Check out this interview with the author of The Invisible Toolbox
Kim Jocelyn Dickson (M.A. Princeton Theological Seminary; B.S. University of Missouri-Columbia), a parent, educator, writer, and lifelong lover of books, grew up doing all the things she currently does now in her adult life. She played school—somehow always getting to be the teacher—read books, and loved to write. Books have always had a powerful influence on her, from inspiring her play as a child to inspiring her to become an author as an adult.
Kim has nearly thirty years of experience in the elementary school classroom, has taught in public and private schools in the east, Midwest, and west coast of the United States, currently teaches literature and writing in an independent school in Southern California, and frequently speaks on the powerful impact reading can have on young lives. Kim is the published author of various articles in psychology, literature, biography, women’s issues, religion, and Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a collection of reflective essays on the beloved author of Gift from the Sea. Her latest is the book she hopes all new parents read: The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence.
Kim has long wondered: what if a longtime classroom teacher were able to meet her future students’ parents at the exit door of the maternity ward to share the single most important thing they can do to foster their parent-child bond and child’s future learning potential?
THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence (Mango Media, Inc., April 2020) is her answer to that question. Nearly thirty years teaching hundreds of elementary school-aged children has convinced Kim that the simple act of reading aloud from birth has a far-reaching impact that few parents understand and that our recent, nearly universal saturation in technology has further clouded its importance. THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX aggregates research findings in neuroscience, education, and psychology along with practical anecdotal experience from the classroom and parenting to illustrate that the first years of life are critical in the formation and receptivity of the primary predictor of success in school—language skills—and that infants begin learning immediately at birth, or even before.
Who are you and what do you write?
I guess you could say I’m a teacher who writes. Or a writer who teaches. Both things are true about me.
Where and when and how did the writing life begin for you?
I’ve enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. I think because I was a reader, writing always came pretty easily for me. I received some acknowledgment for my writing abilities from peers and teachers during my early years, but never seriously entertained it as a career to pursue full-time. It certainly wasn’t something that my parents would ever have recognized or supported me in, and I didn’t have the self-confidence then to take myself seriously as a writer. Teaching came naturally to me and was an easy, practical choice at the time.
I was in grad school when I first began to think about writing seriously. I had discovered a treasure trove in the published diaries and letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her life story was fantastic and fascinating from a historical and biographical point of view, but the thing that hooked me was this underlying theme of struggle with self-doubt. Anne desperately wanted to write, but didn’t believe she could do it. The fact was she was an extraordinary writer, so why was her inner world so at odds with the reality of her giftedness? It was a theme that permeated her work and motivated me to dig deeper to try to understand. I recommend her diaries and letters for anyone who struggles with this. These books were the catalyst that inspired me to deal with my own unrecognized wish to write and the thing that kept me from doing it. This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about the power of books and reading. Books can profoundly impact a life.
How has the journey to this point been? Can you give us a basic rundown?
My fascination with the life and writings of Anne Morrow Lindbergh led me to write my first book about her. Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a collection of essays I wrote on various quotes from Anne’s published work. It’s partly biographical—about her—but somewhat autobiographical in that it’s also about how her writings have influenced me in my life.
What’s been the hardest part of your writing/publishing experience so far? And the most enjoyable?
The hardest part for me is that I’ve continued to teach full-time. Finding time to write during the school year, while doable, isn’t easy. I’m most productive in the summer. The most enjoyable part is the writing itself. I love it. When things are going well, when you’re in ‘flow,’ there’s nothing better. It’s as if you enter a zone where time stands still.
Why did you write The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence?
I’m convinced that the simple act of reading aloud to our children has a far-reaching impact that few of us fully understand and that our recent, nearly universal saturation in technology has clouded its importance and even contributed to a decline in children’s literacy. Having taught elementary school for thirty years in both public and private schools throughout the United States, I’ve observed changes in children’s developmental readiness for school and their attitudes toward reading in recent years. At one point in my teaching career I realized that every child begins school with a lunchbox in one hand and an “Invisible Toolbox” in the other. The contents of that “Invisible Toolbox” have everything to do with whether a child will experience success in school. I care deeply that parents understand this for the sake of their children.
