Monday, December 25, 2006

Thoughts On Read Aloud’s For A Six Year Old

Jessica of the Trivium Academy blogged here about read-aloud’s for her six-year old. Specifically, it seems she is feeling the pressure to read more chapter books aloud to her daughter. She also mentioned books like “Magic Tree House” and the Ambleside Online suggested reading list/curriculum plan and also the desire for wholesome books which emphasize positive character traits.

Here is the comment that I just left.

Dear Jessica,
I know exactly what you are going through as I went through the same stage as you when my oldest child was younger. Right now my boys are 6.5 and 9.

I also began being influenced by the read-aloud recommendations of Ambleside Online (AO) back in 2002 and 2003 when my oldest son was 5 and 6 years old.

I also felt torn about finding the best books and finding read-aloud's that were not just not-twaddle but that were enriching and worthwhile plus of course, enjoyable.

I have learned some things and will share them with you. I feel strongly each family should do what is right and best for them so please don't think I am dictating what you must do.

First off I feel that AO is way too light on recommendations for picture books. Now there are just so many wonderful picture books and some are worthwhile also for their artwork. Sometimes trying to use only 100 year old books is not a good idea.

I recommend and found for myself that it was best to try to hold onto picture books as read aloud's as long as possible, say until age 8 or 9! For example read many picture books aloud in one day then if you insist on reading a longer chapter book have one going at a time and read 1 or 2 chapters a day (like “Milly, Molly, Mandy”). Some people may try to talk you into early pushing of chapter books in order to help build a child's concentration. I am not keen on that as at least with my kids they have long attention spans.

"Honey for a Child's Heart" by Gladys Hunt is a great book, if you have not yet read it. That book addresses books for preschool and also for picture books then also some chapter books. Some of the other very good book list books focus ONLY on chapter books.

While I do love so many of the AO books I feel some either completely did not 'click' with my children at the age or "AO Year" that they recommend. One example is an unabridged classic like “Robinson Crusoe”. Why push a child of 6, 7, or 8 to hear it read aloud when you could use your read aloud time on something else very good then when the child is 9 or 10 if they have a strong foundation in independent reading skills, they may use that as one to read to themselves. Or if you take some people's advice you will still be reading aloud to your children when they are teenagers and you can read that when your child is older and they are more interested in the topic. Once I tried to read “Swiss Family Robinson” and the old language and big words couldn't hold my children's interest. I refuse to believe it is some deficiency of their intellect (contrary to what some on the AO chat list may say).

Please enjoy this time with your daughter and don't push the chapter books so much. Just one at a time is good. And lots of picture books. Okay so now I am giving advice, LOL.

Also about books like "Magic Tree House". Those are NOT living books. Those are books IMO for children to read to build their reading fluency. They have a very different purpose than the great books to read aloud to your child now or in the near future or something you hope they are reading aloud when they are 8, 9, 10 or older.

Children do need a lot of reading practice of easier to read stuff. Those formula books like "Magic Tree House" are IMO not harmless and so they fit the bill for that practice reading. I draw the line with books that introduce more problems or bad character traits (i.e. "Junie B. Jones", "Captain Underpants").

When a child is learning to read on their own every single thing they read should not be above their level and challenging. They need a little above their level to stretch themselves and they need practice with "on their level" stuff and some even say some practice with reading material "below" their level.

Lastly I will plug audio books. It is those that I credit to helping my children listen to long readings. We mostly listen while in the car, and also as a family, then I can multi-task by driving and listening at the same time rather than only having stories read aloud on the couch at home. By using audio books and stories (i.e. Jim Weiss) my children have heard more books than I have time to read to them.

I use the public library for the audio books. In my state we can borrow from any other library in the state so long as we have a current library card in our own town. I drive to a bigger, (wealthier town) where they have a huge audio book collection and borrow them there. I also borrow the Jim Weiss stories and others like Odds Bodkin and other storyteller’s recordings.

My children also sometimes listen to these stories while playing with LEGOs and while drawing and making art for fun. I also enjoy listening to the stories while I am cleaning up or while I also am doing artwork and the children are right there with me.

Another debate with different takes from Charlotte Mason and AO vs. Susan Wise Bauer is whether or not abridged classics for younger children are worthwhile but I won't digress to that topic right now!

Merry Christmas!
(After so much holiday celebrating it feels easy and good to sit down and read your blog and to leave a comment!)


Afterward I realized I should have also mentioned the book list book that is divided by character traits, “Books That Build Character” by William Kilpatrick since Jessica mentioned she wants books to reinforce certain character traits.

I think it is important to realize that books can serve different purposes. I would not recommend reading aloud the “Boxcar Children” series or the “Magic Tree House” series or even “Nancy Drew” or “The Hardy Boys”. I’d let those be books that my children may read to THEMSELVES for reading practice and to build fluency. I would use the precious read-aloud time for high quality books that are wonderful stories that are in alignment with the family’s values (not corruptive, in other words) and also that uplift the child (and parent) and maybe also that reinforce a value or a character trait. The main purpose of reading aloud to a child is not to instruct or dictate a character trait but with wonderful stories, they usually do involve some kind of moral or lesson that is good in nature. To me stories which depress, scare, or evoke no emotion at all, or are boring or just plain stupid and pointless---those are what many of us call twaddle and that should be avoided or at least, if it is the harmless kind, taken in very small doses only IF the child also has regular exposure to the great books!

I hope the message that came across in my comment was to relax and not to push older books on younger children. Enjoy the good books for younger children when they are young and there will be plenty of time for the longer chapter books and the big classics when they are a bit older. That was one of my main goals for leaving that comment.

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Trivium Academy said...

Hi Christine!
I can actually comment, that in itself is a wonderful thing. I am very glad that I moved to blogger.

Although I haven't read Honey for a Child's Heart, I think I get the gist of it from what others have said. I will see if I can get it through the library though. I understand what you meant by too many chapter books, we tend to space ours out because "I" can't handle it. If I'm bored, I figure it makes her bored too. I hope you'll comment on the list I create, it will be a mixture of what I find appealing at AO, the suggestions in WTM for grammar 1 and what is on our bookshelves.

Magic Tree House will be available for her to read for free reading if she wants, although I am making other worthwhile books like the Christian Liberty Nature Readers available to her as well.

Did you use Plutarch's Lives? We have Great Deeds, Great Lives by Readers' Digest but I'm curious about Plutarch.

Christine, I agree with everything you said and appreciate your response. I hope it didn't come across that I would "require" her to read MTH or that we would only read long chapter books. I consider Milly...Mandy moderate length. I definitely don't want to overload her sensibilities in any way.

Do you happen to have a list of books that you read during 1st and 2nd grade for literature selections? (you knew that was coming! LOL)

Merry Christmas
(I needed a break from talking, living and breathing Christmas too)

Margaret said...

This is just such great advice. I particularly agree on the "formula" books such as Magic Tree House, etc. When my son was struggling with reading he and I read a few Magic Tree House books together to build his confidence. Then he was on his own with them.

I am interested in your thoughts on abridged books and hope you will post on that at some point. I have found them most valuable for my kids' reading practice. My son read the Great Illustrated Classics version of Ivanhoe in one long luxurious read and it increased his appetite for more, and helped him with his confidence.

Last thing in this long comment. If you are not familiar with the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome, I highly recommend you check them out for a family read-aloud. We are enjoying them immensely (kids 9 1/2 and turning 8). Great reading, not twaddle.