Low literacy is costly to individuals, employers, and societies. The COVID-19 crisis introduced many to the level of disruptions that are experienced by low-literate families daily. According to Anne Mosle, Executive Director – Ascend at the Aspen Institute, half of the hourly workers in the U.S. do not get enough notice to adequately coordinate school, childcare and taking care of a loved one. She eloquently states, “Uncertainty is the damaging byproduct of poverty.” It is also the byproduct of low literacy! It means higher hurdles and lower wealth for this generation of Cuyahoga County residents and generations to come, unless we sponsor and support powerful interventions to halt what has become an intergenerational problem in far too many places in this county. A highly literate population, on the other hand, will contribute to the economic growth of Cuyahoga County and regional prosperity by placing more parents and caregivers within reach of family-sustaining jobs. Perhaps, most importantly, such a population will help energize Cuyahoga County’s most important asset, human capital.
On September 23, 2013, I sat down at the desk in my childhood bedroom with a pencil and a blue plaid notebook and began writing what I could only assume would become the next great American novel. I tailored the story to my sister’s interests so I wouldn’t lose my only audience member and I (am ashamed to say) stole half of my plot from a James Patterson novel. By the time my work progressed to a second notebook, it was chock-full of completely autonomous teenagers, the governmental authorities trying to take them down, and countless grammatical errors. Yikes!
While this may have been the piece that ignited my passion for creative writing, I can say with confidence that my prose has gained much more originality and potential in the past five years. In fact, this March I presented the narrative approach of my (new) unpublished manuscript at the Mid-East Honors Association Conference in Columbus, Ohio.
One of the main things that helped me to become a better writer was enrolling in creative writing workshops. The workshops not only shaped a foundation for my writing skills, but allowed me to discover the benefit of having others critique my work. In fact, I loved the class so much that I decided to make creative writing my major! Now, I’m a junior at Baldwin Wallace University and want to help others experience the extensive joys and benefits of writing.
For that reason, I founded a small startup, Ink Above All, an organization that offers creative writing workshops to both adults and high school students living in North East Ohio. The workshops are taking place at Avon Oaks Country Club in Avon, and run for two weeks each. I hope these workshops will serve to improve not only the English and writing skills of those enrolled, but will provide them with a safe environment for creative collaboration. I want everyone involved to feel liberated to express themselves, take creative risks, and communicate freely, because no matter who you are or where you’re from, you have a story to tell.
What you’re passionate about is what makes you unique, and there’s a story in that just waiting to be told. If you’ve never thought about putting pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) and telling your story, now might just be the time. Even if you don’t want to tell your story, there are so many things waiting to be written about. Just think, from activism and political movements to your dreams and made up fantasies, there’s no limit on what you could create.
So, why should you get out and write something? Because creative writing has been shown to positively impact your brain in more ways than one! Writing creatively not only affects your ability to write, but it improves your memory, increases your intelligence, and furthers your vocabulary. Additionally, a workshop allows you to “develop your creative thinking and problem-solving abilities by analyzing different writing styles and working on your own projects.” This is a valuable skill set for any career.
Furthermore, the workshop environment gives you an opportunity to practice giving and receiving constructive criticism. This translates into improved critical thinking skills and an ability to evaluate the work of your colleagues. You will learn to organize ideas, write with clarity, and think logically to organize a story. Moreover, being around a diverse group of personalities will make you well-rounded as an individual. As a workshop participant, you will gain confidence, lasting friends, and a passion for writing.
The environment that you chose to write in makes a difference, which is why I’ve decided to hold Ink Above All’s workshops in a beautiful conference room overlooking an extensive golf course. Additionally, I set aside some designated workshop days for participants to go outside and experience writing in nature. The practice of spending time outdoors is fleeting in our technology-fueled culture despite the fact that it has been associated with all kinds of benefits ranging from mental clarity to increased creativity.
Workshops offer writers a new environment in which to learn and develop further social intelligence. Social intelligence is made up of two separate elements, social awareness, and social facility. Social awareness “refers to qualities including empathy, attunement to others and social cognition,” whereas social facility refers to “how we use our internal social awareness to interact with individuals and groups successfully, such as self-presentation, influence and concern for others.” Both of these skill sets are considered a long-term benefit of extracurricular summer activities, such as writing workshops, and will follow students for the rest of their lives, making a huge impact on future careers.
If you’re interested, I encourage you to grab a pen and sign up for a workshop, because you have a story, and the world is waiting to hear it.
