The Role of Formal and Informal Learning Experiences

During my fifteen years in education, I have realized that lessons on learning can be delivered in the most unexpected places.  Most recently, I got schooled during swim lessons.

For the past three years, my girls (ages 4 and 6) have taken a week or two of swim lessons at the beginning of summer.  Each year, we invest a good amount of money and hope in those lessons with the goal that our children will be successful swimmers throughout the rest of the summer.  And each year, we are proud of the accomplishments as our girls show off what they have learned with their teacher on the last day of class.

This year, we had the fortune of staying at a hotel with a swimming pool the week after swim lessons.  As a former member of my high school swim team (note that I used the word member and not star), I was eager to spend time in the water watching my girls demonstrate their new skills.  My excitement was short-lived when my girls preferred to hang on to my neck, play on the steps, or simply walk about the shallow end.

I was frustrated.  I was incredulous.  I knew they had the ability to swim, even if they couldn’t go very far, but they did not even want to try.   A time that was intended to be family fun quickly turned into crying chaos as I offered bribes, consequences, and anything else I could think of as I tried to get my daughters to swim.

Eventually, they complied and each swam a few distances according to her abilities.  But, despite my cheers and praise for what they had done, their smiles were diminished.

Later that evening, at dinner with my husband, I recalled a memory of a family vacation in the same city when I was close to the ages of my girls.   I remembered my parents saying that I was just tall enough to walk in the shallow end and I had played in the water for hours until my feet were raw.

And then it hit me.  My role as the mom was not to be the swim teacher.  My role was to extend the lessons they had learned from the teacher by providing many opportunities to be in the water, to be comfortable in the water, and to ENJOY the water.

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I realized that what I know and preach about literacy is also true for swimming and for most every type of learning.  While skills and formal learning opportunities are important, they do not create lifelong learners.  Confident learners begin in the shallow end where they experience hours of bonding and play with a more competent learner such as a parent or caregiver.

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In his book Raising Confident Readers, Dr. J. Richard Gentry states, “The early advantage – setting the foundations for success with reading at home and making learning to read natural and easy – comes through informal teaching.”  He adds, “Whether you enlist the help of a good preschool or go it alone, what is important is that your child gets the informal types of literacy…early in life.”

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Mem Fox advocates the power of informal learning in her book Reading Magic, “So let’s help kids learn to read by reading aloud to them often, whenever we can, to make familiar what was once unfamiliar.  Then let’s read aloud again.  And after that?  Well, we’ll read aloud!  And all the while, we’ll be playing those teaching-without-teaching, fooling-around, being-silly games.

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This is the mission of ReadyRosie.  To equip and inspire parents and caregivers to create the informal and enjoyable learning environments for young children to experience their first encounters with literacy and numeracy.

With the exciting push for every child to have access to formal learning experiences through Universal preK efforts, we cannot forget the important emphasis we need to be placing in providing every child with informal learning opportunities.  We know that high quality classroom learning is crucial, but so are informal bonding interactions that place learning in real world contexts.

Shared by Candis Grover, Director of Literacy/Spanish Development for ReadyRosie.


What makes an EFFECTIVE initiative to reach families with school readiness???

In recent months, much media attention has been given to community outreach campaigns targeted at families.   At ReadyRosie, we believe in today’s families and we are in favor of any efforts designed to engage and equip them.  At the same time, we would like to encourage community and school decision makers to consider a few questions when deciding what vehicle will be used for reaching your target audience.

Before you decide to send books home, develop cards with tips, host parent classes, etc., please ask a few important questions:

  • Does your resource MODEL new behaviors?  If busy parents can’t SEE it in action, it will be difficult to reproduce.
  • Is your resource DELIVERED to families in a way that is simple and relevant?
  • Does your resource give you DATA to track the impact it is having?
  • Is your resource provided UNIVERSALLY so that it gives DIGNITY to all who use it?

See below how ReadyRosie answers these crucial questions:

The concept of ReadyRosie is simple – a daily 2 minute video in English and Spanish that is delivered to the computer or mobile device of everyone in a community with a 0-6 year old.  There are some key aspects to the resource, however, that make ReadyRosie a unique and effective way to reach families and to ultimately increase school readiness and academic success.

First of all, ReadyRosie does not just give parents tips or ideas, it MODELS them.

The most influential statement that led to the development of ReadyRosie came from a teenager who had just become a mom:  “Everyone keeps saying that I should talk to my baby and sing to my baby, but I don’t know what that means. What should I be saying?  What should I be singing?” Her honest question led to the conclusion that any truly effective intervention in the area of early childhood school readiness would HAVE to be MODELED.

There are a lot of movements today that campaign for more talking and more singing to young children.  There are schools and non-profits that even send activities out into the community that give ideas to families for increasing school readiness.  These efforts are to be applauded. However, the comment from that adolescent mom I spoke with shows the shortcomings of such campaigns. A parent has to SEE exactly what we mean.

