Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (July 7, 2016)
Summer is nearing and it’s a wonderful time for children to delve into some summer reading. Researchers from the University of Missouri performed a meta-analysis of 39 existing research studies that measured summer learning and school achievement. The study found that most students lost an average of one month of school learning over summer vacation. Some students, particularly those from disadvantaged households, lost up to three months of learning. Summer learning loss was greatest in math computation, reading, and spelling. So reading is a wonderful way to engage a child in continual learning over the long holiday break.
Reading is also a wonderful way to nurture parent-child bonding. With parents reading alongside their children, it can spark conversations, promote communication and give each other an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the other.
Over the summer, I will share some of my favourite children’s books that can be read by children independently or with adults. They all bring out different life lessons and character values that are valuable for children at any age.
One book that I came across that’s a rare gem is ‘Zero’ by Kathryn Otashi. This book has deep meaning that I have been able to share with 8-9 year olds but can also be used in guided reading with much younger children. It can teach children numbers, colours and the deeper message of having self worth.
The main character of this book is Zero – someone who sees herself as being a big, round number who has a hole in her centre. As she sees the others numbers lining up – 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on – she sees that they have value. She ends up looking at herself and doubting that she has any worth.
So she tries to stretch herself out to look like number 1 but she bounces back into the shape of an oval Zero. Then she tries bending herself so that she can twist herself into becoming an 8. But in the same way, she bounces back and ends up being the oval Zero that she is. She gets frustrated that she can’t be like the other numbers that have value and can count.
What she later learns is that she isn’t ‘empty’ but that she’s ‘open’ and that she can add value to others. When he joins 1, and doesn’t try to be 1, they can collectively make the number 10. And that goes the same for the other numbers she meets. She learns to see her own value and worth and joins in on the fun with the other numbers.
This is a simple book with a very deep meaning – that we should value who we are, see our worth and not try to be someone else. However, even if the deeper meaning of the book isn’t grasped, it is a great resource in teaching children numbers and colours as each number has a different colour and style.
This book can teach so much about appreciating one’s body shape (Zero couldn’t contort herself to look like a skinny 1), and appreciating what one can do (Zero had her place as did all the other numbers). It teaches children to have self-respect and to also respect others for their strengths and abilities.
In the competitive world we live in where people are often compared to one another, where everyone is ranked on ability, where prizes are given to certain people with achievements and where beauty is defined in a certain way, it’s refreshing to see a book that teaches children (and adults) that can should strive just to be the best, unique person we are and be the best versions of ourselves, not anyone else. But of course, it’s not the book that will teach this lesson to children best - it will be our role modeling to children and the words we say to them that will give them confidence to be who they are and help them become the best they can be.