Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss 

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Today is the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Born in 1904, he wrote 44 books for children and was a genius with the rhythm and creativity of language. Dr. Seuss knew how to engage the minds of children without being condescending or boring. I’m pretty sure he would not have been a fan of how we introduce children to reading these days.

As part of celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday, I hope our schools will be able to take time away from standardized testing and their  curricula to celebrate the imagination, creativity, and fun that are synonymous with Dr. Seuss. Even though there are no standardized test items on his poetic use of language and whimsical characters, there are great lessons to be learned from his books.

Green Eggs and Ham, despite what Ted Cruz said, tells us to try something new as we may find we like it.

The Lorax teaches children about the importance of respecting their environment.

Horton Hatches the Egg illustrates the virtues of fairness and being faithful to one’s promises.

Oh the Places You’ll Go reassures graduates from nursery school to college and beyond that they have the brains and ability to succeed, even if there are obstacles to overcome.

Yertle the Turtle warns of the consequences of trying to get above everyone else at the expense of those below you, perhaps a good lesson on income inequality.

As we force young children to plow through boring leveled readers, often at an age when they are not developmentally ready to read, we should think about the way Dr. Seuss approached children’s literature. When an educational expert challenged him to write a book to help children learn how to read, using a list of 300 words that most first-graders (note: not kindergarteners or preschoolers) knew back in 1957, two words on the list jumped out at him: “cat” and “hat.” Guess what he wrote. The Cat in the Hat is 1,702 words long, but uses only 220 different words. Brilliant.

In 1960, Seuss bet a friend he could write a book using only 50 different words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham. Not only did he use exactly 50 different words, but except for “anywhere,” all of those words had one syllable. For years, that has instinctively been my go-to book to read with young children. It took the genius of Dr. Seuss to combine a simple vocabulary with the repetition and humor children adore.

My own children grew up on heavy doses of Dr. Seuss. At some point, each of them was able to read those books themselves. It didn’t take long for them to figure out they could actually read Hop on Pop. Maybe they memorized it at first, but thinking you can read a familiar book and being able to correctly point to many of the words is a huge first step to reading. Dr. Seuss understood that by exposing kids to interesting books, they would learn to read when their brains were ready.

One thing I know for sure is that Dr. Seuss appreciated creativity and individual differences. Among the many wonderful things he wrote, here are a few of my favorites:

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”

“Think and wonder, wonder and think.”

“There’s no limit to how much you’ll know, depending how far beyond zebra you go.”

“Children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise. “

“Children want the same things we want. To laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted.”

You were not born to just fit in, you were born to stand out!”

So today, let’s honor Dr. Seuss by acknowledging children’s creative thinking, wide-ranging interests, and unique styles of learning. These days, facts are literally at our fingertips, so rote memorization and boring worksheets make no sense. Children need to know what questions they should plug into their search engines and how to use the facts they uncover to take them in new directions. As Dr. Seuss wisely said, “It is better to know how to learn than to know.”

Laurie Levy, Contributor

Sharing insights & personal experiences on education, aging, special needs advocacy, community, love, kindness, caring, & acceptance.

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