Entries Tagged 'Books and Reading' ↓

Finding a voice

Eudora Welty, fiction writing, perspective

WHEN we are young, our own voice seems loudest and most important. Then, we grow older and something happens. The world is no longer a show for our benefit, but rather a stage where each of us has a part to play. Finding a voice is the process of discovering that unique part.

For author Eudora Welty, finding a voice required all her courage and honesty as a freshly-minted college graduate in the heart of the Great Depression.

Aware of the World

At sixteen, Eudora entered a Mississippi women’s state college. Overcrowded, underfunded, and bursting with old traditions, the school offered her a firsthand look at a lively variety of personalities and backgrounds. Her longing for somewhere distant led her to the University of Wisconsin in her junior year. After attending grad school at Columbia University, it was time for Eudora to come home; her father had died, and the Great Depression hung over the nation like a gray cloud.

Working at her first full-time job, Eudora canvassed her home state with paper, pencil, and camera as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration. Noisy girls in a college dorm had been a mere taste of life compared to the people she now met in their local communities and on their native land. Storing scenes and descriptions in her memory—and saving each spare dollar for trips to New York City—Eudora dreamed of the day when an editor would publish her stories.

On those trips to New York, Eudora slowly became conscious of a change time had wrought within her. As a child in a sleeper car with her father, she had listened to the sounds of the night from a bunk enfolded by thick green curtains. She had peered out the window at distant houses with light in the doorways, never considering that those continued to exist when she and her train car had passed. Now, as an adult, her perspective had shifted. In the tumultuous years of World War II, a quiet soldier stepped off her train into the sunset of a Tennessee valley. Eudora recalls, “I felt us going out of sight for him, diminishing and soon to be forgotten.”

Perhaps your son or daughter will begin college this fall, with opportunities abounding to interact with new cultures or serve in new neighborhoods. The coming school year might bring a first job, first mission trip, or first time traveling alone by plane. Each step lets your child discover a wider world, where self grows smaller and others matter more.

Finding a Voice

Eudora Welty found her passion for writing in college, but spent years developing her voice. She wanted to write fiction, something her mother adored and her father had questioned. He represented the critic who claims fiction must be a waste of time because it is not true. Developing her craft, Eudora found that fiction can hold truths of human life, even if the details and chronology are not historically true. Having gained perspective into the wider world, she endowed her characters with the truth of human feelings, experiences, and relationships she had observed.

Working behind a camera, Eudora learned that we must always be ready: “Life doesn’t hold still.” Writing allowed her to capture some of that transience, and it helped her see connections between young and old, past and present, reality and perception. Each time she began a new story, her respect for the complexity of human beings—and for the threads that bind us together—grew deeper.

After years of patiently fine-tuning her skills, Miss Welty found an enthusiastic editor. Your children, likewise, are learning skills today that will help them move forward in the world tomorrow. Don’t let them get discouraged if they can’t see the end goal. Someday, they’ll look back and appreciate the preparation.

Daring to Live

Concluding her memoir of a sheltered life, Eudora Welty sums up her experience:

“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way of becoming a part of it.”

From a toddler’s first steps to a college freshman’s orientation week, the journeys your children take will continually mold their view of the world and their sense of mission in it. They may find a voice someday through teaching, architecture, culinary arts, or any other avenue. In the meantime, love them. Encourage them. Through bittersweet changes, through the heartache of parting, your children will remember your unwavering support—and they will know that love is the strongest force in the world.

Part 1: How Listening Can Inspire a Love of Words

Part 2: Learning to See

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Vestman, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Learning to see

descriptive language, Eudora Welty, observation, reading

In her memoir One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty invites us to ponder the connections between childhood memories and the mature creative process.

Miss Welty reminds us of a profound yet simple truth: if you want to raise a writer, you must teach your child how to read. Reading, however, goes far beyond printed words on a page, as we find in Part 2, “Learning to See.”

