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Dear Teacher


Multitasking, Disinterest in Letters and Numbers and Making Reading Fun


Your Questions of Teachers Answered



106587079
January 01, 2011
Do Homework and Multitasking Work Well Together?

Question: We're having a battle at our home. I tell the children that they'd be able to do homework and prepare for tests better and faster if they stopped text messaging their friends at the same time. They tell me that they are good at multitasking and can easily do more than one thing at a time. Are they right? - Against Multitasking

Answer: People can walk and chew gum at the same time. And they can talk on a cell phone and sort clothes. But there are limitations to multitasking when tasks are more demanding, because you aren't really doing two tasks simultaneously but switching rapidly from one to the other.

Researchers have used brain imaging to see what is happening when young people multitask. Their studies have shown that the ability to do more than just mindless tasks at the same time is a myth. Your children cannot focus on their schoolwork and text message at the same time. Their brains shift between these tasks. And the more difficult the tasks are, the longer it takes to readjust between them.

While children can learn while multitasking, their learning is far less efficient and less long-lasting. They would do better to study for 20 to 30 minutes and then take an electronic break. This is especially true if they are working with difficult material that they wish to remember for a long time.

There does seem to be one exception to multitasking pitfalls. Listening to background music while studying may actually improve concentration by masking distracting noises.

Preschooler Is Disinterested in Letters and Numbers

Question: My preschooler has absolutely no interest in doing any kind of schoolwork. She doesn't seem to be learning anything at school. I try to teach her letters and numbers, but she soon forgets them. Otherwise, she is doing well in school and is well-liked by the teacher and her classmates. Do you think that she has a learning disability? I'm afraid that she may have problems next year in kindergarten? – No Letters or Numbers

Answer: Young children change so fast. What they can't or don't want to do today, they may easily do in a month or two. We are not saying that you shouldn't be exposing your child to letters and numbers now. However, keep in mind that she'll be introduced to them formally in kindergarten. Instead of worrying about teaching her letters and numbers now, do things that are fun and will prepare her to learn to read and handle numbers. Work now on increasing her natural desire to learn. Plan diverse activities that will let her learn what the world is like.

Forcing your child to work with letters and numbers now could turn her off learning them before she even gets to kindergarten. Instead, read to your daughter every day and teach her rhymes. It is also a good idea to read signs to her when you see them. And call her attention to words in story books so she begins to get the idea that print has meaning. As far as math goes, the first steps to learning this subject are the sorting, ordering, matching, and counting of objects.

Your child is actually learning a lot in preschool. She has learned how to get along with the teacher and her classmates, and she is learning how to behave at school. When she gets to kindergarten, you will find that some children are very skilled with letters and numbers, and others are not. Let her set the pace in learning them for now.

Onomatopoeia Makes Learning to Read Fun

Question: In talking about children learning to read, don't forget the joys of onomatopoeia – words that imitate the sounds they are describing. My 6-year-old son loves comic books, and he always has the job of reading "woof," "zap" and "pow." Actually, I think his fascination with these words marked a significant increase in his reading skills. - Making Reading Fun

Answer: Children love to use onomatopoeia. These words are simply fun to say, as they are so descriptive. There's the vroom of car engines, the beep or honk of cars, the clang of a trolley car, and the tick tock of clocks. Many animal sounds are examples of onomatopoeia. The words "meow," "quack," "chirp," "oink," "neigh," "ribbet" and "roar" truly sound like the sounds those animals make. What's great about all these words – plus additional ones like "boom," "zoom," "buzz," "bang" and "click" – is that children can shout them out or say them with a lot of expression. Turn your kids loose to read these words once they become familiar with them in frequently read comics or books.

Parents should send questions and comments to dearteacher@dearteacher.com or ask them on the columnists' Web site at www.dearteacher.com.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts have master's degrees in education and specialist degrees (Ed.S.) in reading. Peggy recently completed her doctorate in special education and educational leadership. Together, they have co-authored more than 70 books and in 2003, Peggy formed the not-for-profit foundation, Literacy Plus, to make literacy accessible to the homeless.

Tags: Education, Parenting

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