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Readers and writers ready?

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The 6th annual Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, produced by the Vicious Circle, is Whistler’s premier literary celebration and a key fixture in the resort’s growing cultural calendar, taking place September 14th through 16th. The festival has something for everyone, including opportunities for good discussion, chances to meet some of Canada’s brightest literary talents and he ar them read and perform their work. And if you’re a writer or a prospective writer, this is the place to kick start or re-ignite your efforts.

Starting this week, members of Whistler’s own writing community, The Vicious Circle will be featured in Pique as we count down to the festival’s opening night. Our first writer, Rebecca Wood Barrett enjoys genre-crossing, and has written feature and short screenplays, documentaries, commercials, short stories, non-fiction, picture books and a children’s novel. She has made 24 short films, including “The Inquisitor” and “Crush”, which screened on television and at festivals around the world. She is a winner of the Whistler Film Festival’s ‘Whistler Stories’ grant with her documentary “First to Go Down”, and a two-time finalist in Whis ­ tler’s 72 hr. Filmmaker Showdown with the mockumentary “Mating Habits of the Whistler Mountain Cougar” and comedy “The Trailer Guy”. Her short fiction has been published in Pique Newsmagazine, The Antigonish Review and Room of One’s Own. Rebecca is a producer with Resort TV, and a student in the UBC Creative Writing MFA low-residency program. Rebecca will be teaching a seminar on Screenwriting at the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival on Saturday, Sept. 16th at Millennium Place. To register for all of the sessions call Stella Harvey at 604-932-4518 or send an email to Stella25@telus.net .

The festival is brought to you by the letter W, the number 15, and the funding support of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Community Foundation of Whistler and the B.C. Arts Council.

 

Ready to read

What is Early Literacy?

 

By Rebecca wood Barrett

When I was six and in grade one, my teacher Mrs. Zink taught me how to spell “button”, which was the longest word I knew how to write. But what made me feel quite pleased with myself was that I had memorized “button” had two “Ts” — even though it sounded like it only had one. This glowing accomplishment is my earliest memory of learning how to read and write. Was it the defining moment that led to my lifelong love of the printed word and storytelling? Probably not.

The foundation for my literacy had undoubtedly been laid down from infancy, during countless encouraging moments, letter by letter, phoneme by phoneme, word by word, by my first teachers — my parents. Thirty-six years later I’m a new parent myself, and I can’t remember how they did it. Did my mother sing the “ABC” song to me nightly to lull me to sleep in a subtle learning-by-osmosis method? Or was it my father, while swaddling me tight in a receiving blanket, who casually tossed out such rhymes as “I before E except after C”?

Like all parents, I want the best start for my six-month old son Oliver, but teaching the beginnings of the English language seems like a cabalistic art. How does one go from babble to “button” in six years? When does the “blob phase” of babies end and the learning begin?

As it turns out, babies don’t have a blob phase when it comes to cognitive development, even though in the first months they appear to need you only for milk, constant rocking and diaper changes. In fact, recent scientific research shows babies’ brains are learning about their world from the moment of birth, and that early experiences are vital to the development and growth of a baby’s brain.

We are all born with trillions of neurons, or nerve cells, but after birth, in most areas of the brain, no new neurons are created. The development of the brain happens through a constant wiring and re-wiring process whereby connections, called synapses, are formed, while others that are not being used are pruned away for efficiency. There is a prime time of opportunity in the early years, from birth to three years old, when the brain is more “plastic” or changeable, and if an infant is deprived of normal early learning experiences then synapses may be “pruned” away before the brain has correctly organized itself. This means that it’s the first caregivers, the parents, who are the most important teachers.

