Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Weds. with Words: Present over Perfect

I dropped off the radar for a week or two.   I was working on the ARCH series, taking a "vacation", getting prepared for school - it was too much.  I am back though.

Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist is putting words to many things I have been feeling, thinking, trying to express.  I haven't read her other books (although they have been recommended often).  It is a personal journey and there is some repitition of concepts.  However, what she is saying really resonates with where I am right now.  I still struggle with the power of "No". Although this little gem helps me put it in perspective

This kind of "strength" is ridiculous but often rewarded in our culture.  Why do I act on that lie? These are the kind of lies that we all deem as "responsible" and appropriate.  NO MORE!

This is our current selection for my mom's book club and I think we are all reading it (that doesn't happen often)!  I can't wait to hear what other people have to say about it.  Here's my favorite quote:
What you need along the way: a sense of God's deep unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose.  Without those two, you'll need from people what is only God's to give, and you'll give up your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people's purposes.  

And there you have it in a nutshell: Who is my audience? What is my part?  Truly only God can answer these questions.  If I could help lead my kids into spaces where they could know these answers for themselves - what a gift!

However, to do that you have to own it for yourself.  I think this is one reason I love reading all of Sally Clarkson's stuff she really has both of these aspects nailed in her own life and the fruit is amazing.  I think I have been climbing the wrong tree for a long time and wondering why the fruit isn't what I expected.   What is the blaze that I am constantly trying to put out in my life that requires a firehose?  Firehoses aren't known for their great ability to water for life.

As this new year begins I hope to gear it back and be present.

See what others are reading at Wednesday with Words.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A.R.C.H. - Academic Habits - Chores and School

This is our last week discussing the bridge between home and school for our children.  We have talked about different academic issues and this week we tackle habits.  The first habit was attention and today we talk about chores.  This may seem an unlikely way to bridge school and home but stick with me.

Practical Life 

First, practical life (teaching chores) is an essential part of a Montessori education.  Yes, you pay a Montessori school to teach your child skills like polishing, dishwashing, ironing and other domestic skills.  They consider this the foundation of a great academic career.  The reasoning behind this is brilliant, but overlooked:

1.  Learning to follow directions - If you look at the steps involved in completing these practical life activities there are a TON of steps.  We may do them pretty mindlessly, but when we were first learning it required lots of focus and remembering. Watching a five or six year old successfully iron (with a real iron) is pretty impressive and requires following directions.  Also, because these are physical tasks it is pretty easy for students to see what happens when you skip a step or that they didn't complete the task.  I remember reading about a mom who always started the school year by giving her children the opportunity to make cookies based on her oral directions.  She would say it once or maybe twice.  If they did it - great cookies - if they didn't - well . . .

2. Developing fine and large motor skills - If you are polishing silver you are using small muscle groups; washing a table you use large muscle groups.  Because the focus is cleaning and not motor skills kids don't even realize they are developing these muscles.  

3. Tracking left to right - If you look at the Montessori instructions they seem obsessively detailed.  In fact, they always instruct kids to wash from left to right.  When they clean tables, children start in the upper left corner clean a row and come down to the next spot and clean across again.  Why would that be?  It helps them to train their eyes and bodies to move from left to right - just like they will when they read - they are tracking.  It also helps them to cross the midline.

4.  Sense of pride - In a Montessori classroom they help clean their own dishes, cut their own food, iron their own napkins, etc.  This type of work teaches children how to care for their environment and take pride in their work.  They are also serving others in the process.  Additionally, when you clean something you see an improvement, a change.  This is why some moms enjoy cleaning - it looks nice when you are done (maybe only for 5 seconds - but still).

As children enter into the second half of early childhood they are ready to take on more responsibility.  Although they may complain at home (more than they would at school) it is worthwhile to persevere in this pursuit.  This is also a good reason to consider having a pet - so that children have to learn to care for something else.

School Rhythms 

I would also consider ways that you can help your child organize and care for their school supplies and work.  Many teachers have patterns and habits to help their classroom work.  Ask them about their strategies and help reinforce them at home - organizing folders, etc.  Some simple ways for children to take responsibility at home that ties to school:

-  clean out lunch box, pack lunch
-  care for clothes - fold, put them away, pick them out, dress self
-  prepare back pack and homework to go back to school

I am NOT great at this on days we have co-op.  However, the days that we pick clothes, pack lunches and set up backpacks the night before we have class go SO much smoother.  This may be difficult to do during busy weeks but are there things that an be done over the weekend?

My parents felt that my academics were my work and didn't require me to do many chores at home. I know there was heated discussion over this issue between them when I was child.  From my experience, I encourage you to continue to expect and train your children to help around the house. Children need to learn how to manage their activities and supplies as they grow older.  Building these habits from an early age can be helpful for everyone in the long run.  Some children are easier to train in this arena than others (witness my own group) but persevere.

Habits at home can impact and support habits at school.  Think about ways that you can support your child during this transition.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A.R.C.H - Academic Habits - Habit of Attention

"Begin as you mean to go."

This is a phrase repeated frequently in The Baby Whisperer. As a young mom I was VERY concerned about academic and educational concerns. I was frustrated because older moms always focused on character and habits.  Can't you just talk to me about what reading program I should use? Well, as usual they were right, habits and character are more important than reading skills at this young age.

In fact, as you read older books about education they always talk about habits as the cornerstone of learning.  Attention is the first habit they discuss.  We don't think of it as being a habit, something that you help a child develop and train, but this was a common understanding in past generations. Let's take a quick look.

First off, it is important to realize that we start with children paying attention for short periods of time - a few minutes - and then grow from there.  Even adults can't pay attention for more than a 20 minutes at a time.  So, as usual, have proper expectations.

There are some unusual things (to us anyway) that can help with developing this habit:

-   Read things once.  Say things once.  This encourages children to pay attention the first time.  I can pretty easily read things just once (this isn't talking about fun reads where you read Corduroy a gazillion times because it is your child's favorite story).   My kids know they will miss out if they don't pay attention the first read.  Saying things once - well I have no advice - this is not my strong point.

-  Set time limits.  At home when kids are completing their homework don't let them dawdle. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and ask them to focus and do their best work for that amount of time. Then let them play or do something else for a while and come back to it if they need to finish up. This can also apply to chores and other activities.  If they can just focus for a short amount of time and give it all their energy a lot can be accomplished.

-  Switch things up.  Doing the same type of work for a long time can tire you out.  If kids have done 15 minutes of math encourage them to try some reading next.  It uses a different part of the brain and provides some novelty.  Of course, it's always a good idea to help them get a bit of physical activity in there as well.

