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How Reading Counters Meanness

I have a story for you.  It’s a story about a little girl who loved to read.  When she was very young, she saw all of her family–mother, father, brother–always immersed in books.  Her father and brother read wonderful stories to her from those books.  She begged to be taught to read herself and finally her brother taught her because she couldn’t wait until she was in school to get to read stories herself.

austen reading by the window

Years passed.  Friends came into her life.  They laughed at the books she always carried, but they also asked what each story was about.  The girl began to write stories of her own, trying to match the wonder she found in Raggedy Ann stories and Nancy Drew mysteries.  She never stopped writing stories or reading books.  In high school, all her teachers encouraged her to become a writer.  With knowing smiles, they allowed her to read her own book when she should have been paying attention in class.  She discovered new authors without assistance–Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen.  She began to understand history in a way she wouldn’t have otherwise.  When stress or meanness came into her life, she had a place to go, always.  She always had a book.

Last week, my beautiful husband was sick.  He had bronchitis, sinusitus, and an upper respiratory infection.  He was not feeling well at all, and he stayed home from work the whole week.  This meant I ran more than usual, hopping into the car to go to the store and pick up this or that for him.  Apparently it was a bad week for everyone around here, because about 80% of the people with whom I came into contact were grumpy and mean.  Or condescending and mean.  Or annoyed and mean.

high five

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, then you know that I believe that the most important human trait is kindness and that I practice it every moment.  When people are mean to me, I have to admit,  I get confused.  If I am being polite, friendly, kind… why the hell are people responding to me this way?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take a lot of guff, and when a situation calls for strength, I find it.  But if the cashier at the gas station stares a hole through me because I’m taking too long to put my change away, am I supposed to stare back?  Attack her, either verbally or physically?  Well, no, the situation calls for none of those things.  I don’t know what’s going on in her life to make her so impatient–I don’t even know her name–so why would I pull out my cranky card?

get well card

After one particular similar situation, I left the store and climbed into my car.  My brain was still trying to assess the event and I was feeling confused and a little hurt and a little offended and a little like, “Why the f— did I come out in public again?”  I put the keys in the ignition and looked down at the console.  There sat my Kindle.  Ready to be turned on, the text-to-speech option almost blinking at me with its serenity.  And I smiled.  And I forgot the meanness inside the store as I remembered I had a beautiful story to listen to on the way home, and I didn’t know that woman.  She didn’t even know my name.  In an hour she will have forgotten me.  In 2 minutes, I would forget her.  I turned on my Kindle, put the car in reverse, and smiled as that wonderful robotic voice began to read to me.

I had a book.  I always have a book.

This.  This is why we want to engender a love of reading in our children.  Sure, there are other reasons–to promote literacy and good speech, to help them learn about the world, to give them knowledge.  But the single best thing about a book is that it takes you away.  I’ve said it before, but I fully believe that teaching our littles to love reading gives them a healthy form of escapism and could save them from trying other, more dangerous ways to escape.  Sure, I could have come straight home and poured a stiff drink to shake off that incident.  It probably would have relaxed me.  But by the time I got home I would have been stewing in it for 15 minutes, blowing it up in my head, letting my feelings hurt even more.  I might have needed 2 drinks at that point. haha

reading escape

 

Instead, I had immediate succor.  Something that relaxed me and made the incident seem as trivial as it really was.  We want that for our kids, don’t we?  Because no matter how much we want to and how hard we try, we can’t protect them from all the mean people in the world or all the temporarily mean moods.

There is nothing more relaxing than falling into a good story and staying there until your brain is ready to deal with your problems.  So read to your littles.  Read in front of your littles.  Have your littles read to you.  Read, read, read.

Some day, when they’re pulling away from the store with an oncoming headache, they will thank you.

Love wins,

KT

The Joys of Guided Reading

You’ve probably noticed that I talk about reading and/or literature in almost all of my posts. I probably always will. I’m one of those crazy librarians who can’t think of a better way to learn about the world than to read a good story. (But if you’ve read more than one post here, you already know that.)

