On his website, Paul Axtell links to the 11/19/11 op-ed written by Thomas Friedman for The New York Times, "How About Better Parents?" to explore the question of why so many of our kids are failing in school. Friedman wonders if too much blame is being placed on teachers, when the root of the problem may be in the living rooms and bedrooms of the students' homes. Could reading books regularly with our children make a difference?

He interviewed the director of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on their "reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems — the most important skills for succeeding in college and life. America’s 15-year-olds have not been distinguishing themselves in the PISA exams compared with students in Singapore, Finland and Shanghai."

Here's a link to the article, and an excerpt: "To better understand why some students thrive taking the PISA tests and others do not, Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the exams for the O.E.C.D., was encouraged by the O.E.C.D. countries to look beyond the classrooms. So starting with four countries in 2006, and then adding 14 more in 2009, the PISA team went to the parents of 5,000 students and interviewed them 'about how they raised their kids and then compared that with the test results' for each of those years, Schleicher explained to me. Two weeks ago, the PISA team published the three main findings of its study:"

“'Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.'”

"Schleicher explained to me that 'just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.'”

"For instance, the PISA study revealed that 'students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child "every day or almost every day" or "once or twice a week" during the first year of primary school have markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child "never or almost never" or only "once or twice a month." On average, the score difference is 25 points, the equivalent of well over half a school year.'”

"Yes, students from more well-to-do households are more likely to have more involved parents. 'However,' the PISA team found, 'even when comparing students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, those students whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score 14 points higher, on average, than students whose parents did not.'”


A premier publishing services firm

Indie Groundbreaking Book

Indie Groundbreaking Book: Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids

Author reminds us that what we say really matters

Every parent wishes that newborns came with an instruction manual, and this book comes pretty close to that, by promising to guide parents through one very important aspect of raising their kids: creating wonderful, lasting relationships through conversation. Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids: Creating the relationship you want with the most important people in your life empowers parents to be more conscious of what they say and how they speak to their kids, and provides simple, straightforward ideas for making deeper, more meaningful connections that will last throughout their lives.

Author Paul Axtell is a personal effectiveness trainer who has taught corporate executives, university deans, elementary school teachers, and assembly line workers how to look at their conversations in a new light. Axtell has long believed the key to having great relationships — whether in the workplace or at home — is paying attention to your conversations. “If your relationship is special, you have more potential to influence your kids and teach them how to be confident, effective adults,” he says.

Axtell was inspired to write the book years ago, after reading a list of 30 things most often heard by children from adults. "Don't give me those excuses!" "What in the world do you think you're doing?" "When are you ever going to learn?" and "I'm doing this for your own good" are examples of the negative statements on the list. Thinking before you speak, and simply noticing the negative comments in your own conversations with your kids is a great way to start improving.

Many of the things on this "new" list are very simple, just two or three words long. One is, simply, yes. One of Axtell's guiding principles was, "What do you want them to remember hearing you say?" Ten chapters of the book look more deeply into his top ten answers to that question. They are:

  1. I like you.
  2. You're a fast learner.
  3. Thank you.
  4. How about we agree to…
  5. Tell me more.
  6. Let's read.
  7. We all make mistakes.
  8. I'm sorry.
  9. What do you think?
  10. Yes.

As the father of two adults and grandfather to thirteen in his blended family, Axtell knows it's never too late to work on creating great relationships with the kids in your life. In the chapter “What You Say Matters,” Axtell writes:

"In my years of training people in communication skills and effective conversation, these ideas have remained consistent:

  • Your words and conversations create your reality, your future, and your relationships.
  • What you talk about — or don't talk about — defines your relationship.
  • Your words have the power to hurt as well as to nurture. The pattern of your conversations creates an environment that can be healthy or detrimental. The primary conversations that surround your children are your conversations — both with them directly and with others while your children are present. And those are the conversations you have the power to change.”
  • In the chapter that's very close to my heart, Axtell begins by asking the question, "So how do we instill in our kids a love of learning about life, help them see learning as part of mastering life, and teach them that learning is forever?" The answer: Let's Read.

"Reading gives kids access to being effective in life. Reading also teaches kids how to focus and pay attention in a way that's quite different from being drawn in by the dazzle of television. Research shows reading to children early in life stimulates language and social development, which gives them a big head start when they get to school. Kids who are read to have a much larger vocabulary, and that is one of the best predictors of school success."

Reading is a window to the world

"Part of what is important for children to learn is to be interested in people, to be curious about the world, and to be comfortable being anywhere in the world. If Cindy and I could take all of our grandchildren around the world or even the United States, we would. If we could interest them in music, dance, opera, art museums, the outdoors — we would. One thing we can do is give them access to all of these things in one way — through books."

"Reading provides exposure to the richness of the world. Most people don't have the time or resources or inclination to travel the world with their children. But we can all give them access to books, through which we expand their horizons by reading about different places, people, and ideas."

"As Dr. Seuss said, 'Oh, the places you'll go!'”

Everyone has a story to tell.

Another great benefit of reading is being introduced, through the pages of books, to so many different people. When you read with your children, you have a wonderful opportunity to go beyond those introductions and look at what makes the characters tick, or ask your kids what about the stories moved them, or wonder what they would do in a similar situation. It's also a good way to introduce the idea that people matter — that, as Winnie the Pooh says, “Everybody's really all right.”

"It's easy to judge people based on appearance or what others say about them. Kids can grow up to be quick to judge others, scared of strangers, or just uncomfortable meeting new people. And usually what makes a difference is getting to know the other person — learning his or her story. Abraham Lincoln took that notion even further when he said, “I don't like that man. I'm going to have to get to know him.”

And the world is getting smaller. We continually come into contact with people who have different backgrounds, different looks, and different ways of interacting with the world. By reading, we gain exposure to how others see themselves, how they feel about their lives, and how they think about the world we share. Part of this notion that people matter is about seeing the world in a more inclusive way. More importantly, it's about seeing the people down the street as unique and interesting also."

"So think of your time with your children as a gift—whether reading or playing, listening or talking. It says to your children, I like you. I like being with you. I enjoy doing things with you. There is no place I would rather be right now than here. And that, too, is a gift."

* * * * *

Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids: Creating the relationship you want with the most importat people in your life

by  Paul Axtell 196 pages (November 2011) Paperback: $15.85 • ISBN 978-0-943097-09-1 Hardcover: $23.85 • ISBN 978-0-943097-11-4 Jackson Creek Press tenpowerfulthingstosay.com