There are many more things to say about forming this habit.  You can check out more here, here and here.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A.R.C.H. - Coaching for Academics - Math

There is so much to say about coaching academics. I just touched the surface with handwriting and reading and now we dive into math.

First, take a deep breath.  Did you know that children who delay formal math until 7th grade learn it easily. quickly and with less stress (lots more about it here)?  Of course you do regular math around the house (counting, page numbers, reading the clock, cooking).  As we will see this is because math is logical and abstract - something that is not a strength of your average 6 and 7 year old.

Of course, waiting that long is not an option.  When you think about great math programs many people praise Montessori math.  I spent a year as a teaching assistant in a 3 to 6 year old Montessori classroom and math is the very last area children are allowed to use. Most children don't start math with numerals until 5 or 6 (this is a school that starts reading at 4). Why? Because math is a very abstract concept. The reason why Montessori does math so well is that it uses manipulatives to make math tactile and less abstract.  When you lay out the 1,000 bead chain (exactly what it sounds like) you get a real sense of how big 1,000 truly is.

3 Modes of Math Learning 

Beechick explains that there are 3 modes for math and uses Piaget's development theory to support her claims:

manipulation mode - using physical objects to aid with math problems (until at least 6 or 7)
mental image mode - imagine objects in our head - four people in our family and one guest equals 5 people (until about 12 or 13)
abstract mode - use numbers without thinking of images (twelve years old and up) 

As always, some children will move through these stages more quickly - but this is the average.  Do you see why delaying formal math instruction might relieve stress? Is this shocking to you?   

Children can't move forward until they are developmentally ready to do so (sound familiar).  Beechick encourages us to "know which mode of thinking the child does best, and take advantage of that strong mode. This way you teach more arithmetic."   So, the reason why Montessori is so successful is that it ALWAYS starts in the manipulative mode and allows the student to decide when they are ready to move unto the next mode.  Beechick explains that many math books try to move through all 3 modes in one page or lesson.  They start with a presentation using physical objects in the class, move to pictures on the page and then at the bottom of the worksheet expect children to just use numbers (4+3).  This is TOO fast for many kids.

Use Manipulatives 

I encourage you to do what Beechick calls "taking the long view" - basically allow children to use manipulatives for as long as they need to do so (like Montessori).  When a child is ready to move to the "mental image mode" using the manipulatives will take SO MUCH longer that they will want to leave them behind.  If this is an area that your child struggles with I highly recommend The Three R's by Ruth Beechick.

Montessori math gets expensive fast and can be hard to use at home; however, you could get some beads during sales.  The cheaper option is buying cuisinaire rods.   Miquon math (here is the scope and sequence) is a whole program (cheap workbooks) built around using the rods.  My oldest son hardly touched the rods to do Miquon because he moved quickly into the mental image stage (after being in a Montessori setting); I expect my number 2 will need to use the rods more.

There are FREE videos at Education Unboxed with great ideas about how to use rods to teach simple concepts all the way up to division, fractions and square roots. So, if your child is struggling with a concept let them "see" it with the rods (or beads) and play with it so that they can get it.  Please collaborate with your child's teacher on this issue so that your child can feel successful in math.  

Math and Handwriting 

Honestly, older math books expected all math to be done with pictures and orally until children were about 8 years old.  Dominoes were often used to introduce all of the number bonds and were repeated until they became rote.  Learning to do math in your head (figures) was a large part of early math education. Another barrier for some children at this young age is actually writing the numbers. Yet another reason math was done orally.  Why let handwriting stand in the way of your math development?  Honestly, like spelling words, if your child is struggling with handwriting you might have him tell you the answer out loud - you write it down on a separate sheet of paper and then allow him to copy it onto his worksheet.  Again, this won't help with tests but having the numbers modeled correctly will allow him to focus on the math.  (Montessori was genius at separating tasks so that students only worked on one skill at a time).

Another way to make math fun is through board games (more and more) that introduce basic mathematical concepts.  I can't wait to get my hands on Prime Climb.  My kids have no idea what complicated math, strategy and problem solving skills they are learning while having fun.  Here is a 70 page PDF that includes a ton of math games that support all types of math operations using a basic deck of cards.  It's a great way for my husband to interact with them as well.  There are also many books that touch on math concepts, the Sir Cumference series is pretty fun.

Puzzles, pattern blocks, regular blocks, tangrams and similar toys help kids develop their spatial abilities.  Cooking with kids is also a great way to introduce fractions.  I have been meaning to read the book Ratio which is all about the patterns of cooking.  Bedtime Math provides different levels of math problems each day to help you think differently about math.

We all want our children to be successful.  Allowing our children to learn these academic skills at their own pace, knowing which concepts they have mastered and which ones they should attempt next can make a huge difference in their confidence.  In the end, we want them to have the WILL and the SKILL.  If we push and compare them to others they will lose confidence in themselves and lose the will to master these difficult skills.

Next week we tackle the last part of our A.R.C.H. - Habit formation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A.R.C.H. - Coaching for Reading - Step by Step

I am not going to beat around the bush - this is a hot button topic for me.  Our current attempt to teach ALL children at a younger and younger age to read has everything to do with what the system needs (students who can work on their own) versus what a child needs.  This is not just me pining for the "good old days" - expectations have shifted dramatically in schools in the past 20 years:

Christakis wrote a book entitled The Importance of Being Little which focuses on how we are mismatching the needs of our youngest children with our expectations of them. As we saw with kids need for physical exercise, the abilities and needs of children have not changed; however, we are changing expectations to better meet the needs and concerns of adults.  Vivian Gussey Paley after 40 years of teaching in early childhood has this to say about our current situation: 

Teachers feel and know this tension and many do what they can to fight it.  Do you see the predicament for the five year old?  They want to do what the adults around them expect BUT they are not developmentally ready to do it.  Some kids are developmentally able and should not be held back; however, to expect the large majority to be proficient readers at 5 and 6 is not appropriate.  In fact, the average age to become a proficient reader is 8 years old!  Do you see the disconnect?   This is why many European schools are now swinging back to starting "real" school at age 7.   

Some reading problems can be attributed to speech, processing and vision problems.  Children who are struggling should be evaluated for these concerns, especially by age 7.  