Reading the Natural World

In the early days of automobiles, when babies bounced across the country on their mothers’ laps, Eudora Welty spent summer road trips with her legs outstretched over suitcases in the back seat. Her family drove long miles from their Mississippi home to visit Grandma Andrews in West Virginia and Grandpa Welty in Ohio. Eudora recalls:

“I rode as a hypnotic, with my set gaze on the landscape that vibrated past at twenty-five miles an hour.”

Winding roads and rugged ferry boats led the family car to its first destination: a West Virginia mountain top with a weather-beaten house, built by the grandfather who had once impressed many a jury with his oratory and spun plenty of tall tales to tease his wife. The road trip would continue, bearing the family across the state line to the north where—as Eudora’s mother pointed out—the barns were all bigger than the houses. Exploring the Welty farm, with its apple orchard, pasture, corn and wheat fields, young Eudora discovered that “Grandpa’s barn was bigger than his house.”

Just as the best landscape artists work from life, the best writers see life with open eyes. Your children can’t journal about changing tides and swooping gulls on the beach if they won’t take the time to smell, to listen, to look around and watch. They cannot write about an afternoon spent at the museum if they walked through the halls and never bothered to notice anything.

We are all riddled with distractions that hinder us from truly seeing. Perhaps we ought to take a cue from the Welty family’s road trip of yesteryear, and try driving with the radio turned off, the DVD player removed, and the handheld devices off limits. Allow your children the boredom and wonder of fifteen minutes—or one hour or two—simply looking out the window. Adopt this habit, and over time they may be eagerly describing the changing skyline of your city, the changing colors of the seasons, and all the other curious, delightful things they were finally able to see.

Reading People

Cross-country trips enabled Eudora Welty to see not only new landscapes, but new facets of her parents and relatives as well. She came to understand her mother as the brave woman who, at only fifteen years old, had escorted a dying father to a hospital by way of frozen lake and train, and had soon after taught school to pupils older than herself.

Eudora learned to sense the changing atmosphere when her father entered a room where five banjo-loving uncles eyed him as the man who took their sister away. Eudora attached great significance to her mother’s childhood home in the mountains, where lonely echoes remind you of things out of sight but never really far away. When her mother’s eyesight grew dim in later years, and their family’s happiest times seemed far distant, Eudora relearned the lesson from her mother and the mountains: “emotions do not grow old.”

It’s easy to separate the children from the adults when friends come calling or extended family fills the house at holiday time. I encourage you, whenever possible, to include your children in adult gatherings and conversations. At first, your little ones may not understand or contribute much, but over time children learn to read people and the situations they create.

With this background in reading both people and nature, your sons and daughters will one day write in a way that cuts to the heart of an argument and, more importantly, touches the heart of all who read.

Part 1: How Listening Can Inspire a Love of Words

Part 3: Finding a Voice

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy

Photo: Lori H. Designs, courtesy of Creative Commons.

How listening can inspire a love of words

 listening, love of words, Eudora Welty

Winding my way through a used bookstore last month, I came across a slim paperback called One Writer’s BeginningsIn this evocative memoir, author Eudora Welty (1909-2001) describes the impressions and experiences that shaped her childhood in the American South. She has much to teach about the learning process of children who later appreciate words and stories. Today, let’s step into her world and examine Part I, “Listening.”

Home Life

Looking back on her life in Jackson, Mississippi, Miss Welty recalls: “Childhood’s learning is made up of moments.” Those moments began in her home, watching the full moon rise over the front yard or being wakened for an eclipse during the velvety black night. Her love of stories began long before she could read, with the sight of illuminated letters in fairy tale books and the sound of her mother reading aloud.

In the bedroom rocking chair, in the fire-warmed dining room, or in the kitchen on butter-churning day, Eudora knew that any time or place was ripe for reading aloud. Of course, the future novelist listened for stories as much as she listened to them. While neighbor ladies gossiped on Sunday drives, and while the family seamstress weaved tales through a mouth full of pins, Eudora basked in a world of drama and scenes. Naturally, during several months of bed rest, the young girl read storybooks by day and soaked in the hushed conversation of her parents by night.

Learning happens when we least expect it, for children are always listening. The stories we tell, and the stories they read, should be good ones.

