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Episode Summary

Zach Grossfeld’s guest on this episode of All About Kids burns most brightly when she talks about bringing alive the world of literacy for students at risk of being left behind. Dikirys Pichardo is a veteran NYC Dept. of Education educator who has brought this passion into a number of roles as classroom teacher, special education advocate and the creative voice behind “The EGGSciting Sleepover,” her magical take on the many lessons kids can learn from being guests in each other’s homes. This lively conversation features tips for parents who want to protect their kids from the social media landscape’s overwhelming sensory impacts and expose them to the joy of simply holding (and getting absorbed in!) a book. You’ll also learn about recommended techniques for teaching young readers how to recognize and sound out words; find out why it’s important to combine reading with subjects that truly interest kids; and what happens when we develop healthy habits as a family. Dikirys is also sharing tips for parents trying to figure out how best to meet their children’s special education needs – what they can do as advocates and the many resources available to support them on the journey. Dikirys is optimistic about the community of people prepared to communicate, collaborate and dedicate themselves to fostering a love of reading (and learning!) in leaders of tomorrow. And no matter what your age, if you’re feeling restless or disengaged, remember our guest’s words of wisdom: It’s time to take a break. Try a little dance. Sing a song. Walk around the block. Let your body move!

Looking for a fun book that will resonate with anyone who has ever gotten excited, curious or apprehensive about spending the night at a friend’s house? Click here to check out Dikirys’ colorful children’s book, “The EGGSciting Sleepover.”

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Episode Notes

  1. How Dikirys got started a decade ago in her career as an advocate for children and the landscape she currently sees:
    1. She is driven by a passion for teaching others how to learn. 
    2. Today’s distracted world and surplus of devices has slowed down literacy.
    3. YouTube and other social media are impacting even the youngest kids.
    4. “Even with the smaller, younger kids, a lot of them don’t know how to turn pages in a book because they’re so used to an iPad. They don’t know how to hold a book or the parts of a book.” (Dikirys)
    5. Audible books and Kindles are fine, but children need to be taught the mechanics of how books work and how to read them.
  2. Techniques Dikirys uses to help kids learn to read (or come up to speed):
    1. Why it was important to go back to basics after remote learning left many readers behind by as many as two full grade levels.
    2. Sounding out words by tapping out each sound and then blending them (Fundations Reading Curriculum)
    3. Raising phonetic awareness and how to manipulate sounds through techniques like songs, rhyming and singing (Heggerty Curriculum).
  3. Building on student interests and why it’s important:
    1. About combining reading for learning with reading for fun and pleasure.
    2. Zach quotes Indian-American entrepreneur, author and thinker Raval Navikant: “Read what you love until you love to read.”
    3. Exposing kids to environmental print and embracing the words they see on the bus or restaurant logos around them is key to developing their engagement.
    4. It’s all about finding the way into an individual child’s special interests.
    5. “Knowing that somebody wants to sit down with them and teach them to read speaks volumes.” (Dikirys)
    6. Celebrate every success! It’s crucial to build esteem and a sense of accomplishment.
    7. While being behind in reading can make kids feel isolated, the ability to read opens up a range of ways in which to connect through shared interests. 
  4. Introducing Dikirys’ book, for children ages 5-9, “The EGGSciting Sleepover”:
    1. An exploration of habits – how they can differ and what that means.
    2. The book touches on different approaches to food choices, fun and social/emotional learning.
  5. Understanding how to navigate the avalanche of sensory stimulation today:
    1. Why kids need to learn how to manage all the imagery on social media and the responses it can provoke.
    2. “(Kids) are not going to learn how to express themselves if you as a parent are not open and free about your feelings as well. They need to be guided.” (Dikirys)
    3. Once we learn how to label emotions, it becomes easy to articulate and navigate them.
    4. “I have so much empathy for kids and teenagers today who were born into a world of Instagram and TikTok and Facebook.” (Zach)
    5. The key to containing the negative influences of social media on students? Balance and boundaries!
  6. Healthy habits Dikirys recommends to help young readers:
    1. Set aside time each day for the family (everyone!) to read.
    2. Model picking up a book as something routine and enjoyable.
    3. Choose books related to an individual child’s natural interests and curiosity.
    4. Introduce an active element into reading by doing activities like writing a letter to an author or coming up with an alternative ending to a story.
    5. Take field trips! Go out into nature or visit a museum. Look for free activities to engage the imagination and body.
  7. Tips for parents involved with special education:
    1. Early intervention is absolutely critical – inside the home and out.
    2. It’s a parent-led process. You are your child’s biggest advocate and know what they need better than anyone else.
    3. Know what resources are available and how to tap them.
    4. It’s okay to feel helpless and overwhelmed. But remember that there is help available. It’s just a matter of reaching out!
    5. Step away from comparison mode! There may be typical milestones, but it’s okay that children differ in their developmental timelines.
  8. The role and importance of collaboration:
    1. There are only so many hours in the school day before kids go home.
    2. Clear and frequent communication between parents, teachers and administrators make the ecosystem work.
    3. When children know that their parents are working jointly with teachers, it turbocharges their sense of being supported and nurtured.
    4. “Parents are very important stakeholders in their child’s education. It’s not just the teacher.” (Dikirys)
  9. Dual language learning:
    1. Exposure to two languages at home does not create confusion!
    2. Having access to a second language is a bonus and benefit – not a negative!
    3. Studies have shown that kids exposed to two languages at home tend to be more confident and outgoing.
    4. “When you learn a language and don’t even remember learning it … That’s an amazing skill to have.” (Zach)
  10. About the importance of movement and music:
    1. We’re not made to be robots who sit still!
    2. Taking breaks for movement and music re-engages kids in the learning process.
    3. “Our bodies are made to move – not to just sit still for a certain amount of time and listen to a lesson. As kids we need breaks. As adults too!” (Dikirys)
    4. Breaking up routine and letting bodies wake up boosts our ability to learn!
  11. Dikirys’ outlook on education in the next 5-10 years:
    1. The shortage of teachers nationwide right now is very concerning.
    2. Love has to be brought back to the center of teaching.
    3. Dikirys is optimistic that there will be a revived interest in shaping tomorrow’s leaders.

About Our Guest:

Dikirys Pichardo is a Universal Literacy Reading Coach at the New York City Dept. of Education. As a ULIT coach, she supports teachers in grades K-2 in literacy instruction through modeling, co-planning and co-teaching. Her work supports professional development for staff literacy instructors and assists with unpacking literacy curriculum and standards. Dikirys also authored the children’s book, “The EGGSciting Sleepover”

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About All About Kids:

AAK provides diagnostic evaluations as well as direct and consultative behavioral intervention services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. After a comprehensive assessment, each child has a portfolio or program book designed specifically to meet his or her individualized needs. The quality of our ABA services are closely monitored through program and field supervision as well as ongoing consultation by BCBA’s/BCaBA’s, and Experienced Team Leaders. 

Click here for a link to comprehensive educational and support resources. Previous podcast episodes and more information about All About Kids is available here.


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