My oldest had speech problems and his reading confidence greatly improved as we addressed his speech issues. However, because of his particular issue, they would not even start therapy until age 7. Actually, in our district he wouldn't have received any assistance because he was not in the bottom 10% (he was in the teens).  I am blessed because I was able to keep him home so that he didn't feel inadequate for two years because of something he had limited control over.  My second son would probably also have been labeled - he has a gigantic vocabulary and can tell a whale of a tale - but he still flips letters and struggles.  He is almost 7 and we are watching his eye sight with a doctor right now.  He doesn't realize that he is "slow".  It is typical for boys to be behind girls in this area - some times up to a year and a half behind.  Now that I have a little girl I HEAR the difference every day.  

If your child spends most of his early school life being labeled and fixed is it a wonder that they don't enjoy school or reading?   As schools forgo reading aloud to allow for more instruction in basic reading skills you can see why kids who struggle are left behind on BOTH fronts.  Spending more time on basic skills will not necessarily make them accomplish these developmental milestones faster - they just need to mature.  Meanwhile, they are missing out on learning about other things and the motivation that they need to encourage them to want to read.  So, what can you do?  

The first step is to remember that age 8 is the average age of fluent reading.  Try to soften the blows of the 80% of teachers (or really districts, law makers and test developers) who seem to expect this to be accomplished by the age of 6 or 7 at the latest. Honestly, teachers are just responding to the pressure around them.  As a parent you need to oversee your child's education and do what you can to help them move at their own pace.  I am also not advocating that you attempt to turn a teacher into your child's personal tutor by demanding her assistance - they are a classroom teacher, not a tutor.   

Our goal is to help your child acquire the skill of reading without losing his will to do it.   If you, as the parent and steward of your child's education, have a basic outline of skills and progress in reading you can better assist them through this process and talk knowledgeably with teachers.  Tomes have been written on this issue.  In the end, I think the best practical resource for parents is Uncovering The Logic of English (a book for adults) and the accompanying program.  She focuses heavily on teaching phonograms and what other programs call "think to spell" - which means teaching kids how the language works - not just memorizing sight words.  If you want to learn more there is a whole you tube channel full of resources.  

There is a place for sight words (one, two, of, said - there are probably about 12 to 15 words that are honestly just CRAZY and frequent).  At first, children who are taught to memorize lists of words may appear to start reading more quickly. However, by third or fourth grade, when you just can't memorize every new word, they struggle.  Without the tools for tackling new words (phonograms, spelling rules, syllables, prefixes/ suffixes) they struggle with reading.  Make sure that your child is learning the phonograms and not just sight words - please!  I think (hope) that most schools use this more blended approach. 

How do I make sure my child is learning the phonograms and spelling rules?  What order should they be learning these concepts in? 

Looking at the "scope and sequence" (a fancy phrase for what you need to learn and in what order you should learn it) of a few well respected programs can help you get a good idea of the general steps of progression and help you figure out where your child is in the process. 

Logic of English's scope and sequence shows the concept introduced (phonogram and then spelling rules) and words that help support that concept.  

Explode the Code  is another easy to use, pick up and go worksheet program.  They provide the whole scope and sequence  in one page.  

All About Reading and All About Spelling provides a very detailed scope and sequence. 

Although not exactly a "scope and sequence" Teaching Reading With Bob books provides the phonics support you might want if you choose to supplement class work with these popular little books.  These readers cover the basics, if you want to understand why they work this website will explain it to you.  

I appreciate that these programs are leveled but not graded or tied to an age.  You do move through levels but some students may be 4 and 5 when they learn it, while others master it at 6 and 7.  So, you do need to work from the basic concepts (alphabet and consonant sounds) up to complicated phonograms (ough, tch, ci/si, etc.) and spelling rules.  

Other Ideas To Support Reading and Spelling

One idea that you can use at home to supplement any program is the idea of a Spelling Journal. Assisting your child in making their own journal of difficult words and concepts can help them master the language.  You can get a free journal here.  If your child struggles with writing you can encourage them to spell with tiles and then copy from there, this is a key concept in the Montessori approach to reading and writing.  This allows children to focus on one concept at a time - they spell the word with tiles and then focus on writing.  You can use Scrabble tiles, Banangrams or free downloadable tiles.    

If you want a straight reference book you might want The ABC's and All Their Tricks.  This can help you answer all those questions that you might get thrown at you about the craziness of the English language.  

Another book that is a bit more broad but very practical is The Three R's by Ruth Beechick.  Her approach is simple but effective.  Amazon says I bought it in 2011.  I just re-read it this summer and I would have saved myself a LOT of heartache (and time) if I would have just trusted her from the beginning.  She boils it down to the basics that your child should cover with tips on making it easier.

Finally, I want to remind you that your child will most likely learn in fits and starts.  They will seem to get it for a while and then slow down.  They are not little machines - so they will go through cycles.  Don't freak out - just keep repeating until they assimilate and are ready to move on.  

Encouragement is the main thing that your child needs as they tackle this difficult set of skills. Team with their teacher and help figure out where your child is and how to help them move to the next level - step by step.  Remember to keep reading aloud at home so that they continue to learn regardless of their own reading ability.  If you want more resources check out the pinterest page.  

Coaching the Academics can build your relationship with your child and help provide her with a firm foundation to pursue her dreams.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A.R.C.H.- Handwriting Skill Development

We have made it to the third part of A.R.C.H. This series is thoughts about how we can support our children and span the gap between school and home as they enter the second half of early childhood.

So far we have discussed:

The value of outdoor play
Imaginative play in the classroom and at home 
Reading aloud

This week we consider Coaching the Academic Skills.  I like this turn of phrase and first heard it from Andrew Kern.  The idea is that most activities that end in -ing are actually skills: reading, writing, calculating, handwriting, etc.  That means that there are steps that students can be led through towards success.  It also means that if you go at the child's pace and introduce the next step as it comes they will feel successful as they gain these new skills.  We are familiar with skills in sports and realize that there is an order and progression to their development.  The same is true of academic skills and by understanding their development and progression we can be great advocates for our children.

This week we will consider the skills of handwriting, reading and calculating.  My goal is that by equipping you with some step by step skill based resources you can better oversee your child's development and talk with teachers and others knowledgeably.  In the end, I like this reminder that you can only teach three things:  skills, knowledge and truth.


My mom constantly wonders if this is even worth our time since we normally use computers as adults. I say YES.  It is worth the time and investment.   Basically, the brain activates differently when we write - it is a motor skill that helps us become better readers and writers - the act of typing keys does not have the same effect.  Writing and reading used to be closely linked together in teaching because we waited until kids skills were developed enough to teach these items at the same time (around 7) but I digress. 