School Days

In a time when honor-roll grades made local news, Eudora Welty grew up with wild suspense, wondering when can I go to school? By age five, her days were regulated by the brass bell of the principal at Jefferson Davis Grammar School. The bubbly singing teacher, taciturn art instructor, and no-nonsense physical education classes left their marks on her memory. It was her high school Latin teacher, however, who fed her soul’s growing love for grammar—her “bone fide alliance with words in their true meaning.”

Eudora learned to respect the well-built sentence as something beautiful and solid, like the State capitol building at the top of her street. The marble floors of the Capitol became her daily path to school and to the library, where the booming voice of an ever-watching librarian could never silence Eudora’s devotion to books. Both marble floors and grammar studies would pave the way for this young girl’s budding talent with words.

Your child’s road to writing may begin at the library, or perhaps a foreign language will spark a full understanding of the way English works. Whatever your method, never stop building; someday, your child’s writing will be solid and beautiful.

Words of Faith

Tender, joyful, silly, and sad, words filled Eudora Welty’s childhood as her mother sang lullabies and her little brothers learned to laugh. The girl discovered new words all the time, while she listened to her father’s dictation machine or watched silent-film pantomimes and captions in the movie theater.

Listening went hand in hand with movement and dance when the words spilled out from musical phonograph records or from the cheery choruses of Methodist Sunday School hymns. As a mature writer looking backward, Eudora felt most blessed to have grown up in the atmosphere of the old King James Bible. Its cadence and poetry would shape many Southern writers for the rest of their lives.

The words swirling around your children come from not only books and school, but from parents and siblings, movies and music. Whether words of entertainment or words of faith, they ought to be uplifting, inspiring, and life-affirming. With this background, your grown children might just one day echo Eudora Welty: “the act of writing in itself brings me happiness.”

Part 2: Learning to See

Part 3: Finding a Voice

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.

Photo: Mary Margret, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Cultivating a love of reading {and giveaway!)

books, bookstore, love of reading

By Daniella Dautrich

WHEN your child opens a book, does she find a dull and lifeless heap of words? Or, does she see a portal to new ideas and creative adventures?

As a homeschooling parent, one of the best gifts you can impart to your children is a genuine love of reading. There are so many ways to do this, from building a strong reading foundation to working on reading skills.

Today, let’s explore three more ways to cultivate a lifelong love of reading.

A Child’s Bookcase

When my brother and I were young, our parents gave each of us a tall bookcase for our bedrooms. Mine was clean white particleboard. It had a middle shelf for chapter books, a lower shelf for picture books, and room to spare for dolls and knickknacks. Over time, my stacks of fiction, poetry, and reference books grew, while toys were quietly donated or packed away.

I grew up believing that bookcases–and book collections that never stopped growing–were part of normal family life. Just imagine my surprise when I babysat in homes where a few toddler board books and scattered sci-fi novels were the only books around! To this day, shelves full of biographies and classics mean home to me. I take pride in these treasures and know it all started with my very own bookcase. {Thanks, Mom and Dad!}

Bookstore Outings

Our family loved to visit bookstores, where we spent hours on end. These trips might have a stated purpose (to purchase new journals or Christmas gifts for the uncles), or they might be spur-of-the-moment capstones to special restaurant dinners. My parents would buy their coffees, and I would dart straight back to the enchanted corners of the children’s section.

Those timeless hours let me fall in love with books over and over again. Before I had laptop computers and Amazon wish lists, I always knew exactly which book or paper-doll set I wanted for Christmas. I could choose just the right paperback to buy for a friend’s birthday. I had seen it, read it, and touched it in the bookstore.

The Reading Tree

One year, my mom transformed a 3- by 4-foot bulletin board into an impressive piece of fall foliage. Crumpled brown paper, pinned and stapled in place, became a tree trunk and branches. Paper leaves, neatly cut and stacked, stood at the ready. Now, whenever my brother or I read a new book, we could add a leaf to the reading tree.

You can contribute to your children’s love of reading with an autumn-inspired family reading tree of your own!