May I have your attention, please?

May I have your attention, please?

The Littles and I share a love of both reading and learning.  We look forward to our school sessions and during breaks we genuinely miss school.  Sometimes we pick a book to read together just for the sheer fun of it, even when school is not in session.  Now let me explain our favorite class: Guided Reading. When I say guided reading, I mean reading aloud together, going over vocabulary from the book, answering questions out of study guides I create for each book, and doing some sort of hands-on activity that helps us keep that day’s chapter in our minds. For me, it’s the most important class we do. For one thing, look at the English language practice we get. Vocabulary, reading comprehension, the chance to discuss grammatical twists and turns, and practice understanding how the language works. The boys take turns reading every other page, and we usually do a chapter a day. If they have questions, we can all stop for the answers before moving on. There’s no confusion or passing over a chance for knowledge because their psyches can’t assimilate the lesson. This helps tremendously when we read books from other centuries like Robinson Crusoe or Oliver Twist (you knew I was going to throw Dickens in there, didn’t you?). Then when we’re done we answer both ‘what happened’ questions and critical thinking questions, because there’s no point in reading a book about the plight of the poor if they don’t know what a plight is or don’t understand just how devastating poverty was in Dickens’ time and is today. Sometimes these books give us the opportunity to explore current events. For instance, has the poverty problem been solved in our world?  And what can we do to help?

Beyond the English language practice, the activities we do might be an art project or a science experiment or anything in between. It’s an opportunity to learn more than just history and language. We can incorporate any subject into these activities, even geography and math. And it’s fun! Guided reading is our very favorite time of the school day.

Gone-Away

Right now we’re reading Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.  If you’ve never heard of this gem, let me tell you, it is quickly becoming one of my favorite chapter books for children.  You know how some authors plant you in that slow, lazy childhood summer place so deeply you feel it wrap you up and spirit you away?  This book has the stuff.  It was first published in 1957, so it has that innocence about it that only mid-20th century children’s books have.  To be honest, the reason I chose it for guided reading right now is I’ve been pushing this book at those boys for a couple of years, practically begging them to read it on their own or for book reports, and they kept passing it over for ‘more exciting’ stories.  I was so afraid they were going to miss out on this beautiful, amazing  story because it didn’t have zombies or Greek gods in it.  Solution?  Make it a class.

And you know what?  They Love This Book.  We’ve laughed together over how much they like it after all that stubborn refusal to read it.  And hopefully I’ve convinced them to try a new genre.  Hopefully, as they grow, they will be like me and want to know All The Stories in the world, regardless of genre or age level.  Well, maybe not, since it’s impossible to achieve and it leaves you with this wistful longing to be reading even when you’re having the time of your life.  And wondering every time you pass a house, a field, or another person, what the story is there if you can find it in a book.  Hmm.

Nah, let them be wistful.  So long as they are readers.

Guided reading is an amazing way to dig in deep with your littles, introduce them to books they may not otherwise read, and supplement your learning experience with a lot of fun.  There are novel studies and lesson plans all over the interweb and soon I’ll be opening my own shop to offer you some affordable novel studies so you don’t have to do the work all by yourself!  Pick a book, find some questions and activities to go along with it, and guide your littles through the glorious pages.  And check back here in a few weeks.  I should have several Lit Looking Glass Novel Studies up and ready for you.

Shamelessly plugging.

Love wins,

KT

 

4 (Great) Ways to Add Lit to Your Homeschool

Sometimes it seems impossible to achieve all the many things we want to accomplish in our children’s educations.  It’s a daunting process–ensuring you are teaching them the best way, the best topics, the best preparation for the real world.  One way you can’t go wrong is by making literature an important part of your homeschool.  As far as I’m concerned, any kind of literature, from the classics to the modern, the literary to the comedy.  Classics and literary books teach language and grammar, history and creativity.  Modern books can help your littles learn to navigate the complex world we live in (even funny books can do that).  Whatever they’re reading, just be sure they’re reading.  It may seem like one more task to heap on your already full plate, but here are 4 easy ways to fit it in every single day.