I honestly don't know if there are handwriting lessons any longer (I know many schools have removed cursive).  Have they passed this down to preschool as well??  Regardless, you should consider handwriting lessons at home.  The goal is to help your child develop writing that is comfortable and legible.  We are listening to a book on tape about the American's who discovered the Mayan ruins.  One of the primary laments of his education was his poor handwriting- he said it was very hard to correct (and he wrote over 1000 published pages in his lifetime).  Doing it right from the beginning, like most skills, is very helpful.

Peterson's directed handwriting offers support (a more in-depth look) and ideas about how to do this. Here are all of the resources available from Peterson so you can pinpoint where your child is in the process.  I do admit that this handwriting is not the "prettiest", but I find it very functional (here is the chart to show how to form vertical print and slant print). Children can develop their own style as they get older. He nicely outlines the 6 handwriting skills and order of their development.

1.  Form
2.  Downstrokes/ slant
3.  Size 
4.  Spacing
5.  Smooth Rhythm 
6.  Control 

Now that you know what skill development looks like and its order, you can help your child regardless of the program she is using?  It helps you pinpoint where they need instruction and support.  Do they not know how to form their letters?  Teach them the strokes.  Do they continue to start from the baseline and go up? Reinforce which letters are downstrokes,  Can they form their letters but they aren't the right size? Show children understand how to use guidelines to form their letters.  Most agree that it is better to do a few letters or words "perfectly" than to fill a whole page with chicken scratch.  

Honestly, working on letter formation should take less than 10 minutes a day and not all of it has to be done pen to paper.  Air writing while standing in line at the grocery store or while in the car - is another way to redeem time and help build skills.  Invest in a white board and dry erase markers - they can draw them or you can draw them and they can erase them (following the proper strokes). Other ideas are easy to come by, although some are for younger children, a change of pace is fun for everyone.  

Don Potter provides a plethora of handwriting research resources.  There has been a lot made of handwriting over the years. Concerned about pencil grip - 140 pages of research! Want more practical ides for pencil grip.  For the long term writing well being of your child this might be a fight worth having.  Here is a great overview of pencil grip development. I can hardly watch my husband write his grip is SO horrible (I know his mom tried).  If you are looking for flashcards that have both print and cursive letters here is a set of free ones.  I have also found using the "clock face" for teaching when to turn and change direction in writing is helpful. Here is another link to clock faces for writing.  I try to shy away from straight tracing because it doesn't always help the child to think through the strokes necessary for writing.  To me, it makes more sense to spend more time on proper letter formation so that they have that down pat, than to keep moving forward just so that they can write words.  

I personally advocate for cursive first (here is someone even more passionate than myself).  There are a few key reasons for this: 

-   much less likely to reverse b and d because of the way they are formed
-   always begin and end in the same spot (almost), and starting at the baseline instead of somewhere else
-   over the long term it is much faster writing 
-   there are just a few key strokes (4 to 8 depending on the program you use)
-   being able to read cursive means they can connect with the past 

There are some downsides though: 

-   cursive writing is better when they can hold one whole word in their brain - rather than going letter by letter
-   not everybody can read cursive 

Obviously, your child will probably start with print in school- most likely with something like "Handwriting without Tears".  This is a great program.  However, if your child still struggles with reading and seems to be tending toward being dyslexic this font might be helpful.  Remember that until they start writing b, p and d are all the same figures - just facing different directions.  Not so in reading and writing.  

If you want the simplest way to teach cursive I recommend this little free booklet.  

Not all children begin crawling, walking and talking at the same time.  So lets remember that handwriting, reading and calculating are similar - children need to be developmentally ready to do these activities.  Knowing the stages of development can help us identify where they are and identify the next step they need to take towards mastering the skill at hand.

As children move beyond learning to write you might want to consider copywork for the next stage. Here is an introduction to help you move from handwriting to copywork.  Truly, it is an expansive topic for another time.

Tomorrow we discuss some key ideas about coaching reading.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

A.R.C.H. - Read Aloud Discussions - 2 Cautions, Narration and 6 types of questions

This week we have considered why we read aloud, thoughts about what to read aloud (beyond standard fare) and making time for reading aloud.  Today we'll address discussion and reading aloud.

First, two cautions.

Often, we are concerned that we need to ask the "right question" to make sure our children "get the point" of a story.  In some ways I think this is pestering. Are children that dense?  I don't believe so. Children might see in stories things that we miss because we have been trained to look a certain way.  Plus, as you are reading aloud at home, is there "one lesson" they should be getting?

The second caution is along the same lines.  Often we hope to read stories to help "teach" certain things. When we are trying to convey facts this makes perfect sense; however, it gets tricky when we try to teach morality and virtue the same way.  Honestly, it gets heavy handed.  Along similar lines is the idea of "bibliotherapy" - choosing stories (often realistic) that help children work through issues. I did a whole project on this idea when I was taking graduate classes in gifted education.  Although they sound appropriate, in practice, they steal the joy and art of a story.  Dissecting a story at this young age does not develop a love of story and often makes reading aloud more of a chore for everyone. There are two podcasts on this issue that are helpful (the first and the second - just remember that they tend to use fancy terms but they are not difficult).

With these two cautions in mind, lets take a look at what we might do to open up a conversation with our children.


Narration is telling back what you hear. This seems too simple.  However, it is what children will be asked to do for the rest of their lives and it helps them cement what they have learned (and gives you a window into what they gained from the story).  As an adult, after reading something you give your friend an overview highlighting key ideas or thoughts.  Encouraging small children to do this equips them for true interaction of texts, sermons and lectures for the rest of their life. This does not have to be formal (although there are thoughts about how to help with narration- a template, a lesson plan, tips for narration, FAQs (more than you need)).

Here are a few simple, informal ways you can start incorporating this strategy into your home:

1.  Ask the child to share a story with someone else (dad for example) that they heard that day.  Typically, my husband shares what he read over lunch with my children at dinner and we need to encourage them to do likewise.

2.  When you start reading the next chapter of a book ask the children to remind you what has happened so far in the story.

Although this idea seems simple, it takes concentration, organization, speaking skills and more. Asking a child to narrate a small portion as they start the process will help them gain confidence in this skill.  Overwhelming them, even with appears to be a short story, may be too much.  Aesop fables are great for beginning to learn this skill.  Some key rules: read it once and then do not interrupt, do not prompt them, and do not correct.   If you feel that they are off course you can easily see where their comprehension has gone awry and correct that when you next read or offer your own narration.  If they are more practiced you can ask them to tell you where in the text they found something that sounds incorrect.

Sometimes, we feel like narration isn't enough.  If that's you, here are some simple questions that can be used with most texts you encounter.