Julie Gilliland is Associate Director of Marketing at Cleveland Play House and our guest blogger for this post. She tells why she is a friend of the library and why libraries are so important.
Did you learn everything you need to know in school?
No? Me neither. I grew up in a state(no, not Ohio) that did not value education or dedicate tax dollars as it should have. The minute I left that state and started working in a “grown up job” I realized what a disadvantage my lack of education was.
I’m a privileged human who grew up in an upper-middle class household with an intact and functional family. I am sure that for this privilege I was carried on the backs of others from less fortunate circumstances. I cannot imagine the albatross, the inadequate education system, was for those who were left wanting. My insecurity could have morphed into the form of the consummate university student never wanting to leave school, thinking those letters behind my name would mean I was finally whole. I am much too frugal for that expensive path. Thanks to scholarships and a string of part-time jobs, extra work on movies and commercials, I paid for my public university bachelor’s degree in the arts and started my career in the non-profit world.
A benefit to the arts career path is a built-in scholarly lifestyle. I have always been surrounded by voracious readers and seekers of knowledge. My colleagues love travel and palate-expanding cuisine. The love of travel rubbed off on me but I sadly still have a peasant palate. I realized I love lifelong learning, and reading is my favorite way to learn. That fire inside me that started as a desire to beat my in-laws at Trivial Pursuit ® only grew from the honeymoon on.
I have a little secret confidence booster I keep in my purse. It’s my well-worn library card. I’ll never stop learning. And it wasn’t because I strapped on the burden of debt from a master’s degree. I fell in love with the Cleveland Public Library. Clevnet.org is my guiltiest pleasure. Reading books for free?! And you get to return them so they don’t collect dust in every corner of your home?! Sign me up!
When my husband and I need to figure out how to fix the washing machine we check out YouTube. When I need to figure out how to spell “hors d’oeuvres” I check out Google. When I need to submerge myself in the calming flow of words I check out a book. You can download it, flip through the pages, or listen to it—they are all forms of that glorious little thing we call a book. Whether you prefer the smell of a new book when you crack it open, an old tattered book that has passed through many loving hands, or the inviting blue light of reading on a device, it’s all the joy of knowledge we gain from reading. Imagine a world where no one reads? Without our varied and fabulous library systems here in Northeast Ohio we might meet that horrible fate. I’m a friend of the Cleveland Public Library, The People’s University, because they have been a friend to me.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my book. It’s waiting on the bedside table and it is due back next week for the next adventurer. It’s a beautiful little gift we pass back and forth. Talk about enjoying your tax dollars at work. Want to get to know your new best buddy? Visit my friends at https://cpl.org/ to access one of the best library systems in the United States and continue lighting your path of learning today.
Julie Gilliland is Associate Director of Marketing at Cleveland Play House, the recipient of the 2015 Regional Tony ® Award. She has worked for The Cleveland Orchestra, Playhouse Square, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
Closing the word gap does not require complicated equipment or long hours spent in special classes. There are no PhD degrees needed. It is as simple as talking, singing and reading with your kids every day beginning at birth. Although you may think your baby cannot understand what you are saying, your words help to build and develop their brain. It is as simple as paying attention to the opportunities the day gives you. Your daily routine is full of moments to help build your child’s brain. Many do not realize that it is the short simple moments that can make all the difference.
Take a look at the following example of an average daily routine. Does it sound familiar?
Your alarm goes off and you quickly get up and begin to prepare for the day ahead. You shower and get yourself ready before the baby wakes up and the other children get out of bed.
Once you’ve managed to get the kids out of bed, you move to the baby’s room and get them dressed and change their diaper. Once the kids are up and moving you head to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and lunches. As they eat you get the last things you need for your day set. Then it is finding backpacks, homework and shoes and getting into the car. You drive them to school (or summer camp), drop them off and head off for your day with the baby. Whether that is going to work, running errands, doing housework or whatever else your day may consist of that needs to be done before the school day (or summer camp) is over.
The final bell rings and you gather the kids into the car for the drive home with the baby in the backseat. Once home it is time for homework, checking in on the day and preparing dinner. Dinner is eaten and you have a few hours to unwind, maybe you switch on the TV, the baby beside you, in a swing or on a play mat with some toys or the kids go off to their rooms while you relax, before it is time for shower/baths and the bedtime routine. Once the kids are asleep you finish up your night and then head off to bed, ready to do it all again tomorrow.
