I haven’t posted in quite some time because I’ve been focusing on completing my M.Ed. and its major component: the master’s paper. Play through Literary Transcendence (my title, which basically means, how children play with books) looks at three unconventional titles for young children to discern how these books invite playful opportunities through the reading experience. I will speak more on my research in a future post, but something really cool happened at home that directly correlated with my non-stop train of thought on this topic.
One of the books I explore in my paper is Eric Carle’s famous The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In my paper, I assert that the cut-outs in the book not only facilitate engagement with the story of the caterpillar’s journey, but also contribute to opportunities for play for the young reader.
My Bucca has been thumbing through this book lately, and her 18-month-old brain has been soaking in the concept of caterpillar-into-butterfly. While she was looking through the book, without my direct oversight, I noticed her carefully touching each cut-out hole on the famous spread of the caterpillar eating through an entire picnic spread. As I saw her point to each hole, I started counting each time she moved her finger: 1…2…3…4…
As I counted and she touched, we created a new game within the book (making her repeat “AGAIN!” after she reached the end of the spread). She was able to touch and count and play for several minutes before she brought me the book to re-read to her. But her play really helped to solidify the ideas that I have been researching for months. There are so many ways to play with books!
In Honey for a Child’s Heart, Hunt states, “The teachers I remember best are those who read to us each day from some wonderful book” (23). I think most of us can relate. Hearing a story read aloud can create powerful memories. But are there other, larger-scale benefits to reading aloud to a child or group of children?
This semester in my graduate school program I am exploring topics for my graduate thesis paper: a task that (only two weeks into class) is already making my head spin. This week we learned about various epistemological dimensions of learning, including the social dimension. Within this dimension, teachers are particularly concerned with a student’s self-awareness and how self-actualization can be utilized within a community context. As one article put it, it’s learning to think as “we” as well as “I” (Prakash & Waks, 88).
I know that reading aloud to children is a powerful experience. As Hunt states in HFACH, reading aloud within the presence of great writing creates a closeness: “…we felt bound together by the experience” (23). Is it the sense of embarking on an unknown adventure with others that creates this binding of individuals? In terms of the impacts of reading aloud, couldn’t one be that reading aloud has the power to create a sense of community among listeners?
But this also made me think about reading aloud in a broader community context. I see advertisements for special reading times at bookstores, libraries and even some churches. Could there be a correlation between children who are read to within a community setting and the children’s sense of belonging within that particular community? If so, that takes the powerful experience Hunt describes to a completely new level.
As I consider these questions, I’m not sure if I will take them on in my paper, but I am curious to get some opinions. How has reading aloud impacted you/your child(ren)/your student(s)? Have you felt connected to others through a group reading experience?
Perhaps reading aloud can not just bind together students in classrooms, but individuals in entire communities.
I’ve recently been asked by a few people about my thoughts on sign language for babies. Before I became a mom, I’ll admit that I completely dismissed the entire concept. I was concerned that teaching a child to sign would ultimately create a delay in language skills. However, as I’ve learned from many parents, educators, books and through personal experience, sign language for babies actually assists in developing a child’s overall communication and acts as a gateway to verbal skills and literacy. Although this is a blog dedicated to children’s literature, I’m also interested in learning strategies that allow children to communicate and express themselves. Words are powerful, not just on a page, but in all aspects of a child’s life!
As a new mom, I’m just navigating the waters of baby sign language. My Bucca is a pro at signing “please” but currently has no interest in learning to sign “thank you.” She pretty much just stares at me and my husband like we’re crazy, but we are still consistent in showing her the new sign and taking her hand to help her do it as well. She’ll get there sooner or later!
Because my experience is limited, I’ve enlisted the help of some great ladies who have successfully implemented signing with their own children. This post features the experience of Kristi, a mom of three great boys and a busy sales VP for a nutritional supplement company. Here are her thoughts on how signing helped her boys communicate and find contentment:
My husband and I used sign language in our home with all three of our sons beginning at 6 months of age. I can’t say enough about the benefits of sign language with babies. We found that signing eliminated frustration, tantrums and negative emotion because our children could communicate their needs and wants with us. All three of our boys were early communicators with large vocabularies. Signing only enhanced their verbal communication skills. In terms of implementation…I say, keep it simple. Find a resource that you can quickly read and implement. We liked, “ Sign With Your Baby” by Joseph Garcia. It is a quick read that will help you understand the concept and benefits with a nice reference guide in the back of the book. We kept the book handy so that we could reference it if we couldn’t remember a particular sign. We also showed the pictures to our children. We would try to sign as much as we could when communicating with our kids. Even if it takes them awhile to start signing themselves, keep signing to them. Before you know it, when they are hungry they will sign “eat”. Don’t be afraid to modify the signs, just make sure you keep it consistent. We found that the signing became a bridge to verbal communication…from signing alone, to signing and speaking simultaneously, to verbal communication alone. In our experience, signing with our babies helped them develop excellent communication skills and increased their feelings of happiness, contentment and belonging.
