Reading Aloud with Your Family

Every now and then in the sea of parenting books I am constantly reading, there is one that connects with my soul and makes me say, Yes!  That’s it!

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie inspired me, challenged me and helped me dream again as a Mom.

As a young girl I fell head over heels in love with books.  I learned to read at ease at a very young age and spent hours poring over books.  Stories enchanted me, carrying me to new places and introducing new ideas.

I used to spend hours wandering the isles of the public library, pulling out one book after another to scan the back cover or flip through the pages to get an idea of the content.  When it was time to go I would painfully sort through my huge stack and try to decide which ones were my favourites and which ones I would leave behind until next time.

As a mother, I would love to see my children discover stories the way I did.  To be delighted for hours on end, swept away to other worlds and times in a story is a beautiful way to spend a childhood.

A reader is never bored.

Five years into my mothering journey, however, I have come to realize that some of my children are not wired to dive into literature the way I am.  Learning disabilities and high energy levels can throw some major barriers on the roadway to reading, and for some of my children reading will always feel more like a decoding exercise than a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

Imagine trying to read a book upside down while looking in a mirror with itchy mosquito bites all over you begging to be scratched.  That is approximately what it feels like for one of my children in particular to sit down with a book.

What The Read Aloud Family introduced to me was the idea that even if my children are never able to launch into the world of literacy independently, they can still enjoy stories and let their imagination take them to these far away places through me reading aloud to them.  Not only that, but the benefits of reading are not only limited to enjoyment…though that should still be our number one goal when we read aloud!

When you read aloud to your children, these 5 things will happen:

1. With the chore of decoding words out of the way, your children will be able to settle in and enjoy the story, setting them up to experience the joy and magic of stories.

Though it is certainly true that life requires a lot of mandatory reading that is not fun, I want my children to pick up books because they want to.  Reading aloud to your children and introducing audio books to them gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like when the chore of learning to read is put behind them and they can effortlessly experience the content of the writing.  Though it is still going to take work to learn how to read, we all know the more that you read the better of a reader you will become!  If we can motivate our children toward reading with pleasure instead of a feeling of obligation, they are much more likely to succeed in becoming strong readers.  Nothing will make them want to pick up books more than falling in love with stories.  You can help them do this by reading interesting books to them, including books that would be too difficult for them to read on their own.

2. When you read aloud you will be exposing your children to phonetically correct language which will help them develop their own ability to read, write and speak correctly. 

Constantly taking in new vocabulary and proper sentence structure through the ear will inevitably result in the same coming out through their own mouths and writing.  It is exciting and funny to watch your children try out new vocabulary and ways of speaking.  I love seeing littles trying to include big words they have picked up while writing their personal stories.  It’s also fun to explore vocabulary with your children as you read, giving them definitions for those interesting words you stumble across.

3. When you read aloud with your children you can help them learn how to make connections in the content.

This is a skill that is so important for children to develop as it is linked to their comprehension of what they are reading.  It is not enough just to be able to decode words; they need to be able to comprehend the ideas being portrayed behind the words.  Understanding similes, metaphors, foreshadowing and motives behind the content they are reading is imperative.  When reading aloud, taking the time to ask simple questions or explore opinions can encourage your children to be thinking while they are taking in content and analyzing it’s motives and meaning.  In a culture where our children are being bombarded with messages, I want my children to know how to use critical thinking to develop their own convictions and ideas confidently.  You can encourage three kinds of connections: text to text (connecting to another book or earlier chapter), text to self (connecting to his or her own life) and text to world (connecting to something in the broader world or culture.)           

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories that cannot be replaced. 

This is my favourite motivation to read aloud.  There are few things I would rather give to my children than to remember me being truly present with them, hearing my voice reading to them and experiencing the intimacy of a shared story.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, see myself and my four siblings sprawled around the living room and remember affectionately the tears in her eyes the first time she read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  That moment in time will be lodged in my soul forever.  I can see my fourth grade teacher’s classic high heels and feel the hard, scratchy carpet beneath me when I pick up the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson  and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  My husband inherited the well beloved Thornton T. Burgess collection of bedtime stories from his grandparents and we are currently reading through his well loved copy of The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel.  My daughters were delighted to learn this was one of their Dad’s favourite childhood stories.  Gordon Korman’s humorous stories bring back memories to me of laughter and camaraderie with my siblings and cousins as we would retell the stories and pass on the latest sequels.  Stories that are shared provide material for conversations and opportunities to explore difficult topics.  Love, honour, courage, grief…these are topics often explored, even in very young children’s literature.

5. Last of all, when you read to your children you will also be reading to yourself! 

I have been reminded this summer that there are few things I enjoy more than a good story.  I love when the kids are begging for just one more chapter at bedtime and I cave, despite the time, because I just can’t wait to see what happens next!  I love reading, and with five children in the house, there aren’t a lot of quiet moments where I can pick up my own books so if I can experience reading and spend time with my children simultaneously…that’s a win for me!  I also love having an excuse to pick up those elementary age books again.  Many of the best books I have ever read are written for ages 8-12 year olds.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery and Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; what a humorous, enchanting and enjoyable repertoire!  And those few books are just barely scratching the surface of a gold mine filled with hours of adventure and entertainment.  Even picture books for little kids can be interesting and fun to read as an adult.  I have loved my boys’ recent favourites; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet and Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean.

If any of this sounds exciting or intriguing to you I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read Aloud Family.  This manual to reading aloud with your family will give you inspiration, practical tips, book lists for every age group and tips for choosing good books.  I promise you will not regret it!

~AF

Working With Educators to Support Your Child

School has just begun, and for many of you this means a return to familiar routines and schedules.

For some of you, this means overwhelmed, overstimulated kids who come home exhausted with piles of homework or daily notes scrawled by a frustrated teacher at the end of the day.

