Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Keep reading

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

ReadingImage by Tammy Wahl

In all our connectivity, we sometimes think we’ve read all day long, when in fact, we’ve absorbed bites of information as our eyes scroll over screens.

Read aloud time is one way to ensure that you get a dose of literature in your day. It nourishes you and your kids. It may take some work to find a way to fit it in (for me, I started the day with read aloud time—right after breakfast). But it’s worth it. If you have wiggly toddlers or fussy babies, try to read to the older ones while they are napping or at the breast (if the baby tolerates it – some do, some hate it).

In addition to reading to the kids, though, I hope you will read for pleasure yourself. Consider it a part of your “teacher-training.” You are a much better commentator on literature and movies when you, yourself, are reading adult fare. You are also a better human being when you connect to characters and their struggles/hurdles and discover new resources for how to meet your own challenges. You are a happier person when you are taken away from below zero weather, a computer in the shop, and an empty refrigerator to the tropics and a love story.

Reading for pleasure may seem like a chore initially. Who has time for that?

Here are a few ways I found the time when I was either pregnant, nursing, or both, and managing small children.

woman-reading 2

I read while I laid down to nurse a baby. This was my favorite way to read for years. I felt like I was being given the gift of a rest each time I did it. It didn’t work with nursing toddlers, but during the first year it did.

I listened to books on tape while making dinner. I put the TV on—usually Arthur—for the kids. Then I’d go to the kitchen and turn my tape recorder on low and listen while I prepared dinner. Totally changed how I felt about that task and time of day. I listened to so many books that way (I used to have a list).

Long car rides—I’d listen to a book on tape or CD. I had a few of these for conferences and instead of music, I would tackle Hemingway or Hugo or some other difficult to read book. The narration of the book helped me press through some of the difficult passages.

I used to read books aloud to my husband. We’d read a chapter before bed each night. We read some really long ones, including the entire Asia series by James Clavell (Shogun, Noble House, etc.).

I kept a book in my purse. All those visits to the doctor or dentist, sitting in a parked car during soccer or lacrosse practice, waiting for a performance to start for band or ballet—these moments are often crowded by cell phone scrolling now. But if you keep a book on your phone or if you tuck a paperback into your purse, you can use them for reading instead.

The benefits to reading for yourself are enormous. I recommend keeping one book going that is just for you. It’s like giving yourself a big chocolate bar and eating a square of it each day. It’s delicious, and you deserve it. Moreover, it makes you a better home educator and you’ll hardly even realize why.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image of woman reading by Spirit-Fire

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When kids have trouble reading

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Reading by MarshaImage by Brave Writer mom, Marsha

Abby asks:

Where would my 9 year old start? He really dislikes reading and writing. He also does not like books that are too young for him in content. He can read sort if, but doesn’t like to and seems to have trouble with the phonetics. I have tried the chunking method but I don’t know what I am doing and am met with much resistance by him. I am looking for help and a new direction. I love reading your posts about homeschooling and am intrigued by brave writer, just not sure if it would help. I don’t know what to do to help so mostly have been reading to him and not pressuring him. I’d love advice on what approach you might recommend.


Some kids just can’t get there as easily as others. My youngest was nearly 10 before it clicked for her. Keep doing what you are doing (reading to him). You might try The Wand (you can download a sample here so you can take a look and see if it would work for him). Sometimes the kinesthetic approach works better with boys.

For Caitrin (my youngest), she got interested in Ancient Greek (I was studying it at the time). We learned the alphabet together. She suddenly saw how each letter had a sound in a way she didn’t grasp with English. Because I was sounding out with her and struggling with her, she started to match the sounds to the letters. Once she made that connection, something “clicked” and she started sounding out more easily for English. She never read readers and went straight to chapter books.

It may be that he is trying to “read” – to just breeze along in English the way all of us do, without realizing how he needs to patiently grasp the phonetics (painstaking, unnatural work). If you have a way to introduce a second alphabet (maybe even making your own code for the sounds – not the alphabet), he might see it as a game and start to see what reading actually is.

My other daughter had a different problem. She was struggling with all the different fonts. To her, an “a” in handwriting was not the same “a” as in typing. She couldn’t generalize and thought she was seeing multiple alphabets! She didn’t read until she was almost nine. When I figured out what was happening, I started having her circle the alphabet letter by letter in a variety of settings (books, articles, handwritten notes). I wanted her to recognize an “a” always sounded like an “a” no matter how it was written. Once she caught on to that, she read.