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1.  READ ALOUD TOGETHER

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, reading aloud together benefits your kids at all ages.  You can read aloud to them, which lets them relax and really put their imaginations to work.  You can have them read to you, which helps them learn to pronounce words correctly, sound out unfamiliar words, and get comfortable with some aspects of pubic speaking.  You can do both.  It’s completely up to you.  We read a chapter a day aloud together here at Lit Mama, and we kind of mix it up.  Some days the boys take turns reading alternating pages, some days I read to them, and some days all three of us alternate.  I don’t intend to take reading aloud out of our curriculum until they’ve graduated.  It is a time during our school day that is almost outside everything else.  We are transported to another world, have discussions that don’t feel like learning, and get to focus on being together.  Some days we read aloud in our classroom, some days we cuddle up on the couch for reading.  It’s probably our favorite time of the homeschool day.

2. ASSIGN PARTICULAR BOOKS FOR YOUR CHILDREN TO READ ON THEIR OWN

Another way I make sure they get plenty of reading in is to assign them extracurricular books each year.  They have a specified time in which to read them, then they have to give me a book report.  Then it’s on to the next book.  This has worked so well that they have both begun to read novels well beyond their ‘grade level’ (whatever that is) on their own.  On top of their assigned books and the book we are reading aloud in class.  Makes me one proud mama!

3. ASSIGN A SPECIFIC AMOUNT OF TIME FOR DAILY READING

You can end your school day with half an hour of required reading.  Or 15 minutes.  Or an hour.  You know your kids best, you know how long they’ll be able to sit still.  Always add five minutes to that number.  It teaches patience.  This will not only keep them reading, it might give you the time to finish the dishes.  Or check your email.  Or close your eyes and breathe.  The Littles are allowed to read their assigned books whenever they want, so long as they finish them within the allotted time.  You can bet your boots I had this idea on standby, though, in case they blew it off.

4. USE LIVING BOOKS IN YOUR CURRICULUM

Living books are simply books that teach in a more conversational way than texts.  They often come across more like stories than factual material, but they are, indeed, full of facts about the subject.  You can go over to Simply Charlotte Mason for a list of hundreds of living books separated by topic, or you can troll your own library for books that are both fictional and factual.  I hate to harp on Charles Dickens again (okay, no I don’t), but A Tale of Two Cities is a great resource for the French Revolution.  You might be surprised at how many novels are also teachers.  Watership Down is full of real information about rabbits.  The Wind in the Willows teaches about river wildlife.  Catching on?  Yeah, that’s the stuff.  That is definitely the good stuff.

MAKE SURE THEY ARE REALLY READING

There are several ways you can do this.  Have them keep a simple reading log.  Have them write book reports, like I do.  The Littles have to write them in essay form now, but I made up a book report form that they had to fill out in past years.  It’s available as a free download on my Freebies page (scroll to the bottom; I swear, it’s there!).  You could also use a blank notebooking template and have them notebook their books as they read.  Any of these suggestions will not only show you that they’re reading, but help them more fully comprehend what they’re reading about.

Here’s the thing.  You know I crush on literature more than anything else in the world.  That is because I fully believe that no matter how educated I am through schools, nothing I learned in college or anywhere else compares to what I’ve learned from being a lifelong reader.  Engender that in your littles, and you will have given them the greatest gift imaginable–the ability to think intelligently and speak with knowledge.

Now That is the stuff.