The KEY Question

There is one question that can unlock most things that you read, spark a debate and help kids think through what they are reading.  This is the "Should" question.  Instead of pointing to moral strengths and weaknesses, this question helps children see how actions testify to underlying beliefs, attitudes and morality.  This is the formula (the attached brief article explains how to help children frame their own questions with this format):

    Should character X  do action Y?

Should Mercy Watson ride in the car?  
Should Goldilocks be in the forest by herself?
Should Elephant give Piggie his ice cream?

It can serve to ask very basic questions and, as children get older, they can ask larger questions. Should Edmund have followed the White Witch?   As you do this I encourage you to, on occasion, take up the other side and help your children explore reasons either way.

Comparison Questions 

Good stories should help us reflect on life.  There are different levels of comparison that children can easily learn and help connect this new story with what they already know.

Compare text to text (internal - characters, scenes, change in character):  How are Goldilocks and the Three Bears alike?  How are they different?

Compare text to text (external - compare one story to another story):  How is Goldilocks like Hansel and Gretel?  How are they different?

Compare text to self (compare story with self):  How are you like Goldilocks?  How are you different? (Try not to share your own reminders of when they wander away!!)  At our house we have had many conversations about who is most similar to different Winnie the Pooh characters.

Compare text to world (compare story with reality):  How is Goldilocks like the real world?  How is it different?  How can Goldilocks teach us some real world lessons?  (Try to do this only when the kids bring it up - not all stories need to be directly tied to reality to provide insight).

These prompts should provide you with tons of great discussion.  Again, we are not prescribing specific answers and thoughts about the characters and situations - we are helping students draw their own conclusions from their observations.

The Story Arc

If the prior questions seem vague and loose to you, you might want to try the syllabus that the Center for Lit produces for guiding literature conversations (this can also be applied to historical narratives).  It focuses on teaching children the arc of the story and providing questions (178 of them) that can help children consider all parts of the story.  You can hear Andrew Adams explain more about it on this podcast.  I personally have found that just the notes/syllabus gave me enough to use it informally with my children (and will last throughout their reading life).

The 5 Topics

The 5 common topics are the basis of all classical writing.  Again, they seem simple but can provide the basis for even the most sophisticated writing.

Definition  -  This is simple enough - just define what something is.  Of course, for a young child this might be factual recall.  However, this idea of definition is the basis for Lincoln Douglas debate in high school and college.  What is love? justice? equality?  For younger kids you might ask questions like What is friendship? What is fairness?  Then you can relate it to the story - did the Ant and the Grasshopper show friendship - why or why not?

Comparison -  The major categories of comparison are above.  To compare well requires real thought about the nature of the two things and drawing links between them.

Circumstance -  What is the situation?  What is happening with another character at this same time? What is going on in another location? What is happening elsewhere in the world (especially fun to do with history)?  Actually, this is the basis for most of Genevieve Foster's history books.

Relation - The most common type here is cause and effect.  How does this decision impact the next? This is a higher order thinking skill, so don't expect your 5 year old to always see the connections. However, you can discuss this in a story to help model this type of thinking and connection for him.

Authority -  Going to the experts.  This is for writing papers and speeches where you include what authorities in the area say on the topic to lend support to your argument.  As kids get older (tween or teen) it is important to teach them how to choose the authorities they quote.  Wikipedia is NOT the same as a peer reviewed journal article.  However, this is beyond the scope of the 4 to 8 year old age group.

These questions are aimed at opening up the conversation not drilling down to the "one right answer".  Used frequently they will teach a child how to question, compare and think about a text they are reading. As you listen to their answers you get a glimpse into how your child sees the world, what they enjoy and how they connect thoughts in their mind.  With just a few questions in your pocket you can have all kinds of good conversations in the car, over dinner and wherever the mood strikes.

Next week we move into Coaching the Academics.

Share with us what you are reading aloud to your little ones now!  If you are still looking for ideas check out the Read Aloud pinterest page.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A.R.C.H. - 8 Myths that Stop Us From Reading Aloud (and ways to overcome them)

Today I am going to address a few myths that might stop us from getting started reading aloud.  After realizing that there were so many genres besides just "literature" -  you might throw up your hands - BUT WAIT - don't despair.  

At the beginning of the week we looked at 3 reasons to read aloud, next we considered 8 different types of stories we should consider adding to our household and today we tackle myths that keep us from reading aloud.

Myth #1:  I need to set aside a lot of time to read aloud. 

Truth: You need 10 to 15 minutes a day. 

I highly recommend, especially for young children, to read at most 15 minutes at a time.  I think we picture reading marathons and figure we don't have time for that.  Save that for winter break.  For the everyday habit you need only 15 minutes (even 10 is worth it).  At 15 minutes a day you read for over an hour and a half aloud a week.  That adds up.  

Myth #2:  We should read one thing at a time. 

Truth: Vary what you read.  Try a loop schedule.  

With young children most of what they learn comes through conversation or what is read to them. We need to vary the type of stories and information they are exposed to.  Sometimes, we feel that they can probably only follow one story line at a time - you would be surprised at how well they will follow an engaging story.  For many of the types of genres for this younger age group they can be read in one or two sittings.  As an adult, you probably vary your reading - an easy, medium and challenging read.  Others choose topic areas: personal growth, literature, hobby, spiritual.  You see, we read different things for different reasons.  Kids should hear a variety of authors and types of stories and poems. 

One way to help yourself with this is to develop a loop schedule for your reading.  Basically, choose your books and create an order: Fairy Tale, Nature Tale, Math/Science and Poems.  You can choose to do these on specific days (Monday - Fairy Tale, etc.); however, if Monday gets crazy you feel badly. With a loop schedule you just read what comes around next.  Who cares if it just happens four times a week - it is much better than NEVER!  Here is my sample loop topics for the coming year.  I plan to put all of these books in a basket and pull them out (probably at lunch or dinner) and read what is next on the loop.  

I don't put our literature books in the loop because I tend to read them at a different time (a different 15 minutes) and will read a few chapters a week (typically 3 or 4).   Add what you like.  Do you want your kids to look at more DK books and other non fiction with you- add it in your loop and basket and you are set.  

Myth #3: We have to read everything right now. 

Truth: Your children will be under your roof for a long time, pace yourself. 

On the flip side, please do not burn yourself out trying to read "all the right books" and covering everything out there.  We are used to school where you are only in a certain grade or with certain teachers for a short amount of time (yes, even 9 months is short).  We feel the pressure to "get everything in".  However, they will be with you for the long term so SLOW DOWN and remember that what you don't read this fall can be moved to the spring or even removed.  

