (license)

Posted on

The Homeschooler’s Balancing Act: How to Manage Your Child’s Progress

The Homeschooler’s Balancing Act: Grade Level

If there’s one question a homeschooled kid can’t easily answer, it’s what grade they’re in. Sure, your six-year-old is reading at a third-grade level and can identify every species of dinosaur known to man, but a math lesson designed for one day takes them two or three days to complete.

The biggest advantage to homeschool education can also be the biggest challenge; the student is often free to go at his or her own pace. Click to Tweet

A little tipping in the scales of subject areas is normal. High schools offer – and fill – both remedial and advanced subject classes every year for a reason. Some unbalance can even be helpful, as it leads students to develop a “hook,” or an area of expertise that top colleges look for. While parents aim to raise well-rounded individuals with A’s across the board, colleges aim to have well-rounded classes, with a top concert pianist in one slot and a prize-winning robot designer in another. That means the kid who is unremarkable in one area and would rather spend all his time honing his talent in another has nothing to worry about.

So when does falling behind in one subject become worrisome?

Each student and curriculum is unique, and there is no set line dividing what is and isn’t acceptable. Special needs students are even harder to gauge. There are, however, a few research-backed guidelines to help you determine of your student’s academics are within a healthy range.

-Is the student more than one grade level behind in any subjects? In public school, being held back in a remedial class once is okay. Twice is a serious issue. If you homeschool in one of the 23 states with educational neglect statutes, your student being more than a year behind in a subject could spark legal investigations.

-Is the subject in question English, Math or Science? These are called core subjects for a reason, and struggles in them should be addressed early on to avoid problems in the future. If you intend for your child to eventually take a GED, SAT or ACT exam to get into college or get a job, being up to speed on these three subjects is important.

-Does the student’s academic struggles coincide with problems in your parental relationship with him or her? Do you find yourself fighting with or having to comfort your child after every hard test or lesson? A 2016 homeschool study found that a parent-child relationship in homeschooling can have an indirect effect on academic stress by affecting the child’s self-esteem. These issues, if left unresolved, could affect not only the student’s grades, but their mental health.

What can you as a parent do about it?

Don’t fret if your situation matches any of these scenarios. There are several resources and methods at your disposal homeschooler’s balancing actto help get your child back on track, including:

-Switching curriculums. What works for one student may not work for another. It could be they need a different style of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.) or they need a program that reinforces the same information through multiple subjects.

-Encouraging the subjects they excel in. Don’t slow down on the lessons they’re advanced in just to allow the slower subjects time to catch up. Having an area of expertise can do wonders for your child’s self-esteem and college portfolio.

-Hiring a tutor or counselor. If academics are affecting your relationship with your child, or the subject matter isn’t your strong suit, having a third party help out can lighten the load, while still giving you control over your child’s education. If money is an issue, look to see if another homeschooling parent would be willing to teach a subject, or if you can receive a mini-grant for homeschooling costs. If you simply need a counselor for emotional stress, many health insurance plans will cover that.

-Doing a little each day. Cramming to meet short-term deadlines is a recipe for disaster. They may pass a quiz enough to graduate to the next lesson, but a week later, they’ll likely forget everything they learned. If catching up means they have to do a little work over weekends or vacation, so be it.

As a parent and a homeschool teacher, you know the needs of your child best. Don’t worry. There’s support for you around every corner! Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more classroom advice.


Heaton, Elizabeth. “What Kind of Hook Do I Need to Get Accepted Into an Ivy League College?” Huffington Post. 10 August 2017. Web.

“How to Report Educational Neglect in Homeschool Settings in Each State.” Coalition for Responsible Home Education. August 2017. Web.

Mulyadi, Seto, et. al. “The Role of Parent-Child Relationship, Self-esteem, Academic Self-efficacy to Academic Stress.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. (Vol. 217.) 5 February 2016. pp. 603-608.

photo credit: RyanTaylor1986 Learning To Write via photopin (license)

photo credit: shingleback Read via photopin (license)

Posted on

Navigating the “Phonics Versus Whole Language” Debate

Navigating the “Phonics Versus Whole Language” Debate

Did you know the way you teach a child to read could incite people to label you as an ideological extremist? It may sound too ridiculous to be true, but there is a politically driven and very real “reading war” among educators that has lasted over half a century. The two sides: phonics-based and meaning-based approaches to learning language.

What’s the big deal?

Phonics methods break words into sounds, and correlate those sounds with a letter or a combination of letters. Once a student associates sounds with certain letters, they can “sound out” recognizable parts to form a word. With a phonics-based approach, spelling and pronunciation are often the first language skills to develop.

“Whole language” approaches have students focus on the meaning of words first. Students use sight words and context clues to find meaning in what they read, and focus on spelling and grammar later. With this approach, reading comprehension and critical thinking are often the first language skills to develop.

Instead of simply being two ways to teach children how to read, these camps have turned into hotbeds of political mudslinging. If children learn spelling before critical thinking, they’re portrayed as pawns being indoctrinated to never question authority. If they do the opposite, they’re portrayed as victims of whack-job learning experiments. Andrew Davis, a research fellow at Durham University, published a pamphlet in 2014 in which he argued requiring students who already have some reading ability to practice phonics “is almost a form of abuse.” On the other side, child psychologist and psychiatry professor Carl Kline and language disability consultant Carolyn Kline published an essay accusing whole language teachers of “destroying the innocent” by “killing the hopes, and the potential, and the mental health of the children who are victims of the reading disability epidemic.” And here parents are stuck in the middle, just wanting to teach their kid the ABC’s.

Don’t feel as if you have to pick a side in the reading war’s political stage. Click to Tweet

How do you know what’s best for your student?

Phonics-based literacy programs have been in use for centuries, and have scores of research to back them up. WholeNavigating the “Phonics Versus Whole Language” Debate language programs are newer, having gained popularity after Noam Chomsky proposed his language acquisition theory in the 1960’s, but may be a more “natural” learning process, similar to how a child learns to speak. Elements of both phonics and whole language methods can be combined to form a strategy tailored to fit a student’s unique learning style.

A 2016 study by the London School of Economics and Political Science found that phonics methods seem to give an advantage to students at ages five and seven. This advantage, however, disappeared by the time the students were 11. The researchers explained this by saying, “most children learned to read eventually, regardless of teaching method.” And that’s the main goal: teaching children to read. How you get there is up to you.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.


Davis, Andrew. “To read or not to read: Decoding synthetic phonics.”

Weale, Sally. “Phonics method helps close attainment gap, study finds.” The Guardian. 24 April 2016.

Kucirkova, Natalia, et. al. “The Routledge International Handbook of Early Literacy Education.” pp. 373-375. Taylor & Francis, 2017.

photo credit: US Department of Education 10102012 – Principal Shadowing 27 via photopin (license)

photo credit: BC Gov Photos Proposed framework for labour peace with teachers via photopin (license)