What is “The Invisible Toolbox”?
The Invisible Toolbox is a metaphor for the skills and tools that a child brings to school when they’ve been read to from birth. I’m convinced that the single most important thing parents can do to fill that Invisible Toolbox, foster their child’s future learning potential, and nurture the parent-child bond that is the foundation for a child’s motivation to learn is to read to them. The first years of life are critical in the formation and receptivity of the primary predictor of success in school—language skills—and infants begin learning immediately at birth. In fact, by age two the brain has achieved 80% of its lifetime growth.
Why do you think many children aren’t as developmentally ready for school now?
The generation that’s currently in elementary school—Generation Alpha*—are the kids that were born in 2010, the year the iPad was introduced. (*McCrindle, an Australian company that studies cultural trends, coined this term.) These children have not known life without smart devices. The fifth most popular YouTube channel in 2015 was Little Baby Bum, which plays nursery rhyme videos and songs for babies and toddlers. This generation is being raised on screens, yet the American Academy of Pediatricians advises no screens at all for children under two. There are neurological reasons for this. The first three years of life are a critical time for the brain to do so much of its work. Neurons want to fire, synapses want to make connections! Reading, singing, and speaking to our babies stimulate these things. Screens do not—at least not in the way that develops the language capabilities that are essential for healthy child development.
Ironically, at the same time this is happening, curriculum expectations are shifting downward into previous grades. In other words, what used to be taught in first grade is now taught in kindergarten. Preschools are now putting more emphasis on academics. This is a mistake and it’s not having a positive impact on future achievement. In 2019, 65% of fourth graders and 66% of eighth graders in the United States did not score ‘proficient’ in reading on the NAEP, the nation’s report card that tests a cross-section of American fourth and eighth graders every two years.
Who should read The Invisible Toolbox?
I’ve written the book for parents who might not otherwise pick up a book on this subject. It’s simple, straightforward and jargon-free. Every expectant and new parent should have a copy. Educators, caregivers, librarians, and anyone who cares about children and having a future informed, literate society should read it.
What can readers expect to learn?
Readers will come away understanding that reading to our children from birth is as essential to our child’s well-being as all the loving things we do to care for our children physically—cuddling, feeding, bathing, and doctor visits. The book is grounded in easy to understand research, as well as my anecdotal experience as a parent and teacher who has taught hundreds of children over thirty years. Specifically, readers will also come away with:
· Ten priceless tools that will fill their child’s toolbox when they read aloud to their child
· Tools parents can give themselves to foster these gifts in their children
· Practical tips for how and what to read aloud to children through their developmental stages
· Do’s and Don’ts and recommended resources that round out all the practical tools a parent will need to prepare their child for kindergarten and beyond
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about The Invisible Toolbox?
Just this: as parents we all—regardless of where we come from—want the world for our children. We do everything we can to help them develop fully into who they are meant to be so they can have meaningful lives. Reading to them from birth—or even before—is a powerful place to start. BUT, if you are reading this and your child is older and you haven’t read to them much, I want you to know it’s not too late. My book is also for parents who didn’t grow up being read to and so may not have known how important it is to read to their own child. As I state in my book, “It’s never too late parent yourself.”
Ketchup or Mayo? – Ketchup
Night or Day? – Day
Inside or Outside? – Outside
Dogs or Cats? – Dogs
Twitter or Facebook? – Facebook
e-book or Paperback? – e-book if traveling; paperback if home
Sun or Rain? – I’m a California gal…sun!
Keyboard or Pencil & Notebook? – Keyboard
Comedy or Drama? – Comedy
Chips or Chocolate? – Chocolate
Shopping Carts? – Put ‘em away!
The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence
Longtime elementary school teacher Kim Jocelyn Dickson believes every child begins kindergarten with a lunchbox in one hand and an “invisible toolbox” in the other. In The Invisible Toolbox, Kim shares with parents the single most important thing they can do to foster their child’s future learning potential and nurture the parent-child bond that is the foundation for a child’s motivation to learn. She is convinced that the simple act of reading aloud has a far-reaching impact that few of us fully understand and that our recent, nearly universal saturation in technology has further clouded its importance.