When I discover that I’ve got only a short window of opportunity with which to “organize” Oliver’s brain, I feel a little panicky. Before he arrived, I was neat, tidy, detailed, and on-time, but since then any concept of organization has vaporized. The house is a pigsty. I’ve tried to ease the loss of my formerly tidy self by saying defiantly, “If I have a messy house it’s because I have a child who’s well-loved.” So I’ve dispensed with frivolities like dusting and putting clothes in drawers. Now I simply have two mountains of clothes, dirty and clean, which also means I don’t have to vacuum because I haven’t seen the bedroom floor in weeks. Even the cat has asked to move back to WAG. Still, it’s troubling; if I can’t even fold laundry how am I going to handle the organization of my baby’s brain?

I vaguely remember reading a pamphlet from the library on what parents can do to foster a child’s development, so I dress Oliver and myself in clothes from Clean Mountain and set off for the Whistler Public Library.

My query leads me to Jomichele Seidl, Youth Services Librarian, who gives me a copy of the pamphlet “Every Child Ready to Read”. She explains how parents can prepare their babies for being able to read by providing an environment where they can acquire language skills. Some of the helpful tips include: being face to face with your baby and having a “conversation”, which could be as simple as you talking, while they respond with coos, blinks and eyebrow raising; “narrate your life”, or describe what you’re doing and what’s going on around you; ask your baby lots of questions; read books every day, even to newborns; say nursery rhymes and emphasize rhyming words; speak in the language that is most comfortable for you; sing songs, which helps a child hear syllables in words because each syllable in a word gets a different note; have fun when you read, put excitement in your voice and make up voices for characters and animals; and while you read, make your child feel loved and special.

To my great relief, I realized I was already doing many of the suggested activities. When Oliver was first born I did find it strange to talk to him, but I soon grew comfortable in my one-way conversation, and now I’m always chit-chatting to him about the world around us; it’s a bit embarrassing when I have to tell complete strangers in the supermarket check-out that no, I wasn’t talking to them, I was talking to my baby. Oliver and I read every day too, although he approaches it as more of a sport than an intellectual effort, by spitting, kicking, bashing, ripping and chewing his books. As long as he’s having fun, we’ll read another book, but when he gets tired or disinterested we quit, because reading activities should always be enjoyable.

In addition to this handy pamphlet, the library also has board books for babies, children’s picture books, music CDs, and a collection of parenting books and DVDs. There is drop-in Toddler Story Time on Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. which has a suggested age of 18 months-3 years, and a drop-in Preschool Story Time on Tuesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 2 for ages 3-5 years, as well as seasonal programs based on special themes.

In September, the Whistler Writers’ Group is tremendously honoured to have Paulette Bourgeois, author of Franklin the Turtle, here in Whistler for several readings and a workshop entitled, Writing for Young Adults during the Whistler Writers’ Festival, Sept. 14-16.

Bourgeois has two children of her own, and talked about her personal experiences of reading to them. “When my children were very young, they put everything into their mouths and cared more about how the books tasted than their literary value! I always loved the quiet, shared moments of reading with my children. It was a time to cuddle while exploring wonderful new worlds of sounds, images, and experiences. I think there are two very valuable things that parents can do to encourage children and reading. The first is to be a reader yourself so that children see that reading, whether it is the newspaper, a magazine, nonfiction or fiction, is important and enjoyable. The second is to tell stories about yourself, your world and your family and to encourage children to do the same. The oral tradition of storytelling sets the stage for reading and writing.

“When my children were in public school, we had a cottage without a television. Many evenings we would sit by the fire, taking turns reading aloud classics, such as Treasure Island, with dramatic flourish. The children often added home-made props or costumes and I think we all remember these times as better than any DVD we might have watched instead of reading.”

While Bourgeois is in Whistler, she’ll also be our first writer-in-residence, and will be holding story critiques at an artists’ cabin by Alta Lake for the month of September. I’m eagerly looking forward to being one of the participating writers, as she’ll be reading and suggesting edits to my children’s novel. My dream is that someday the book — a fantasy based loosely on my childhood — will be published, hopefully in time for Oliver to read!

The Whistler Readers and Writers Festival is Sept. 14 th through 16 th . For a complete listing and description of the seminars and readings available, visit www.theviciouscircle.ca To register contact Stella Harvey at Stella25@telus.net

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