Develop a system (if you have one I'd love to hear about it) for marking books that you hear about and want to read in the future.  Right now I try to do this in the wishlist at our library and on Amazon. I think I need to improve my system though!  

Myth #4: Bed time is THE right time to read aloud.

Truth:  Whatever fits your family schedule is the right time to read. 

Technically, there might be some benefits from reading before bed.  Again, if the choice is don't read or read another time - choose read another time.  

Morning - In high school I had a friend whose family had strict morning devotionals - the whole family was up at 5:30 to accomplish this family time.  SAY WHAT!?  However, could you read for 10 minutes while people eat their breakfast?   

There is also an idea out there called "morning time" or "morning basket".  Basically, if you want to include Scripture reading, prayer, and some other literature (maybe a story from your loop) this would be a great way to do it.  It's a way to start your morning establishing what is most important to your family culture.  There are TONS of ideas about this topic BUT I hesitate to even link you because it can get overwhelming VERY quickly. So, before you click you have to promise me to think about what will most enrich your children and your family culture. The idea of a morning basket (or whenever during they day you do it) is to do things in small bits - 5 or 10 minutes - then move on.  A bit of exposure over a LONG time adds up to deep learning.  Big time-intensive projects have a place - but it is often these little layers over time that make the biggest impression.  

Snack Time - What about making a snack time habit of reading together.  Fix a fun snack for when they get home and share a good story.  The idea of "poetry tea time" might give you more thoughts about making this a fun thing (or it might stress you out!).   

After Dinner - Maybe it works for your family to linger around the table and enjoy each other's company - why not add a story (maybe with some dessert).  

Before Bed -  Of course, there is the classic pre-bed read aloud.  If it works for your family - why change it?

Honestly, if you just chose 2 or 3 of those time and did a ten minute set - that would be 20 to 30 minutes a day!  In a week that is over 3 1/2 hours!!  If you can make it into a habit and use stories that kids really look forward to - what a great family memory.  

Myth #5:  We need to be sitting quietly and focusing to make it "count". 

Truth:  Kids listen better when their hands are busy. 

Have you noticed that in old timey books they are always knitting or whittling or something.  Yes, they needed to get work done but it also helps the mind focus to keep the body busy.  So, as long as you can tell they are listening let them play quietly or eat (that's what I choose).  There is some advantage to encouraging beginning readers to cuddle with you sometimes so that they can see the words as you read them - but this doesn't have to happen with every book. 

Myth #6:  I am not good at reading aloud. 

Truth:  You are better than you think. 

If you start reading aloud while your kids are younger, when they don't care as much about voices and characters, you will have lots of grace as you practice.  The more you read aloud the better you get at it.  They don't need you to have a perfect accent to enjoy the story.  In addition to practice, listening to books on tape and hearing how others do it can help you as well.   One of my favorites to read aloud are the Piggie and Elephant books - they show you just how versatile words can be.  It's not about your great reading ability - it is about enjoying time, story and life with your kiddos. 

Myth #7:  I have to be the one who actually reads aloud.  

Truth:  Use recorded stories to your advantage. 

There is something special about you reading aloud with your children, but lets be honest we can't do it all the time.  So, what to do?  Redeem other times in your day.   

Do you drive to school, practice or other places? Listen in the car. 

Do you work together in the kitchen getting dinner ready? Play something while you set the table, 

Can't quite imagine yourself reading in the morning but know it would help calm your crew?  Listen instead.   

I like the way Simply Convivial talks about listening at her house.  Do you see how each reading is short but she stacks them?  This is what I am trying to figure out how to do well in the car - currently I just juggle this in my 6 CD player in my car (I used to think this was excessive - but now I find it essential).  If you have tips about how to do this in a car without an MP3 port I am ALL EARS! 

Here are some of my favorite FREE resources for read alouds: 

Librivox - All of these stories are before 1923.  The readers vary drastically so you have to check before you download.  If you want to see librivox recordings used at Ambleside online this is a quick reference.  

Barefoot Books -  They have a podcast featuring quite a few stories - some you'll recognize and some are new stories.  Most are between 7 and 15 minutes. 

You can buy or borrow these CDs: 

Jim Weiss - He has recorded all types of stories at a variety of levels.  We check them out frequently from our library (scroll to the bottom to see the recordings for youngest children). 

Rabbit Ears -  Great stories read by actors.  We check these out frequently from the library.  You can also download them on your MP3 or get CDs.  

I know there are MANY more.  Share your favorites.  

Myth #8: We have to read things quickly so that we don't forget what is happening and can get in lots of variety.  

Truth: Slow reading encourages children to think more about what they are reading. 

I admit that I used to devour books.  Granted, I didn't read much "great literature" when I was young, but what I did read, I read fast.  Often, when I encountered more complicated books it was on a tight schedule because it was a college course.  For some reason, we see fast reading as a badge of honor. However, slow reading allows us to savor, ponder, predict, consider and ultimately remember and be changed by what we are reading.  Not all books deserve to be read slowly - but some are worth it. Reading a chapter a week might not sound like enough, but it might be just right to encourage a child to make the story their own through play, discussion, comparison and "the wait" to find out what happens next.  What stories are you savoring at your house?  Try the "slow reading" challenge below.  

Hopefully, you found a few ideas that can help you vary what you read aloud, slow down and enjoy the process and pick a rhythm that fits for your family. 

The final subject we'll tackle this week is discussing books at home.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A.R.C.H. - Beyond Books, 8 Types of Stories (Plus Poetry) to Read Aloud

In the last post, I included two of the most popular handbooks and resources for reading aloud. Both of those focus heavily on literature.  I will quickly add one of my favorite people's lists: Literature of Honor for Little Boys (she had 8 of them) and favorite family read alouds.  Okay, one more list.

Today, I want to encourage you to branch out into short stories and poetry that expose children to a variety of people, places, time periods, ideas and ways of writing.

First, I believe in stories that have bad guys.  Books offer a wonderful opportunity to help children deal with pain, hurt, loss, injustice and meanness.  Providing only a sunshiny view will cause them to distrust us as they get older and realize that "I love you, you love me" is not the motto of most of the world.  Of course, you need to temper this for your own child, but please don't think you are doing them a service by shielding them from some of the tougher parts of life.  Books offer a great way to introduce these difficult concepts and let kids think about them in a non threatening context.

Here are a few genres of reading aloud you might consider:

Bible Stories
Folk and Fairy Tales
Aesop's Fables
Nature Lore and Tales
Tall Tales
History/ Science Tales

Bible Stories 

All kids can benefit from knowing Bible stories because they are a cultural reference in art, painting and music for many hundreds of years.  Being familiar with these stories can inspire faith in those who believe them and help all students better understand the inspiration behind many artists of the past.