Keep noticing what’s going on with your son. If he is struggling with the patience to sound out, see if there is some other way he can get there. You might try writing him notes (using simple language) each night at bed time – a single question. Let him read it on his own away from your eyes. If he can decipher it, he can “get” whatever the question offers.

For instance, maybe you write: “Do you want a cookie?”

If he can read it, the next day he gets it.

Maybe: “Do you want to take a walk in the park?”

Then if he can get it, you go for the walk. Maybe you go anyway!

No need to punish him, but you might help him have some space to read alone without your prying eyes and anxiety pressuring him (that’s how we all feel when we are sitting with a late reader).


Image (cc)

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Whatcha readin’?

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

On the platform, readingImage by Mo Riza

Posted this on facebook today:

I hope you, homeschooling parent, are reading something yummy and wonderful just for you. Find a time during the day to get through a page or two on your Kindle or in your hand (paperback or hardback – doesn’t matter!).

Read for pleasure, read for self care, read for information, read for thought-provocation, read for the sheer expansiveness of the experience.

If you don’t have time to read, set the timer during your youngest children’s naps and spend ten minutes reading. Older kids can read at the same time. Get off the computer so you are reading something *whole*–something complete and lengthy that delves and dives and works its magic. Let yourself become immersed and discover new worlds of vocabulary and insight.

You will be better for it, so will your homeschool.

And now the fun part!

Whatcha readin’? Post it below (or add to the facebook discussion), with author, and a single sentence description so we may be enticed to look it up!

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Read aloud time!

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Read Aloud TimeImage by Tammy Wahl. Used with permission.

Reading aloud matters

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013


I spent hours of my adult life nestled in the corner of the sectional, feet tucked under me, with a book in my hands. Sometimes a baby sucked on a bulging breast at the same time, and one of those babies didn’t like to listen to my voice resonating through my chest cavity. Some well-timed nips to the nipples drove home that message. Ouch!

Other times a toddler couldn’t be calmed or a middler would knock over the orange juice onto the carpet and the book would get flung back into the library basket. Reading time over! Waving the white flag.

But those were exceptions. We made it a daily priority to read together for an hour. Read aloud time signaled the start to our homeschool day. It was the “coming together” of all of us of all the ages in all our stages, and it told us: “Yes, we homeschooled today.”

Over hummus and olives one Friday night in my friend’s kitchen (homeschoolers really rock the social scene), a bunch of my mom friends and I became animated as we swapped titles and our various reactions to the children’s novels we had read over nearly 10 years time. Better than a book club! We drank wine, we got misty over Anne of Green Gables, and had a wide variety of reactions to Moccasin Trail and Across Five Aprils. We were a wealth of detail about Rome and Egypt (easily could have talked husbands under the table about ancient history—so schmart were we, aided and abetted by fiction for children).

We also laughed about the books that bored us but that thrilled our kids.

For instance, I have no idea what happens in any Redwall book. I got through (operative phrase there) the first one (not as delighted by the woodland feasts and feisty creatures in chain mail as my kidlets), but then somewhere during the second installment, I discovered I could make shopping list, consider the benefits of dying my hair, and respond to angry posters online all in my head while reading, without skipping a sentence. So I’d merrily read along and space out, until that one moment that was sure to give me away at the end of any given chapter:

“Mom what do you think is going to happen next?’


“Um…” I scrambled. “I have a hunch the bad guys are preparing to attack the Abbey.”

Yes! That is what they thought! They knew it!

And that, friends, is the correct answer to any question about plot in Redwall. You’re welcome. You may return to kitchen remodeling in your mind.

While in this vigorous conversation about kids’ lit, one of the moms made a remarkable statement:

“I can’t figure out how you all have time to read aloud. We never have time. That’s the one thing we’ve never done in all our years. I just don’t see how it could be fitted in.”

For a tense moment, you could have heard an olive drop to that tiled floor. We were stunned, because what quickly became clear is that there were even a few us (I plead guilty to this charge) who sometimes got little more done in a day than reading aloud. I couldn’t imagine what homeschool would be if you didn’t read books to your kids.

If I had been forced to supervise workbooks all day, every day, for 5 kids, for 17 years without fiction? Without reading Laura Ingalls Wilder? Without discovering Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf or Robert Peck’s Soup? Not getting to read The Shadow Spinner or become enchanted by Toad and Mole and Badger in Wind and the Willows?