By asking families to talk or sing or read to their children we are often asking them to diverge from the ways they themselves were raised and the way that the children in their communities are being raised.  Therefore, we are asking them to do things that they may have never seen modeled before.  They HAVE to see it – not just in print, not modeled by one person, and not a video of a professor telling them to do it, but a REAL family – someone like them that struggles with the SAME things – active kids, chaos, multiple children, children who are not interested in what you are saying, etc.   Families have to see it modeled in different voices, so that they can eventually find their own voices in talking and singing with their children.

Not only does a tool like ReadyRosie have to be MODELED, but it also has to be DELIVERED.

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The internet today is as overwhelming as the tallest and most robust library.  When you only direct a parent to a resource on a website, it is like telling someone to go and find a simple answer in the largest library. We don’t work with the internet like that anymore.  If there is a story to be told, if there is a funny video or a great news article, young people are accustomed to that information coming to them via social media, email, etc. They don’t have to search it out.  News channels and marketers know this today.  They don’t just post stories on their sites, they notify people through all means that the article has been posted.  All we have to do as consumers is to click.  Most things of interest come to us; we do not have to come to them.

How much more so with a resource that helps with our young children!  The parents, teachers, and caretakers of young children are the people in our world with the LEAST amount of free time to actively look for resources.  They are surviving each and every day and need information at their fingertips, in their back pockets, and on their devices. We knew that ReadyRosie had to be modeled and it had to be delivered DAILY.

The delivery aspect of ReadyRosie is another key element for its effectiveness.  The delivery of ReadyRosie enables us to track DATA.  Data has become one of the most important aspects for the success of ReadyRosie initiatives.

One of the most important aspects about ReadyRosie is the ability to track usage so that administrators can know HOW the tool is being utilized and WHERE it is making an impact on a community.  Other efforts do not have this tracking capability.  What zip codes are utilizing a resource?  How does one resource help them find another resource? For example – are families finding about ReadyRosie when they go in for their immunizations or vice versa?  Ultimately, we need to know if an investment in a resource is directly impacting a child.  THIS is why we built ReadyRosie- to be able to track such usage.  We are able to report back by zip code, neighborhood school, even down to the individual parent – how he or she is using ReadyRosie. We let them tell us – is this resource making a difference in your life and in the life of your child?  This is where we hear comments like these…

·      Hola.mi nombre es (name removed for anonymity) y quiero compartir que los videos que suben son de mucha ayuda para el sano crecimiento de mis ninos porq ustedes muestran las cosas muy faciles de entender es como jugar aprendiendo y se logra una gran comunicacion con nuestros hijos..muchas gracias por compartirnos.

·      As a parent of two active boys that do not seem to pay attention well, today’s video was reassuring to me that I am not alone and not failing as a parent. Thanks for posting a video with intelligent active kids.

·      We are really enjoying ReadyRosie! My children feel like we are playing fun new games each day!!!

Perhaps the most profound aspect about the simplicity of ReadyRosie is the DIGNITY it gives to families who use it.

There is often a stigma felt by families who qualify for services like parenting classes or home visitation programs due to their classification within a specific demographic.  Rather than singling out specific families based on something they are lacking, ReadyRosie provides dignity by being available to all families.

When individuals see that there is a resource that is being used by ALL families in the community and see ALL people talking about it, it begins to change the mindset of parents. They see branding and videos that market to everyone and they begin to see that all families need ideas.  All families are struggling with making language and learning a priority. No parent is a failure simply because he or she needs a resource.  We ALL need it.  When you see video modeling from ALL different kinds of families in real-life settings, not actors in pretend environments, it gives dignity and universality to parents with the need for support.


When it comes to the word universal, there is no shortage of its use in the early childhood world today.  Everyone speaks of universal pre-K.  That is the buzz word for this:  a seat in a pre-K classroom being offered to every 4 year old.  We are strong advocates of this and hope that every state supports this effort.  However, that definition of Universal pre-k is problematic, because it is not truly universal.  In fact, most studies show us that the REAL work should be happening before the age of three.


What we DO want to do is take advantage of the universal fact about all young children.  They are all with some caretaker – grandparents, older siblings, childcare professionals, and parents.  Wouldn’t it be MORE universal, more meaningful and more effective to build capacity in ALL adults to create universal pre-Ks in grocery stores, in waiting rooms, and in kitchens everywhere?  Not only does this save the cost of the traditional ways we view pre-K such as building expensive classrooms, hiring personnel, training, curriculum, etc.  Instead,  it actually is supported by research as a BETTER way to change the odds for young children by learning in the context of REAL life.

We are at an exciting and unique time in which there is openness to really solving the problems of school readiness.  It is also a unique time in that the digital divide is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  We have the opportunity to provide resources to American families but we need to make sure that these efforts are truly effective.   They have to include modeling by real families.  They have to be delivered to a device and their reach needs to be measurable.  But most of all, they have to instill confidence and dignity to all adults who are working with our most precious investments – our children.  There is nothing complex about ReadyRosie, but it magically combines all of those elements into a very simple concept – a two minute a day video that lands on the cell phone of parents and caregivers everywhere, every day.