Saturday, September 19, 2009

Another Love Story

Confession time. I have a love affair with children's literature. Whew! Got that one off my chest! Seriously, though, I am a helpless fanatic. I can breeze right through the toy section at Walmart without a single heart-string twinge; but get me into Borders and my kids know I am a sucker! Come on, even as I walk in the door, I almost swoon over the smell of coffee and books. I love books. I love reading. I love teaching reading. I love to read aloud. I love to listen to my kids read. I love to stack up all the children's books from the book shelf around me and sigh with pleasure. Yes, I'm weird. Now, math? That's another story--we won't go there.

A few things I've learned over the years--and am still learning!--about reading literature to children (a broad category, I know):

* First be excited about the book yourself. I was blessed with a mother who was a reading fanatic and, as you can see, she passed that on to me. Pick books that you loved as a child, or books that sound interesting to you. Every once in a while, I select a book to read aloud that I later find to be a real drag either to myself or to my kids. I've learned that it's perfectly okay to lay a book aside without finishing it and pick out something else.

* Stick to classic children's literature. Let me clarify that I have nothing morally against popular "movie turned into story" books, Barbie series, or Babysitter-Club-type popular fiction (Christian or otherwise). We have quite of few of those, in fact. However, I've found that my children don't really enjoy them. They are the books that get read once and then forgotten; or read halfway through and then found to be boring. They don't have much substance. Classic literature is enduring for a reason--children love it! Look for Newberry Award Winners, or books that have just plain been around for a long time. If children love it so much that it's been printed and reprinted over and over, then it's probably a great book.

* Don't be afraid to read slightly above your child's reading level. When I first started reading chapter books aloud to my oldest daughter, I used to change words that I thought she would not understand, or stop to explain a lot of things. One day she said, "Mom, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but can you please stop doing that? It kind of messes up the story. I'll let you know if I don't understand something."
I've found that, as usual, my kids "get" far more than I give them credit for! Recently, I read Heidi by Joanna Spyri aloud. Even the three-year-old enjoyed it and understood the general storyline. Side note: It helps (my children anyway) to listen better if they play with blocks or draw or do something quiet while I read. Don't insist that they sit still unless you're reading a very short picture book.

*For the homeschool teacher: Don't kill a book by insisting on book reports or narration. I know, I know, we want so much to have something to "show" for what our children read, but did those activities ever make you want to read more? There are plenty of ways to get your child to write or comprehend besides doing book reports or awkward narration. Try asking your child to write a story about when she spent a day with Laura in Little House on the Prairie. Or how about writing a different ending for her favorite adventure story? Maybe she could make a diorama of a scene from The Cabin Faced West. How about just asking your child what she's been reading and showing genuine interest instead of asking for a tedious narration? Try to keep reading pleasurable as much as possible.

The payoff:

Tonight, Cassie told me she had just finished Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St. John. "It's time to pick a new book!" she said, excitement in her voice.

We went downstairs to the living room bookshelves. She browsed the titles, asking me my opinions of different ones. She finally had a stack of ten or so to choose from. She looked at them and arranged them into different piles, and skimmed the first few paragraphs, and looked at the pictures. "Oh, Mom, how can I decide!" she said.

I told her she would have to decide soon because it was well past her bedtime. She finally selected A Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, and hurried upstairs to read the first chapter before falling asleep. I marveled that she had already fallen in love with reading.

Now, anyone want to volunteer to teach her to fall in love with math?