My laundry basket of library books, the wide array of reading lists, the hours spent using my voice to share my emotional reactions in real time to the plights and adventures of heroes and heroines I grew to love as my own possession… This was/is the teaching that is/was homeschool to me… to us.

Homeschoolers rightly think reading to our children is about getting them to hear quality language or to learn about history in a story-format or to become familiar with great literature. It is those.

But it’s also this: When you read aloud, your children discover your values and your humanity. They see tears form in the corners of your eyes. They notice the catch in your throat as you describe a tender scene of connection between two estranged characters. They hear you roar with laughter over an inside joke or a cultural touchstone and they want “in” and expect you to help them “get it.”

Big Juicy Conversations

And then you talk. About the book! About that awesome story and your surprise at the ending or how glad you are that it did end well. Forget that odios word “narration” for a moment (it has been used to drub tedious recounting out of children when a Big Juicy Conversation will do so much more).

You talk about who you liked and who you believed and who you rooted for to get what he or she wanted. You talk about the evil stoat or the wicked prince or the confusion that goes with a troubled character who has both admirable qualities and also real flaws. You compare today to then, and here to there. But you do it, filled with emotion and connection, and the sense of your own place in history and on the planet, all in front of your children—showing them a way to interact with each other, with their neighbors, with their fellow country-persons, and even with how they perceive other times and places.

Reading aloud is the chief way in the homeschool you show who you are to your children—and they show themselves to you. It’s the core of education.

I can’t think of any more important practice in the homeschool than the sacred read aloud time.

I’d love you to name titles that stand out in your memory that made good read alouds (include ages they might work for, though I found my kids could listen to virtually anything at any age).

Read to your children every day that you can. You won’t regret it.

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Great phone call today. Here’s the gist:

Mom: What do I do when my son retells the details of a book or movie or story, but he can’t tell me the overarching narrative that goes with it? Like he can’t say the main plot points. He rambles and gets caught up in details that are non-essential to the plot, but he tells them with so much accuracy and depth, I hate to stop him.

Her son is 11.

My response:

Adults summarize. They can pick out the main points and sequence them. They’ve read 1000s of stories, watched as many films, and are well aware of the narrative arc (plot diagram) by virtue of time on the planet and years logged reading/absorbing “story.”

Kids don’t have this background, and can’t summarize like you. They’re younger. Story is fresh for them. They are beguiled by subplots and character quirks and twists. They chase the shiny object called “weapons,” “cute puppies,” “sassy friends,” “weird creatures,” “magic spells” or “epic battles” and report all that is filling their imaginations to the brink of enthusiasm. When you ask them to tell you about the story, the most exciting, fascinating points overflow. They can’t “sort” the images and emotions. They aren’t likely to sequence events into the narrative arc. They retell the memorable moments, with detail, reliving them in front of you.

Of course, most adults have completely lost the ability to trap details to that extent. Our brains are too busy for detail. We save the important markers and ditch the quirky dialog or style of weaponry. Children can retell with amazing accuracy. We have too many digits, words, experiences, memories, obligations in the way of uncluttered retelling. We hang onto the big picture and file it under “mental notecard” – as in, if asked, this is what I share.

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Being able to summarize is a fairly sophisticated skill. It is possible to cultivate, but please don’t think it a superior skill to retelling in detail. For now, here’s how I want you to proceed:

Start by listening, really closely. Ask real questions that help you understand who, what, where, and when as the child relates the particular scene. You can jot down the responses on separate sheets of paper per scene or image or dialog. Keep these on a table in front of you. Ask for key details (names, places, why such-and-such happened).

Print a plot diagram (a simple one).

Then, with these notes in front of you both, ask some of these questions to help sort the information just shared:

1. Pick up one of the stories: Did this event happen at the beginning, or in the middle, or near the end of the story/film/book? Move the note you took to the right place on the table along the narrative arc. Do that for each of the scenes you’ve jotted down.

2. Ask the child what moment decided the outcome (the climax)? It may be difficult to identify the single one (there are lots of sub-plots in most stories). But the BIG one happens near the end. So direct your child’s attention to the end of the plot line. You can even discuss ones that were important along the way, but weren’t the final key determining factor. That’s a good conversation to have!

3. Talk about the characters. Which character is the most important to the story (without whom, there would be no story)? It’s usually obvious, but not always! The main character is called “the protagonist” and that is the one who is a part of the climax. We figure out who is important by how much we care about what happens to that character. A guide to identifying that character, then, is “Whose story do we care the most about?” Of course, your child may love a character in the subplot, but then you can expand backwards and say, “Who do you think the author wants us to care most about?” That will help differentiate.