Happy Reading (and Signing)!
This is the second post covering the Tell Me Framework. Click here to be directed to the introductory post.
Have you ever noticed what usually happens when someone asks you about a book you’ve just read? I know that I usually answer by offering one of three responses:
1. “It’s about ______________( fill in the blank).
2. “It was really good.”
3. “It was really bad.”
Chances are, when someone asks you about a book, you think in terms of the overall story: you either liked it or you didn’t like it. If someone asks you for more detail, you give them an overview of the plot. Simple, right? Well, Aidan Chambers states that these blanket responses about literature actually drive children to give simple answers when discussing books. In Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk, Chambers points out the notion that children generally hear adults talking about books in terms of the general story, not about the significance of the story. Instead of focusing on a reader’s enthusiasm brought about by a piece of literature, much book-talk is minimized to merely a discussion about the plot. But (as we know from high school literature classes), books offer so much more than that! But why don’t we talk about the other elements books have to offer us as unique human beings? Dare I say that perhaps this is why children don’t want to talk much about books either?
Luckily, the Tell Me framework is all about encouraging enriching and meaningful discussions about books for children and adults with methods that are quite simple, yet very revealing and effective. For example, Chambers points out two types of EXTREMELY HUMBLE enthusiasms that children can share when discussing books: likes and dislikes.
When an adult asks a child about his specific likes and dislikes concerning a book, it is not a request for a regurgitation of the plot. Instead, the adult is asking the child to engage in a discussion about their personal fervor for elements of the story that surprised, pleased or displeased them. While the request is simple, the internal engagement a child must undergo provokes complex and detailed responses about their individual reactions and how their enthusiasms apply to their own lives.
In Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt states the power books have in allowing families to communicate: “Knowing someone means sharing ideas, growing together. It means not being embarrassed about feelings or being yourself” (76). I think that Chambers’ framework for sparking conversations about books feeds into this notion of communication. When an adult asks a child to share his likes and dislikes about a particular book, additional conversation topics will come to the surface that won’t just reveal more about the book, but about the child himself. This is of great benefit to parents and teachers when trying to encourage thoughtful responses in class or around the dinner table.
I challenge you to ban the question, “Did you like it?” when asking a child about a book he’s just read. Instead, request that the child TELL YOU about what he liked. Then, about what he didn’t like. If more thoughtful engagement ensues (or even if it doesn’t) please comment below!
Teachers and parents strive everyday to prompt conversations among children about books. Sometimes starting these conversations can be like pulling teeth. Aidan Chambers realized this and sought to create a framework for adults to engage children in reading thoughtfully and responding articulately to the books they’ve read. In his book, Tell Me: Children, Reading, and Talk, Chambers outlines steps for adults to take in sparking conversations that make children excited, not just about reading, but about talking about reading.
Chambers places equal value on reading books and talking about books. He states:
“Talking well about books is a high-value activity in itself. But talking well about books is also the best rehearsal there is for talking well about other things. So in helping children to talk about their reading, we help them to be articulate about the rest of their lives” (2).
I love that Chambers sees the act of reading in this constructive manner. Reading not only has intrinsic value in itself, but the activity can be used as a tool to enhance individualism and overall personal development. But, in order for books to have this transformative impact, the adults in a child’s life must place value on reading and engaging children in a dialogue about literature. Chambers is clear that children cannot become avid readers if they are not within an environment that supports and encourages this activity. Adults need to be available to help a child make sense of the marks on each page of a chosen book. There is a direct correlation between the richness of a child’s reading environment and the richness of the talk surrounding the books they have read.
But how do adults create such a positive environment? It starts with two words: TELL ME. Adults can prompt meaningful conversations simply by uttering these unassuming words. Chambers advocates that adults ask children to tell them about the following aspects of a book:
- Tell me what you liked
- Tell me what you didn’t like
- Tell me what puzzled you
- Tell me about patterns you noticed
These simple requests will do so much more than asking a child the most common question: Why? The Why? question can often be too big for a child to process. Chambers states that Why? can overwhelm a child because he assumes that the adult already knows the answer and is expecting something specific. Contrastingly, Tell me… frees a child from assumed expectations and allows him to generously articulate true responses.
Try using this approach while reading to your children, and see if more thoughtful and excited responses emerge in your book-talk. More posts on the specifics of the “Tell Me” approach will be coming soon!