Folk and Fairy Tales

Although written long ago they offer some great lessons and introduce children to themes that are used throughout literature.  Although we may not "get" them, a great argument can be made that they have lasted for so long because children DO get them and they fill a need for children.

Not only that, many stories are referenced, played upon or re-used in literature for grown ups. PLEASE read the originals.   After reading the original "Beauty and the Beast" with my then 5 year old, his primary question was, "What is virtue?"  That, my friends, is the benefit of reading the original tale.  Allow them to read other versions on their own if you like, but I highly recommend the original read aloud.  Just know that the Little Mermaid is not a happy ending - it was "Disneyfied".   You can also read versions of fairy tales that came from many lands (like Lon Po Po or the Egyptian Cinderella).

Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang has some of the most popular tales.  If you want a reading list there is a good list at Ambleside Online (scroll to the bottom of the page).  They also have a great discussion about alternatives if you think the originals are a bit too disconcerting.   You might also try the Red Fairy Book.

Grimms Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen are probably the two other well known fairy tale writers (or collectors).  I offer the web links so that you can easily see the stories.  I personally prefer to purchase a nice volume and read from a real book, each family will have their own preference.

Perrault's Fairy Tales - These tales are a bit longer, but many classics are from this Frenchman.

Shakespeare's Story Book -  This is a set of tales that might have inspired the bard to write many of his plays.  It's a great read and a fun introduction to Shakespeare.

I am sure there are many other cultural tales (Juan Bobo) that could be included here.

Aesop's Fables 

These short tales offer great food for discussion.  Did you know that the morals were added later? Kern suggests that you don't share the morals and let your child think about it for himself.  Arnold Lobel's version is one of my favorites.  In classical writing circles, Aesop's fables often form the basis of the writing curriculum for 3rd and 4th grade students.

Nature Lore or Tales 

This type of tale is something that isn't written often anymore.  We might think of Beatrix Potter - but even that isn't quite within this realm.  Nature tales are meant to teach us about animal habits while also conveying lessons (sometimes a bit heavy handed) about the character of the animal involved. Thornton Burgess wrote close to 175 books that take this approach. His Burgess Animal book and Burgess Bird book cover a range of animals and are great for read aloud.  Old Mother West Wind and The Adventures of . . . series provide texts that good readers of this age might be able to enjoy on their own.

Another good choice is Clara Dillingham Pierson.  These stories are better for read aloud because of their length and more complicated vocabulary but kids enjoy the story.

If you have never considered or read this type of book you might want to take a listen to this podcast about the benefits of these types of books.  For an EXTENSIVE list of these types of books and living books on a number of other subjects you should check out this website.   You may wonder if it is wise to read these older science books - what if they are wrong? - at this age science should be about inspiring wonder and questions and not just facts and information.  If facts are wrong, correct them.  Science theories change and this is a teachable moment. Current books don't quite approach nature with the same attention to detail and sense of wonder as older books do.

Tall Tales 

This is almost a sub set of folk tales.  Many school curricula include tall tales as a part of their first or second grade reading because they are fun and tell us something about the values of the people who wrote them.  Steven Kellogg has some great picture book versions and Mary Pope Osborne provides stories with slightly more text.


Some people have strong opinions about when and how to introduce myths to young children, you need to make that choice for your family.  I encourage you to seriously consider including them at some point in your child's early education because they reveal much about human nature and are referred to frequently in art, literature and music (much like Biblical stories).  Knowing these references provides much more depth to their reading experiences as they get older.  Another helpful part of reading them aloud is that you can edit as needed as you share a myth.

D'Aulaires Greek Myths and Norse Myths are classic works for the older end of this age group. The illustrations are fascinating and the text is not overwhelming but tells the tales well.

The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus provides a simple overview of the life and times of some of the most well know characters.

Greek Myths for Young Children is another option.  I have not read this one but it is published by Usborne, who I trust, and is meant for this audience.

If you intend to enter your children into the world of Percy Jackson at some point, I highly recommend that you have them read the originals first.  As your children become "tweens" there are tons of great options for these thrilling adventures for kids.


This isn't geography in the sense of learning landforms and capitals.  Instead, these are tales that share about lands around the world.  The most popular right now is Give Your Child The World which was released earlier this summer.  It covers each continent and provides a short description of a variety of books that share about the history and culture of that area of the world.  In fact, you can follow the reading club (a bit behind schedule) at Simple Homeschool.

If you would like a free resource you might checkout Barefoot Ragamuffins list (scroll down for her general reading list and geography reading list).  If you want a combination of science and geography you might like the Holling C. Holling series - these books follow animals and a handmade canoe, among others, through places like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and others.  Peeps at Many Lands is an older book that takes you on a narrative history through ancient lands.

History/ Science Tales 

There are many older books that tell colorful tales of parts of history many of us probably don't even remember studying.  In some of these books terms might be used that are no longer acceptable (red man, savages, etc.)  You can either substitute or change the word (you are reading aloud) or use it as a teachable moment.  These older books do a great job of capturing the action and adventure of history.

50 Famous Stories Retold 
30 More Famous Stories Retold 
50 Famous People 
Eva March Tappan and M.B. Synge have written a number of history books, but they might be better for children 7 and older.

Biographies of scientists are also wonderful for this age.  As mentioned in a recent Delectable Education podcast, often we just tell the end of the scientist story - when they finally figured it out - and leave out the difficult parts.  Biographies will help overcome some of that difficulty by giving students a glimpse into the struggles of being a scientist.  (That site also has a plethora of math books).


Although last on the list it is certainly not an afterthought.  In fact, reading poetry to young children was a key feature of education for many years. Students were introduced to great poetry in part because it uses unique vocabulary, imagery, word order and turns of phrases that are fun for children and help enhance their writing long term.

There are of course modern children's poets - Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and others. Ogden Nash Custard and Company Poems and Hilaire Beloc Cautionary Tales for Children also offer funny poems - but you might want to read them before you share them with your child!  Of course A.A. Milne of Winnie the Pooh fame wrote Now We are Six and When We Were Very Young which are children's poetry,  There are quite a few children's poetry anthologies available as well.

Traditionally, young children were first exposed to Mother Goose rhymes and just learned them as a matter of course.  Turns out I learned a ton of them in my music classes growing up!  This type of poetry is unique to the English language and provides easy and fun exposure to this medium.  This version is the one that we have - but it can be a bit overwhelming - who knew there were so many of them?   I am sure that Gyo Fujikawa's edition is beautiful (he has illustrated many older stories) and I always love Tomie DePaolo.  Ambleside Online also provides a list of poets who are well suited for this younger age group.