  • Cut out green, red, orange, and yellow leaves from a free printable template.
  • Explain to your children which books will count for the reading tree and which books won’t. For example: “Only non-text books at or above your grade level.”
  • When your child finishes reading a book, ask them to write the title and author’s name on a leaf. If you haven’t assigned a specific leaf or marker color to each child, always have them add their initials.
  • Watch your child’s reading skills soar—and your homemade reading tree will grow in no time!

WriteShop’s Reading & Writing Gift-Basket Giveaway

WriteShop writing basket

WriteShop is joining in the iHomeschool Network Back to School Toolkits bloghop! We believe reading and writing go hand in hand, so our winner will receive:

…gift basket valued around $50!

Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

* See my complete giveaway rules
* No purchase necessary.
* All giveaways are void where prohibited.
* age 18 and older.
* Winners are chosen randomly, by Rafflecopter.
* Unless otherwise stated, winners have 72 hours from the close of the giveaway to claim their prize. If the prize is not claimed within 72 hours, an alternate winner will be selected.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check out the other Back to School Toolkits!
iHN Back-to-School Giveaway

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.

Bookstore photo: MIKI Yoshihito, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Celebrating Children’s Book Week

Children's Book Week 2013

THIS week, May 13-19, is Children’s Book Week. It’s the perfect time to revisit old favorites, and perhaps to add a few new titles to your family library. Of course, with new books pouring off the press every year, it can be hard to sort through all the rubbish. How’s a parent to find the rare jewels of children’s literature?

C. S. Lewis, creator of Chronicles of Narnia, left this wise advice:

“I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last…. It certainly is my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” (Of Other Worlds)

Let’s Celebrate Children’s Book Week

Young, developing minds and blossoming hearts need nourishment through stories of enduring quality. Reading material should be more than just “age-appropriate.” Are your children’s books filled with noble characters, strong vocabulary, and beautiful artwork? As a homeschool graduate, I’m grateful my parents filled their home with books their children and grandchildren will return to again and again.

If you want to introduce your children to some classic titles, these book lists are an excellent place for inspiration. Happy reading!

Newbery Winners

Since 1922, the annual John Newbery Medal has honored American authors for their distinguished contributions to children’s literature. The winner’s circle includes Lois Lowry (The GiverNumber the Stars), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), Scott O’Dell (Island of the Blue Dolphins), and Hugh Lofting (The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle).

Take a moment to read the complete list of Newbery Medal winners.

Caldecott Winners

Beginning in 1938, the Randolph Caldecott Medal has been awarded to an illustrator for the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.” It’s been said that teachers love the Newbery Medal books, but children love the Caldecott winners! I still remember my childish delight at Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. At Christmastime, nothing could parallel the magic of my mother’s voice and Chris Van Allsburg’s paintings as we read aloud from The Polar Express.

See if you recognize some of your family favorites in this list of Caldecott Medal winners.

Classics for the Christian Homeschool Family

The twenty-five moms who compiled this list are the first to admit some of your favorite books may be missing, and not all of their recommendations will suit your family. This is an extensive list, but don’t be overwhelmed. The books are broken up by grade level and divided into sections such as “Anthologies and Poetry,” “Holiday Books,” “Picture Books,” and “Literature.”

Enjoy making your next library wish list from the 1000 Good Books List and celebrate Children’s Book Week all year long!

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.

Photo: John Morgan, courtesy of Creative Commons.


10 tips to improve your child’s reading skills

Whether your child is falling behind or you want to give her a headstart in reading, here are some easy things you can do to improve reading skills.

YOU’VE PROBABLY HEARD a dozen times that reading and writing often go hand-in-hand. So to raise kids who can write, it only makes sense that reading should be a big part of their lives!

Children develop at very different rates, so the speed at which they learn to read can vary widely. Whether you’re concerned that your child is falling behind, or you simply want to give her a head start in reading so she has the best possible chance in life, there are a number of easy things you can do to improve reading skills.

