The Power of Observation

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Maricela Correa-Chávez and Barbara Rogoff of the University of California, Santa Cruz, published a study that shows indigenous Mayan children when compared to European American children pay more attention to and learn from activities going on in their environment — activities not specifically directed at them.

Much of a Mayan child’s time is spent observing the other actors in the [family] compound…By age 3, children can usually report accurately where every member of their household is and what he or she is doing. The child often appears to be keeping a sort of running tab on compound activities through careful observation.

This resonates with what we see in the teens in our Leaders and Readers Program. Girls talk about how they learned to make tortillas, for example. There wasn’t specific instruction. They picked it up by watching their mothers and older sisters slapping them out three times a day. And when our teens participated in an exercise to mark sites where education takes place in their community, they first started marking each of their homes.

With this tendency to pay careful attention to activities around them, role models play an extremely powerful role in the lives of young Mayan children. Younger siblings of teens in our program see their brothers or sisters going to school, doing their homework, preparing for their reading activities, day in and day out for four years, and they take note. They see books come into the house and begin to “read” them before they know how to read. They begin to aspire to what they observe.

Zoila, a youth leader in our program recently told me, “My four-year-old sister is growing up with books in our house. She is too little to read but she turns the pages and ‘reads’ in her bed. She asks me questions about the book and wants to go to school.”

And Alicia, also a teen in our program reported, “My three-year-old sister looks at books I bring home and my brother wants to become a reading promoter.”

In homes where parents have little to no formal education, where there were previously no books or talk of education, our youth leaders are shaping the next generation who are simply but powerfully observing them.

We’re proud to see this change of impact unfold across the communities with whom we work, and we’re incredibly grateful for your partnership in making that happen. We hope you’ll renew your support this month by joining our Human Capital Campaign. Celebrate our 10th Anniversary and we will double all donations (up to $50,000) before June 30, 2016. Just go to www.rv-celebrate.org.

By: Linda Smith, Founder + Executive Director of Reading Village

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