Students of old often memorized portions of Longfellow poems like Hiawatha's Childhood or The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.  If you want to know why it might be worthwhile to memorize poetry this is a great introduction.  Here is a great, simple list of poems to memorize by age group. People used to talk about "furnishing a child's mind" by providing the child with beautiful music, pictures, poetry and the like.  What is furnishing your child's mind?

WHEW!!!  That is a ton of options (and I am holding back)!  How in the world can you even hope to share all of this with your child?  Well that's what we will look at next.  

Quickly I will offer two sample reading plans (of course you pick and choose the bits and pieces you like).

Ambleside Year 1 (here it is week by week),

Pathways Year 0 (roughly 5 and 6 yos) - Unfortunately you do have to sign in to get this FREE list but it provides 2 years of plans.  She lays them out week by week, includes older books and new "classics", provides thoughts for reading from 1 day a week to 4 days a week.  It is worth it!!

Monday, August 1, 2016

A.R.C.H. - Reading Aloud: 3 Good reasons you may not have considered

The past two weeks we have focused on play- outdoor and creative - as key issues as we provide an A.R.C.H. for our children as they pass through the second part of early childhood (ages 4 - 8).  

This week our focus is reading aloud. One of my favorite comments about reading aloud comes from CIRCE founder, Andrew Kern.  At one point, he said that if we leave most six and seven year olds to their own devices and don't read aloud to them they become some of the stupidest people on the planet (he does not use that word lightly).  If your reading is limited by "Pat and Cat sat on a mat" - it's true.  Let's not allow that to be the fate of your precious ones! 

This week we will cover the WHY, the WHAT, and the WHEN of reading aloud.  We'll also talk about some resources to enhance your conversation about what you are reading.  

Let's start with motivation - why we do it. 

I don't intend to list the academic benefits of reading aloud (vocabulary, story ark, exposure to ideas, etc.).  Instead, lets look at some less touted benefits of this practice. 

First reading aloud encourages our children to become life long readers.  Kids are born to imitate. 

Below are two of my favorite "experts" on reading aloud.   

Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook - We had this book in our house growing up and I was gifted a copy when my oldest was born.  It is a great resource for choosing read aloud stories.  This blog post covers some of the most important benefits he has found.  One of his interesting points is that reading aloud is great "advertising" for books - it helps draw students into them.  
Finally, reading aloud to your child is a commercial for reading. When you read aloud, you’re whetting a child’s appetite for reading. The truth is, what isn’t advertised in our culture gets no attention. And awareness has to come before desire.
One of my friends used to talk about "will before skill" (this is what makes toddlers tiring - they are constantly wanting to do it before they really can).  Basically reading aloud creates that will so that they want to conquer the difficult task of reading on their own.  For most of human history reading was a special skill of the few - it is tough - and certainly not something expected of a 5 or 6 year old in the past. Sometimes parents are afraid that if they keep reading aloud their child won't read on their own. What you read with your child should be more complicated than what they can read alone.  We'll talk about the skill of reading next week. This idea of making reading enticing is also the point of this Read Aloud Revival post:   
When you focus on nurturing your child’s love of stories first and foremost, you get a child who can read, and a child who loves to read. You get both. You may not get the first part on your timetable, but you’ll get it on your child’s unique timetable, and he’ll have an insatiable appetite for stories, as well, which is worth its weight in gold.
Speaking of Read Aloud Revival, Sarah Mackenzie provides a whole series of podcasts dedicated to encouraging you in your read aloud journey.  She also has her own list of favorite read alouds.   She is the go-to girl for all types of reading aloud questions, thoughts and suggestions.  

The second reason to read aloud is that it is an EASY way to enrich your family culture. 

Read Aloud Revival recently posted a great article that illustrates the point.

Reading together provides a shared experience and adventure without leaving your living room.  You meet heroes, villains, aliens, animals and more in all types of situations and laugh, cry and enjoy them together.  Movies can do this, but books allow a child to use their imagination as they picture the scene and the slower speed allows them time to process the story and think about what is happening.  It is not just a two hour experience - it can be a week long adventure (or more).  

One of my favorite outcomes of reading aloud in my family are the inside jokes that come from stories we have read.  If someone is acting like Eugenia - we all know what that means.  Plus, as we read about different female characters my boys get a glimpse into how girls think (very necessary since their sister is so much younger).  I honestly get a better idea of the types of women they may some day marry (or at least fall for) as they talk about the heroines in stories. This extends to all characters as they discuss the good, the bad, the funny and sad.   Which stories and characters do they like best?  Why?  It helps me understand more about what makes them tick.

As we read together and talk about the stories I get to peek into my child's thoughts without being heavy handed.  There is a reason my kids know more about superheroes than your kids - because their dad listens to the history of the superheroes (CDs upon CDs worth) in their presence.  Not my favorite choice but it does bind those boys together.  Maybe the trivia will come in handy some day. 

Caught Up In a Story is an interesting take on this idea.  Sally Clarkson's daughter shares the impact of her mother's love of stories on her own development and life.  Her idea of a storyformed life encourages me and provides me vision for my own children.  Children who are challenged, inspired, instructed and shaped by what they hear.  

Finally, reading aloud increases empathy.

My first introduction to this crucial role of stories was Robert Coles' work The Call of Stories - I read it in high school and have been obsessed with the ideas ever since.  He teaches graduate medical students bed side practice and care through poetry and literature - showing that this practice never gets old.  Now "science" is showing what the good Dr. Coles has been doing for years - reading good stories can increase empathy.  By reading books that put you into the shoes of others, break our stereotypes, and make us face difficult situations, we grow as people.  However, the study found that only literary fiction offered this type of growth.  Most popular fiction does not delve into character and popular plots often reinforce our expectations, which doesn't challenge our thinking and help us to grow.  Literary fiction takes you behind the scenes into the inner life of its characters and this is where the growth happens.  Quite bluntly
It stands to reason that popular fiction does not expand the capacity to empathize.
So while it is fine for kids to enjoy Junie B Jones, Encyclopedia Brown and others on their own; I encourage you to choose read aloud stories that feature more complicated characters and plots.  As we choose stories we need to be mindful of this.  Although wrapped in a story, some ideas and concepts need to be saved for when children are older.  I have read a few books too early and just stop reading them (or read them only to my oldest child).  There are so many good choices that it's fine to stop in the middle of one that isn't a great fit and try something else. 

So change the world by cuddling up and reading with your little ones and don't stop - EVER!