1. Read together every day

The best thing you can do is read daily with your child. If she is a reluctant reader, you could take turns reading pages or sentences, depending on her age. Remember that practice makes perfect, so set aside some reading time every day.

2. Make reading fun

Your child’s reading is not likely to improve rapidly if she sees it as a chore. Try to make it as fun as possible by being creative. For example, if your child loves to read mysteries, why not settle down together with a favorite spy book and read by flashlight?

3. Surround your child with reading material

Many children will read everything they see around them, so the more they see, the better. Keep books and magazines readily available, of course, but also think outside the box. For example, rather than putting the breakfast cereal away as soon as you’ve poured it, why not set it in front of them on the table and let them read the back panel? To help very early readers, put name labels on doors, windows, pieces of furniture to help them learn everyday words.

4. Use a wide variety of formats

If your child really enjoys using an e-reader or computer, allow him to do this for some of his daily reading time. New technologies can be quite educational as long as they don’t completely replace more traditional methods and formats.

5. Provide plenty of cross-curricular reading activities

Offer historical fiction and interesting nonfiction books on a history or geography topic your kids are currently studying. The reading materials will enhance and reinforce the subject matter, and the children won’t even be aware that the task is designed to help improve reading skills.

6. Try audiobooks

Let the kids listen to an audiobook in the car (or at night before they go to sleep). Audiobooks can motivate a reluctant reader, appeal to auditory learners, and foster a real love of books in any child. If they have some daily reading time alone, why not put on an audiobook and encourage them to follow the text with their eyes as they listen? This way, they will learn many new words.

7. Use learning games

Flashcards and other games are invaluable for learning individual words or word families, and you can play a variety of games with them, such as the Card Match Game or Flyswatter Game, both found at Ten Ways to Turn Lessons into Games. With younger children, use colorful picture flashcards to capture their imagination and keep them engaged.

8. Go to the library

The library can open up a whole new world for your children! Not only can they choose books from a wide range of topics and genres, but the skills they develop in searching for books by subject area or alphabetically by author’s name will be helpful to them in the future. Librarians can guide you toward books that are both fun and suitable for each child’s reading level.

9. Find a genre that they really enjoy

As your children get older, help them discover new genres. If they fall in love with fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, mysteries, or historical fiction, let them read from this genre to their heart’s content. This is not to restrict them to a genre, but to help them develop a real passion for reading.

10. Participate in reading contests

During school holidays, many libraries and community centers offer reading groups or reading and story-writing contests. Nothing will motivate your child to read as many books as possible over the summer like the possibility of winning prizes!

Photo credit: kthompsonstudios, originally made available on Flickr, courtesy of Creative Commons.


On children’s books and growing a reader

Growing a reader starts at birth. Kim Kautzer shares favorite childhood & family books and how they helped shape her and her children as readers.

“Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.” ~Author Unknown

A Friendship with Books

Affiliate links in this post are for books I loved as a child or read with my own children. I’m confident you’ll love them too!

I can’t remember my life without books, but this much I do know: my love for reading started young. My parents often told me they could hear me turning pages in the dark as I sat in my crib as a baby.

As for actually learning to read, I don’t remember a process. One day, it seemed, it just … happened. I was reading.

Children of Foreign Lands | Out of PrintI must have been five or six, shortly before we moved back to the States from our four years in Mexico City.

Back when Hawaii was still a U.S. territory and Thailand was called Siam, I would curl up on my bed to learn about Wilhelmina of Holland, Kala of Hawaii, Ching Ling and Ting Ling of China, and other Children of Foreign Lands.

Mother Goose was a dear companion, and I read my book of nursery rhymes till it fell apart. But my earliest reading memory finds me sitting on my bedroom floor in the company of Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats, with its red and yellow cover, hand-lettered text, folk-art illustrations, and familiar refrain:

Millions of Cats | Favorite Children's BooksCats here, cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.

To this day, it remains my very favorite picture book.

That was merely the beginning. From there, I solved mysteries with The Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, enjoyed the innocent charms of small-town childhood with Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy, and ventured into the world of trolls and princesses in The Blue Fairy Book.