4. Now talk about the antagonist (the character that wants to thwart the goal of the main character). Who stands to gain by interrupting the progress of the protagonist?

5. Lastly, ask about the events your child narrated to you. Are these related to the protagonist’s plight? Or are they about side-kick characters? If they are “side-kick characters,” we call these scenes part of the “sub-plot.” A sub-plot keeps the story interesting, adds detail to the main plot, and supplies a distraction or complication when the author needs one. Figure out whether the memorable scenes are plot or subplot.

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Once you’ve collected this data, see if you can put it in a meaningful whole. You might narrate back to your child all the information you’ve collected and demonstrate what it means to put it in sequence. Once you’ve done that, you can ask your child to correct you, add to it, or try his/her own hand at it! Overtime, you can ask the child to take over and create the narration from this material from scratch.

What I hope you’ll take from this post:

Work with what your kids give you! Help them sort it out. Model what it looks like when it matches what you are hoping to hear. Then give them the chance to do it, with your help. Do not abandon your child to your expectations and then wring your hands when they fail. Teach! That’s your job and your privilege.

Images: Children reading by Brave Writer mom, Kort / Girl reading on bed by Personal Creations (cc)

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5 ways to encourage reading

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Reading tips
Sometimes you love to read, your kids love to hear you read, and the whole family walks around with a nose in a book or up against the screen of a Kindle. But maybe your family has a kid or two or three who finds the work of reading a deterrent to actually doing it. They love stories—books on CD, movies, cartoons. They may enjoy comic books. But the sustained effort to read a novel is challenging. And being the conscientious wonderful parent that you are, you are now worried. What to do!

I have a few tips today to offer you. Feel free to add more in the comments.

1) Create a cozy reading space.
Hidey-holes are particularly popular. Pick a corner of a room where people are (no isolated space gets used in a homeschool family so make this space a part of the family activity), prop a pillow or two up against the wall and place one on the floor (a bean bag chair works too, or a futon). Next to the floor-level cushiony space, situate a basket with books in it (tempting ones, a range – fiction, non-fiction, short, long, easy, challenging). Next to the basket, add a small low table with a lamp on it. Or alternatively (to “up the cool factor”), put a clip light in the basket for the child to attach to the book itself to provide lighting. Be sure (if it’s winter where you are) to add a cozy blanket to snuggle under. Specify that the corner is for reading, not for any other activity. Any child may go there any time he or she wants to read, even if only for a couple of minutes. (In big families, you may need several hidey-holes—don’t forget hidey-holes under tables or near fireplaces or behind sofas, too.)

2) Write personal notes in the book that the child is going to read.
DSCN7073.JPGMy daughter does this for siblings when she loans a book. She writes notes at particular moments in the story in the margins for the sibling to read. These might be comments like “Bet you didn’t see that coming!” or “Isn’t so-and-so a jerk?” or “Tell me when you get to this chapter so we can discuss. It’s so infuriating!” Knowing that these notes are in the margins waiting to be discovered can help a child sustain attention to keep reading just so he or she can see what you wanted to say to him or her.

3) Light a candle for “reading time.”
Blue and yellow Everyone in the family reads while the candle is lit. Start with 5 minutes of silent, family reading and build over a period of weeks to 15 or 20. During the “reading time,” no one will get up to get a glass of juice or a snack for a sibling or child. No one will pull out the Legos and build a fort (unless you have some pre-readers who need to do something while everyone reads). When the candle is extinguished, reading time is over, talking and noise resume.

4) My mom’s tip for reading worked wonderfully for my siblings and me.
She sent us to bed at whatever bedtime was the current one. But she always told us we could stay up as late as we liked as long as we were reading in bed. This strategy had two benefits. First, we found ourselves reading every night because, in part, it meant we got to stay up late. Second, we wanted to go to bed to read to find out what happened after we fell asleep with the light on the night before—it made the whole “getting to bed” routine much less of a big deal and it turned all of us into readers!

5) Go to the library on a regular basis.
Even if you have digital books aplenty, there is something about walking through the stacks and getting to pick out your own books that makes the library a fabulous incentive for reading. Don’t worry if your child picks books and doesn’t read them or doesn’t finish them. The accumulation of information, language, and story from repeated visits, paging through books, reading some, ignoring others, will generate more reading later. Only good can come of it!