Educating our kids is both our responsibility and a gift we’ve been given.  Many children all over the world are unable to attend school due to extreme poverty.  If your children are able to attend school regularly or receive formal instruction, take a minute to contemplate that they are blessed!  While education may be a “right” in our Western culture, make no mistake.  Your children are privileged to have access to education and to learn important skills that will give them opportunities to sustain and provide for themselves as adults.

For a long time, parents were fed the lie that they were not equipped to be their children’s educators.  They were not expected to be the ones to know their child best, have the skills needed to guide their future and certainly not to teach them.

However, a movement of ordinary moms and dads are rising up to show themselves as not only worthy but exceptionally equipped to be the best teachers for their children.

Not only do you, as a parent, know your child better than any teacher…you have skills, intuition, knowledge and invaluable life experience to share with your child.

Many parents do not want to take on the demands and responsibility of providing their children’s education, and this I understand very well.  However, do not assume this means you have withdrawn the right to speak into your child’s educational experience.

While teachers have long been viewed as the experts and authority on children’s education, I believe many children suffer academically because parents have been detached from their children’s educational experience.

Parents and teachers both have expertise, knowledge and insight that are important to a child’s education.

The beauty of a school environment is that it gives opportunity for both the specialized training of a professional educator and the intuition and practical insight of parents to combine for the benefit of the child.

So how do you work alongside professional educators to combine their expertise with your intuition?

1. The first rule is to give respect and then expect it in return.

Your child’s teachers spends hours pouring over lesson plans, academic research, curriculum expectations and learning strategies.  By placing your child under their supervision you are giving them the responsibility to educate your child in the best way they know how.  They have specific training and knowledge that will be very valuable to both you and your child, but you need to take the time to listen respectfully to their professional opinions and follow the procedures put in place.  Nothing positive will be accomplished by bullying or criticizing.

However, I would also say that it’s important to require that respect in return.  If there is something you know about your child that is not being taken into consideration, you need to make that clear.  Don’t ever underestimate your insight as a parent.  You know your child best and what may sound great in theory may not work practically for your child.  Don’t allow a professional educator to intimidate you.  A good educator will know this and ask for your input.  Every relationship needs boundary lines, and this one is no exception.

2. Never undermine your child’s teacher in front of them.

Every parent knows the feeling of their child coming home with a story about their teacher that makes you wonder what they were thinking…but I cannot stress enough…be the adult and don’t say it out loud!  There is a very high chance your child’s version of the story is not accurate or is missing some pertinent information.  If you have concerns, by all means contact the teacher, but don’t allow your child to hear you speaking disrespectfully about the adult they are supposed to respect.  They will carry that comment to school with them in their mind every day and it will lead to them finding it very difficult to respect that teacher.  Always try to help your child see what the teacher’s perspective might be and remind them that their job is to be respectful and polite, even when differences arise.  Teaching our kids the skill of disagreeing respectfully with someone is a valuable life skill, so if there is an issue that needs addressing, walk through the steps of resolving that issue with both dignity and respect.

3. Communicate.

If you begin to see problems arising with your child academically, socially or behaviourally or you are concerned about some aspect of the curriculum or classroom procedures…speak up.

Contact your child’s teacher and request a meeting where you can express your concerns and ask questions.

Use the teacher, not your child, as your first source of information.

Listen respectfully and make sure you’ve taken the time to get accurate information and can express your concerns clearly.

Make sure you know how your child’s teacher prefers to communicate, whether it be through text, email, a daily agenda or in person.

Most problems at school between parents and teachers arise from miscommunication or lack of communication.

Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be involved and ask questions regularly, as they will likely forget at the end of their busy days to fill you in on things you might want to know.

4. Give grace.

Your child’s teachers are not perfect.  They are flawed humans, similar to your child’s parents 😉

They will make mistakes.

Give them some grace and remind yourself, and your kids, that you will probably need it in return at some point!

You will never regret establishing healthy, respectful relationships with your child’s educators.

5. Do not assume your child’s teacher knows your child as well as you do.

I am speaking particularly to parents of children with learning disabilities, behavioural challenges and social struggles on this one.

While your child’s exceptionalities may seem obvious to you, don’t expect your child’s teacher to understand why your child may behave or react the way they do.  You have a context for this child’s experiences that is helpful in decoding their struggles or successes.  Don’t be afraid to share this information with your child’s teacher as needed.  If your child has a formal diagnoses of some kind, make sure your child’s teacher knows this and is given a brief but clear summary of the best ways to navigate those extra layers successfully.

I have found it helpful to create a personal learning profile for one of my children in particular outlining her ideal learning environment and style, what her needs are and what aspects are challenging for her.  I give this to my child’s teacher as early in the year as possible and let them know to contact me if they have any questions or concerns.

Don’t forget to include any information that may seem “obvious” or has been discussed multiple times with other teachers or professionals within the school.  It is very easy for information to get misplaced or lost in the transition from year to year.  Assume your child’s teacher knows nothing about your child and go from there.

6. Lastly but most importantly pray for your child’s teacher.

Teachers are important and play a large role in our children’s lives.  Their jobs are not easy and the system they are working within places high demands on their time and energy.  Many teachers feel overwhelmed and unappreciated by their students, fellow staff and parents.  Make sure your child’s teacher this year knows that you see what they are doing and that you are grateful for the time they spend helping your child learn and grow!  Pray for wisdom, patience, energy and creativity.  Pray for their hearts to be drawn toward Christ.  Pray for opportunities to serve them and let them know you are grateful for them.

It is beautiful to be able to partner with others to educate your children.  You will be amazed watching your child learn and grow, and having others to celebrate those milestones with makes it even sweeter.

I hope this school year is the best yet for you and your children!

~AF