Charlotte's Web | Favorite Children's BooksI traveled with the Ingalls family in covered wagons, floated on pink feather-clouds with Betsy and Tacy, and learned about regional America through Lois Lenski’s charming stories.

Always eager to re-read old favorites, I fairly wore out my copies of Heidi, Caddie Woodlawn, Charlotte’s Web, and Black Beauty. My open-minded (but non-religious) parents even bought me a Children’s Bible, my first introduction to Jesus, with his kind eyes and flowing blue robe.

Passing the Torch

Growing a reader starts at birth. Kim Kautzer shares her favorite childhood and family books and how they helped shape her and her children as readers.The librarian and I were fast friends, and nothing gave me more pleasure than strolling my young babysitting charges to that wonderful place for their first library card.

As a young mom, I enrolled my toddler in a monthly book club, which exposed us to new favorites such as The Story About Ping and The Year At Maple Hill Farm.

Reading was a huge part of our homeschooling, too. My girls followed immediately in my footsteps, becoming voracious readers early on. Spurred on by our unit studies, we would check out dozens of library books at a time. I loved introducing them to many of my old friends, even as together we discovered a wealth of books I’d never read before.

Books have never been far from my children’s reach! Our son, a late bloomer, began to enjoy reading upon discovering Nate the Great. Eventually, he came to count The Great Brain and Chronicles of Narnia series among his own favorites.

One of my fondest memories is of my middle daughter perched high in the branches of our white alder, engrossed in Little Women.

And when our eldest suffered a serious leg fracture at age 11—and middle-of-the-night pain woke her in tears—her daddy would read The Call of the Wild to her on her makeshift bed downstairs till she would once again drift off to sleep.

I’m so glad their early reading roots pushed deep into the fertile soil of excellent children’s literature. Today, their adult reading tastes vary widely from classical to contemporary, but readers they remain. It’s fun to watch my grandchildren enjoying that fruit, too.

As Charles W. Eliot once wrote:

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

This week marks Children’s Book Week. I hope you’ll take time in your homes to celebrate by reading favorite children’s books—together and individually, and this list of the Top 100 Children’s Picture Books of All Time a great place to start!

Your Turn

Share a childhood memory about books and reading. Or, list a few of your own favorite children’s books!

Photos: a4gpa (fountain), and Andre Mourauux (three girls), courtesy of Creative Commons

4 ways to promote reading at home

Mariana Ashley joins me today as a guest blogger here at In Our Write Minds. 

books, Homeschooling, readingHaving homeschooled from age seven until about fifteen, I can say without reservation that the most important thing I gained during my homeschooling years was a love of reading. And I’m convinced that had I not been homeschooled, I would not possess the enthusiasm for reading that I have now.

Here are some tips based on my personal experiences reading at home:

1. Create a book culture at home.

You’ve heard the age-old saying “charity begins at home”? Actually, any life-long habit is always first established among your closest kin—the people you live and learn with every single day. As such, if you want your children to learn to love reading, they will have to see you reading often, too.

If you have a book collection in storage, take everything out and display your books properly. This sends a message that books are valuable and worthwhile! And when children are surrounded by books, you increase the chances that they’ll want to eventually read them.

2. Start by suggesting books based on movies.

I know, I know. The book is always better. But if your child is already familiar with a character or plot after having seen the movie, her interest will be more greatly piqued. This is especially helpful for children who find reading boring or whose attention span is so short they have trouble getting through a book.

3. Make oral reading a tradition in your household.

For many families, story time ends when children reach age five or six; when they don’t have trouble falling asleep anymore; or when other forms of technology begin to entertain them. First, don’t stop reading aloud! That rich bonding time continues to send the message that reading—in all its forms—is held in high esteem in your home. Keeping that oral tradition alive is also important for further developing reading, writing, and comprehension skills.

And don’t forget to include other oral activities. When I was homeschooled, my parents had us memorize poems and short prose pieces, which we’d recite out loud. This is a great tool for helping young children acquire an ear for good writing, and it gives students of all ages a chance to “marinate” in passages of great literature and poetry.

