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Lions Help Kids Read

The Emmy award-winning children's program "Between the Lions," which is focused on reading, has been touted as a sequel to "Sesame Street" for its impressive teaching methods.

The popular PBS show is branching out with a new book, "The Between the Lions Book for Parents."

Christopher Cerf, the co-creator of "Between the Lions," along with the patriarch of the puppet lion family, Theo Lion, spoke with The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm about the new book and show.

Inspired by the series, "The Between the Lions Book for Parents" is a lively guide for parents to help children learn to read as well as a guide to obstacles they may encounter along the way, Theo Lion says.

The book is designed to equip parents of children ages 4 to 7 years old with all the tools their children need to help them succeed at and enjoy reading. The book includes:

  • An explanation drawn from the latest research on the process of learning to read.
  • An overview of the so-called "reading wars" that addresses whole language and phonics arguments.
  • An age-by-age guide -- complete with developmental milestones.
  • A wide array of activities and "red flags" to be on the watch for.
  • A full discussion of the unique role parents play in their children's literacy.

    "Between the Lions" is an award-winning PBS television series that premiered in April 2000. It's designed to foster the literacy skills of its viewers, while playfully demonstrating the joys of reading.

    Cerf says the show is similar to "Sesame Street." He notes, "We worked with top educators in reading before we ever wrote anything and really heard from them what kids need. Television can do a lot of things for reading you can't do in a book. You can flash letters around, sing songs about letter sounds."

    Read an excerpt from "The Between the Lions Book for Parents":

    Chapter One

    What Is Reading?

    As parents, we come face-to-face every day with mystery. How does that tiny baby figure out,without being told, how to roll over, sit up, crawl, and walk? Where did your preschooler learn all those words and how to put them
    together? How can your third-grader program the VCR when you can't? And who left those cookie crumbs all over the floor?

    We can't help you with the cookie crumbs -- although, let's face it, you probably don't need Sherlock Holmes to figure that one out -- but we can offer some useful information, guidance, and encouragement about one
    of the great mysteries of childhood: what is reading, and how is my kid ever going to learn to do it? Especially in our society, where so
    much of a person's success seems to depend on his ability to do well in school, parents can feel anxious about whether their children have
    what it takes to learn to read.

    So here's the first thing you need to know: just about every child, given the right support and instruction, will learn to read. And, for struggling readers, there's a lot you can do to help.

    Just by picking up this book, you've already demonstrated that you're doing the thing that matters most. You care about your child's reading, and you want to help him learn. Your loving support and guidance, more than anything else, will motivate your child and help him find his way toward being a reader.

    And because you're a reader yourself -- you're reading right now, aren't you? -- you're probably also already doing the one thing that researchers universally emphasize as a key to children's reading: you're reading to your child. That one simple act, more than anything else you do, builds your child's understanding of books, his grasp of language, and his desire to read for himself. Give him those building blocks, and you've already given him much of what he needs to become a reader.

    Of course, he'll still have plenty to learn about the details of the process: how letters represent sounds, how sounds go together to make
    words, how words combine to form sentences, and how sentences add up to a meaningful whole. But those details are just that: details.

    They're also small, specific skills that build on and reinforce each other, and that your child will put together one by one to solve the larger
    puzzle: discovering meaning. That's the point, always, of reading: to make a connection between the words on the page and what they mean -- and, by doing so, to make a deeper connection between the reader and the world. Reading accurately is important, but what's really important is making that connection.

    And by setting your child in your lap with a book, you're helping him learn how to connect.

    You're giving him the big picture -- a warm and welcoming context into which he can fit all the bits of knowledge about books and reading that
    he'll assemble in his years at school.

    What Happens When You Read?

    If you're the kind of person who likes to know the fine points of how things work, check out the box "Reading: The Fine Print," which details the current thinking about how our brains decipher print. But, just as you don't
    need to be able to explain how an engine works in order to drive a car, you don't need to know everything about the visual, neurological, and psychological elements of the act of reading in order to help your child learn to read. What can help (to extend that driving metaphor for just a moment) is to know enough to be able to tell when you might be having engine trouble. So, very briefly, let's look under the hood.

    This is trickier than it might seem. Researchers have learned a lot in the past few decades about how reading works, but they're still figuring out some of the details. That's because reading is something a skilled reader
    does swiftly, silently, and internally. Even if you try to observe the process in yourself, it's almost impossible to see just how you do it. For
    this reason, many people assumed for a long time that skilled readers don't sound words out as they read and that they probably skip words, just focusing on the important ones.

    In fact, all of those assumptions have now been proved to be more or less wrong. Believe it or not, skilled readers look at almost every letter of every word, and their brains attend to the sound as well as the appearance of what they read. We think we read with our eyes, and of course our eyes are part of the process. But what's even more important is the language-processing ability of our brains. Reading is a language skill more than a visual one -- an important point to keep in mind as you read in
    the chapters to come about what instruction your child should receive and which skills it's most valuable to help him develop at home.

    Reading, just like learning to read, is a process that starts with small building blocks and gradually assembles them to form a larger whole. Your eye begins with a collection of lines and curves that it assembles into a letter; your brain takes that bit of data and assembles it with others to form syllables, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then books.
    In the same way, when your child is learning to read, he assembles what he learns about letters to build his ability to read words, then puts his knowledge of words together to figure out how to comprehend sentences and the
    text as a whole. In both processes, knowledge is the goal, but it cannot exist without the smooth assembly of its tiniest parts ...

    The foregoing is excerpted from "The Between the Lions Book for Parents" by Linda K. Rath and Louise Kennedy. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

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