Do bits and pieces of this sound familiar? Are you reading it over and wondering where the extra time needed to build your child’s brain is? No extra time is needed; it is more about using certain moments differently.
Let’s take another look at that day again. In the morning as your older kids are dressing you are getting the baby ready for the day. This doesn’t need to be a silent endeavor. As you change and dress your baby, talk about what you are dressing them in. “Let’s wear your green duck shirt today!” Or a simple game of peek-a-boo, “Where’s Mommy/Daddy? Here I am!” would be a great way to start the day.
In the morning as the kids are eating breakfast, what else is going on? Is it quiet? Is everyone absorbed in their own tasks? This moment would be the perfect time to hand them a book or read with them as they eat. Doesn’t even have to be a book; could be the back of the cereal box. Many of the boxes have mini-games to play, such as mazes and breaking codes. Sit down with them and do one of the games together. They get to hear new words and use problem solving skills while you get to have some bonding time with them.
Is the baby babbling away in a high chair as they eat breakfast? Make sure to include them in the conversation too! Ask them about what they are eating, “Are those bananas yummy?” If you are reading a story, be sure to share the pictures and colors with the baby as well. Point out an animal and say “Look at the puppy run!”
Are you making lunches as they eat? Why not talk to them about what you are doing? Instead of just chopping up lettuce, carrots and cucumbers for a salad, talk about the shapes you are cutting them into? Are they rectangles? Squares? Triangles? Talk about the color or smell. Ask your kids if they know how and where each vegetable grows.
The time in the car is another great moment to integrate some brain building tasks into your day. Instead of giving them a tablet or turning on a movie to occupy them, try playing a game of I Spy. As your drive point at a street sign and ask about the color or shape. When you stop at a STOP sign, spell the word out or have them point out the letters to you. You can also find some great silly and fun songs to sing together. Silly songs are great for all ages from infants to older children. Infants will benefit from the fun music and can babble along as you sing!
Dinner time presents great opportunities for including more talking, reading and singing into your day. As you cook have your children help. Have them read the recipe with you. Talk about the measurements and the time needed for specific things to cook. You can even put the radio on and sing together as you work.
Helping with dinner doesn’t just have to be something to with only the older children. Make sure to have the baby in a high chair where you can watch them and talk with them as you cook. Narrating what you are doing is great, such as saying “Mommy/Daddy is going to stir the noodles. This is going to be so delicious!”
At the end of the day, instead of turning on the television and watching a rerun you can pull out a board game, build with blocks or color in a coloring book with your child. Those unwind hours can be a great time to do something creative and fun with your child.
For the smaller ones, toddlers and babies, set out a blanket with some interactive toys. (Be sure to limit background noise because too much noise has been shown to inhibit language development.) Let them play and talk with them as they play. Talk about the bunny or puppy stuffed animal they are playing with. If they are playing with a toy piano talk about the sounds it makes and colors on the instrument. Or even pick them up and take them to a window and talk about the stars and animals outside as you bounce them to sleep.
There is no better way to end the day than with a good bedtime story. Read aloud together a favorite book or pick something new. Read with your kids (even the infants) or have them read along with you or for young children, have them tell you the story based off the pictures. Even if your child can read on their own, many still enjoy that time reading together. Pick a longer chapter book and read a chapter a night.
As you can see integrating practices to build your child’s brain into your everyday routine doesn’t take fancy equipment, training or tools. You just need you, your child and a little creativity. Every day occurrences can be ideal times to build skills if you take the time to think about them. Especially for infants and toddlers this is a significant way to help build their skills. Just because they may not understand all the words you are saying does not mean those words aren’t helping their brains to grow.
Summer is in full swing and you most likely have more time with your kids. Prevent “the summer slide,” the phenomenon where kids can lose some of their learning over the summer, by starting to add some of these things to your routine.
Use this time to test ways of integrating more talking, singing and reading into your everyday routine. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Do your kids prefer singing in the car versus the I Spy game? Do they like to help read the recipe instead of talking about the color or shape of foods? Do they have a favorite story that would be good to read during swim breaks?
Summer provides more time for testing some of these ideas. You have more time with your kids outside of school. As you can see these ideas are simple and quick but they can make all the difference.
We are spending the year raising awareness about the 30-million-word gap (learn more here) and what can be done to close it. Join in the discussion and share what you are doing with #wordgapcle on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.