4. Turn it into a game.

Many schools offer reading incentive programs or competitions in which children earn “points” for reading books. You can set up a similar game yourself. For example, my parents assigned points based on book length. Books that were longer or of greater difficulty earned us more points. Whoever had the most points at the end of the month got to spend a day out with mom and dad for pizza and ice cream. Even better, why not set a “points goal” based on age and reading ability? This way, every child who reaches her personal goal can earn the special treat.

Picking up good reading habits can help your child in other ways too. For example, the verbal section on the SAT was so much easier for me because I’d been an avid reader since I was seven. Reading also helps lengthen attention span and generally improves cognitive skills. Reading and writing often go hand-in-hand, and while reading alone won’t turn your kid into the perfect writer, it will surely go far.

Lesson learned: Never underestimate the power of a good book.

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.

Photo: David Sifry, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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7 ways to introduce writing genres

7 Ways to Introduce Writing Genres to Children

gen · re (ZHON-ruh), n. a classification of literature or writing by subject or theme in which members of a genre share common characteristics.

It’s never too soon to introduce writing genres to children. Even as their writing skills are just beginning to bloom during their early school years, you can help them identify different types of literature through the books they’re reading.

I’ve always been a reader. Even as a child, I remember enjoying books from many different genres. I adored nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and poems. Among my earliest memories are books about nature and science and stories of children from around the world. In third grade, I must have checked out every children’s biography in our school library. And in fourth grade, you could be sure to find my friend Adele and me—at one house or the other—propped up on pillows with our noses buried deep in a Nancy Drew mystery.

Your Child Knows Genres

There are two main types of genre: Literary genre is meant to entertain and nonliterary genre is meant to inform. Your child might not yet recognize the word itself, but she’s more than likely already familiar with many genres, including:

  • Nursery Rhymes
  • Poetry
  • Personal narrative
  • Historical fiction
  • Adventure
  • Mystery
  • Classics
  • Humor
  • Fairy tale
  • Folktale
  • Biography
  • Nonfiction
  • Informational
  • Science Fiction
  • Fantasy

There is often overlap between genres. A biography, for example, is also nonfiction and informational. And depending on the subject, it can even blur into adventure or humor.

Help your children recognize and explore various genres and practice related writing skills. As they discover each genre’s unique qualities, students can better appreciate and understand what they read—and apply that knowledge to their writing.

7 Ways to Introduce Writing Genres

  1. Brainstorm books or stories that fit a genre.
  2. Visit the library and discover how books are categorized.
  3. Study a particular genre each month. Read books, discuss their common characteristics, and assign one or two related writing projects.
  4. Send your child on a scavenger hunt through your home or library bookshelves and have her make lists. She can record the different genres she finds, or she can write down book titles within a certain genre, such as historical fiction or mysteries.
  5. Play “genre bingo.” Give your child a blank bingo grid and have her fill in the squares with different genres. As she reads different books that fit each genre, she can put a sticker on that square. When she gets five in a row, give her a small prize. And when she gets blackout, buy her a new book in her favorite genre!
  6. Challenge your child to read different genres from your library. You might put a limit of 3 books per genre to encourage her to read outside of her comfort zone.
  7. Include some math fun! As you introduce writing genres of various kinds, make a bar graph to mark and measure the number of books your family reads in each genre.

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Build a strong reading foundation

read aloud, reading

By Nancy I. Sanders

During the important elementary years, your children are developing the ability to read well and learning to form a positive attitude toward reading. You have the amazing privilege of shaping their hearts to embrace reading as a natural and desirable part of their world. Building a strong reading foundation gives them the wings they need to fly successfully into the world of writing. 

Read Together

Some parents mistakenly think that when children become old enough to acquire basic reading skills, it’s time to pack them off and send them away into the land of independent reading. Yes, it’s time for them to build strong reading skills by reading on their own, but these pre-teen years are also the perfect time for them to build reading fluency and grow as readers (and writers) by hearing stories read aloud to them.

Read aloud daily to your children.

