Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Reading Aloud Matters

Reading Aloud Matters

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?’

Blink.

“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 The Wind and the Willows?

The-Wind-in-the-Willows-the-wind-in-the-willows-30730319-630-390

Image: The Wind in 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 odious 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.

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


Stuff Every Parent Needs to Know About Reading

5 Ways to Encourage Reading

DSCN3202.JPG

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.
My 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.”
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!

Fabulous article on form vs. freedom at college level

Listening to College Writers

What has stayed with me most strongly from the past two semesters has been students’ remarks that the most important thing they will take with them from English classes into the rest of their lives is the ability to bring out what is deepest in themselves with clarity, to take that terrible risk, and to be heard and understood by someone, whether a teacher, their classmates, or an even broader audience.

Close Reading Tips

To be a good academic writer, it helps to be an effective reader. Close reading of texts is the key. I found a great set of tips here:

Close Reading Tips

Book Review: The Animal Dialogues

Craig Childs’ book, The Animal Dialogues (Uncommon Encounters in the Wild), is an insightful look at how a naturalist spends his free time. Liam, who is our animal-nut around these parts, is lapping up the delightful (and, at times, downright scary) encounters between human and beast.

Childs divides the book into chapters that each contains a single animal. He then details the intersection between his curiosity and the animal’s natural instincts… often to the point where you wonder: What on earth were you thinking, Craig?

What makes this book such a delightful choice for you and your kids is… you guessed it: the writing. Childs is a natural story-teller. He grabs you by the shirt-collar and holds you against the wall until your pulse finally slackens as he demonstrates his improbable escapes.

Here’s a sample of his terrific writing:

“The grizzly bear is six to eight hundred pounds of smugness. It has no need to hide. If it were a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey. It would also pursue secret solitude, disappearing for weeks on end while people were expecting it at upcoming meetings. At the moment, it was bold and aloof, making sure we knew we were being watched, but keeping its distance.”

The first section includes the following animals:

Bear
Coyote
Mountain Lion
Dog
Raccoon
Cat and Mouse (A hilarious chapter! We couldn’t stop laughing.)
Jaguar

He continues with birds (raptors!), moutain animals like elk and bighorn sheep, and then runs through the gamut of unusual fellows such as rattlesnakes, rainbow trout and even mosquitoes. His final ode is to the most complex beast of all: the human.

Childs is frequently a guest on NPR so you may have heard him share his bits of naturalistic advice and wisdom there. More than anything, I find this to be a perfect read-aloud. Each chapter has suspense and closure. You can read each one over a several month period, one per week, or read them all in a row (like we are).

Enjoy!