Love wins,

KT

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Teach Them to be Wordsmiths

As we meander through Asia this year, I have happened upon a book that is perfect for our purposes, quite by accident.  I knew this book existed, but it hadn’t occurred to me to include it in our studies.  Fortunately, the Fates were with me, and we have begun reading Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court by Anna Leonowens.  The book the King and I is based on.  Fabulous.  I got it for a couple bucks for Kindle, and since the Littles’ tablets are hooked to my Kindle account, we can all read along together.

King and I

When I came across it, I had no idea the luxe world of words I was getting us into.  But I am quite satisfied with the result.  See, Anna wrote her memoirs in the mid-19th century.  The century that gave us Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and the Romantic poets.  A time when the only form of long-distance communication was letter writing and authors were True Wordsmiths.

Credit line (HTML Code): © Iurii Sokolov | Dreamstime.com     Title: Old love letter Description: Love letter and antique quill on a black background Photo taken on: March 26th, 2010     ID:     13697480     Level:     3     Views :     389     Downloads:     5     Model released:     NO     Content filtered:     NO Keywords (Report | Suggest) fashioned pen paper nostalgia copy old history handwriting love quill romance calligraphy letter manuscript antique mail reading retro writing memories

The definition of a wordsmith is a skilled user of words.  One of the reasons Charles Dickens is my Dead-Author Boyfriend is that he was, indeed, a skilled user of words.  Luxurious, meaningful, true words.  The kind that rarely get used in today’s mass market writing world.  The kind that a lot of kids today have replaced with acronyms and misspellings.  I love reading 19th century books because I am taken back to a time when words meant something, when they could be truly tasted and savored as they were read.  I want my Littles to have that same experience.

Anna Leonowens was a true wordsmith.  Take a look at this sample in which Leonowens is describing her first view as her ship leaves the ocean to enter the Meinam River:

On the other [bank], which at first I took for a floating shrine of white marble, is perhaps the most unique and graceful object of architecture in Siam; shining like a jewel on the broad bosom of the river, a temple all of purest white, its lofty spire, fantastic and gilded, flashing back the glory of the sun, and duplicated in shifting, quivering shadows on the limpid waters below.  Add to these the fitful ripple of the coquettish breeze, the burnished blazonry of the surrounding vegetation, the budding charms of spring joined to the the sensuous opulence of autumn, and you have a scene of lovely glamour it were but vain impertinence to describe.

Vain impertinence, indeed.  Have you ever read a description that took you Straight There any better than that?  This.  This is what I want my Littles to learn about Asia.  How it inspires such words.

The other thing I hope they learn from reading this book is how to use words to say what they really mean.  There’s nothing I hate worse than when I use a word that means what I’m saying and a listener acts like I’m the idiot for using it, when he is the one who doesn’t understand it.  Let’s keep it simple and say I use the word, ‘hulking.’  And someone says, “What the hell does that even mean?”  And I say, “You know, big and imposing.”  And they say (condescendingly), “Why didn’t you just say big?”  Well, because I didn’t mean big.  I meant hulking.  And how am I the idiot here?

Hmm.  Kind of got off on a rant of my own.

My point is, if you want to teach your homeschoolers about Really Using the Language, you can’t go wrong with introducing them to 19th century novels and autobiographies.  If you feel they aren’t quite ready for Leonowens, try Black Beauty or Alice in Wonderland.  (Alice, by the way, is also a great way to introduce them to way authors can invent words that become part of everyday language.)

I mean, is it nerdy to be a wordsmith?  Maybe.  Some of my friends certainly tell me it is.  But I would rather my Littles at least know how to be a wordsmith than grow up thinking BTW is a word.  Right?

We forget, in this visual world, that words have power.  It is up to us to give our littles the tools to be able to use them.  So read lots of 19th century books.  It will give your littles a hulking vocabulary.

Love wins,

KT

P.S.  I just found this great blog called Small World at Home that has an 11-part lesson plan on wordsmithery.  Check it out if you want to add writing lessons to cement what your littles are reading.  I didn’t go all the way through it, but Sarah offers some great ideas.