We read aloud to our two sons from their earliest years on up through junior high. Even though they were avid independent readers at a young age, they still cherished these daily reading sessions as they grew older. Our selection of books grew as they matured, and we exposed them to books they probably wouldn’t have tackled alone at this age.

You’ll find many book recommendations in this article. These are affiliate links because we’re confident these personal favorites will enhance your family bookshelf for years to come.

Choose full-length books and read them aloud to your preteens from beginning to end, day after glorious day. Pick humorous books, adventure stories, and popular titles your kids want to hear. Devour classics together such as Farmer Boy, The Hobbit, Treasure Island, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Make reading books a good place to be.

Create an engaging and enchanting environment for reading aloud to your children.

  • Snuggle together on the couch if your children like to snuggle.
  • Go to unexpected or exotic places and let your children experience the sounds and smells around them as you read.
  • Visit a farm, climb a hayloft, settle down in a comfy pile of hay, and read Charlotte’s Web aloud to them.
  • Go on a picnic to an outdoor spot with a beautiful view and read from Anne of Green Gables.
  • Carry a backpack with portable painting supplies. While your kids paint the scenery, read aloud from a collection of poems such as Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost.

Read Alone

Of course, elementary-age kids also benefit from independent reading. You can help make this experience a highlight of their childhood memories!

Decorate your home to be a nest for books.

  • Start by giving beautiful hardback children’s classics and boxed sets as birthday and Christmas gifts.
  • Install bookshelves for rows of family favorites.
  • Scatter square baskets or crates around different rooms to hold short stacks of books handy for small hands to reach in and grab.
  • Provide reading spots with good lighting and comfortable chairs, beanbags, or couches.

Turn off the TV.

Unplug the video games. Turn off the radios and CDs. Invite everyone to grab books and settle in for some down time with a good read. If reading isn’t an everyday part of your normal routine, schedule it in. Show your kids reading is a priority in a world jam-packed with the stresses of organized sports, loud TV shows, and time-consuming responsibilities. Stop what you’re doing and read when they read, too.

Take frequent trips to your library.

Get children their own library cards. Give them their own book bags to lug their selections home and to provide a place to gather books together again when the due date looms near.

While they’re exploring and selecting their own titles from the library shelves, look for books geared for their level of independent reading. Most libraries offer countless titles of beginning readers and first chapter books for both struggling and advanced readers. Some titles are known as hi-lo books, which present themes and topics of interest for kids in upper elementary but use vocabulary words and sentence structure for lower reading levels.

Select a wide variety of books geared specifically for your child’s independent reading level that will help her gain confidence and strengthen her reading skills. If you’re not sure where to look, try these ideas:

  • Ask your librarian for help.
  • Using the library’s (or your home) computer, visit a webpage such as Leveled Book Lists to find lists of books for different reading levels.
  • To find out the reading or interest level of a particular book, try Scholastic’s Teacher Book Wizard.

Of course, always use discretion to ensure each book meets with your family’s standards and values.

While at the library, be sure to choose titles for your own enjoyment as well. Show your children that reading is important by modeling reading yourself. While you’re at it, visit the library’s used bookstore and purchase titles to build your own family’s personal library at home.

Look for reading enrichment activities.

These don’t take the place of reading, but work to enhance the environment you’re creating in your home.

  • Give your children magazine subscriptions for their birthday.
  • Listen to audio books in the car while on a family road trip. There are a variety of options such as The Word of Promise: Complete Audio Bible
    and Tyndale’s Radio Theater’s audio version of The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Many popular children’s classics are also available on CD. Dive into the world of books so your child’s reading and writing skills can blossom during these crucial formative years.

Copyright 2010 © Nancy I. Sanders. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Family table photo by Pierre Vignau, courtesy of Creative Commons.
Library bookshelf photo by Brandi Jordan. Used by permission.

Nancy I. Sanders, author of the WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior series, is a frequent contributor to Focus on the Family newsletters and magazines. She is the author of over 75 books. Her picture book, D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet, won the 2007 NAPPA Honors Award and the 2008 IRA Teachers’ Choice Award. www.nancyisanders.com

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