13 Jan 2010

Read to enjoy and understand

Somewhere near the beginning of each new homeschool year I like to reread two books - For The Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, and When You Rise Up by R. C. Sproul Jr. These two little books remind me why I teach my daughter. They remind me of my goals, and they remind me how to reach them. They remind me of how I want our homeschooling day to look, and they remind me that I am doing the right thing. They encourage me to keep going...for another year at least.

This year I began with For The Children's Sake. I'm a Swimming Mum this week. That's like an Aussie Soccer Mom, only each morning you'll find me sitting by the local swimming pool as Jemimah does her daily swimming lessons instead of ferrying children to soccer practice. Anyhow, I digress. I've been reading as I wait. That's what I was trying to say. I wonder if that's why my reading has been more of the dip in here and there version than a full reread but regardless of why, I find myself doing just that. Maybe it is all the 'dipping in the pool'? (Oh I am so drôle tonight!!! Giggle.)

Susan is an inspiring writer, and each time I read this book I come away with a fresh idea. Today was no different. She was talking about adults reading living books to children and she says this:

Perhaps she reads a short portion from Pilgrim's Progress. She must, of course, be a person who wants to understand and enjoy this herself...
Later she talks about young children reading Shakespeare:

Some people were incredulous. "It's not possible," they responded. "Children just aren't up to that."

But they are - if the door is opened. There is only one problem that I can see. The adult, whether teacher or parent, has to be able to enjoy and understand what he or she is reading with the children.
Oh this is so important! Most of us were not home educated ourselves. Some of us had pretty purile school educations. Some of us never attained the level of reading that we dream of for our children. And yet Susan is saying that if mum does not understand what she is reading aloud, then her children will not enjoy the book. Simple. So what's a gal to do about it? Should we stop reading quality literature to our children thereby perpetuating the problem of poor vocabulary and reading ability into the next generation, or is there something else we can do? Now I'm no expert - in anything really - but I believe that the answer to this question is an emphatic 'Yes'! It has to be - there is no choice really, is there, short of employing a professional reader to read to your children in your stead.

While I don't advocate stopping a book just because mum doesn't like it, if she cannot read it with understanding and enjoyment then the child is not going to be able to learn from it either. That's what Susan says, and I agree with her. It may, therefore be worth stopping temporarily to investigate the problem.

Firstly, I think it is Ruth Beechick in her 3Rs book that says that a book is too difficult for a child if there are five unpronounceable words on a page. I would say that the same applies to an adult. Take a look at the difficult book and count how many words on a page are either difficult for you to pronounce or that you don’t understand.

If you don't know how to pronounce a word consider how important it is to know how the word should be said. You would be amazed at how many pronunciations there are for the names of the characters in Greek myths, for example. In this case the way you say the name is less important than the consistency of whichever pronunciation you choose. If you consider that a word is important then ask somebody!! You can google too, but sometimes you actually need to hear it said. Now how many words do you have a problem with? Hopefully less. Kids won't expect you to be perfect either. They won't mind if you stumble over the occasional word. The word lackadaisical came up three times in our reading the other night. I got it wrong each time. Jemimah didn't mind. Yes, I can say the word: lack·a·dai·si·cal; lack·a·dai·si·cal; lack·a·dai·si·cal. See! I just couldn't on Saturday. Dunno why.

On to words you don't know. Can you glean their meaning from their context? If so, then your kids probably will too. If not, is it important? I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy with Jemimah today. Actually, she was reading it to me, and we came across this:

Poor people had to wear homespun on Sunday and Royal and Almanzo wore fullcloth. But Father and Mother and the girls were very fine in clothes that Mother had made of store boughten cloth, woven by machines.
(Is boughten a real word in America? It is not in Australia.) Anyhow, the problem I had was with the word fullcloth. What is this? I know it's a fabric; I realise from the context that it is likely to be homespun; but as to what it is or what it looks like, I have no idea. I ignored it. So for that matter did Jemimah. Its meaning was irrelevant to the story. If my daughter had asked me about fullcloth I would have said something like, "Oh, I think it is a type of fabric that Mother would have woven at home." She didn't.

Mostly with words you don't know in a story you will find that this is the case. The context provides meaning.

Which leaves important words that you can't pronounce and don't understand. Perhaps it would be worth prereading your hard book and looking for these in advance. Look them up if they are important to your reading of the story. Leave them if they're not. You can always look them up with your kids if they happen to ask.

Above all, don't give up reading the hard books! Why do we read Living Books to our children? Why do we want them to read fine literature? Because reading begats reading - the more you read the better at it you'll become. The axiom applies to 35 year old mums as well as 7 year old children - The only way to improve your reading, vocabulary and comprehension is to keep reading.

Finally, don't forget that the hardest part of a book to read aloud is the first chapter. It takes a while to catch the author's cadence and rhythm, but it soon starts to flow, and with that comes enjoyment and understanding.

Even with Shakespeare and Pilgrim's Progress.

Especially with Shakespeare and Pilgrim's Progress.


  1. Well said, Jeanne, as usual. Love it !

    Boughten is not a word in America either.

  2. One of the things I have loved about homeschooling my children is having access to so many great books that I did not know about as a child. As I read these books to my children, I have been learning along with them as a fellow adventurer. And as the children have grown and I have introduced more difficult books to them - I have also grown into the more difficult books as well. And learned to love them. It has been a shared adventure.

  3. love For the Children's sake & re~read as necessary. I find Shakespheare hilarious. HAve you seen any of the BBC productions? They are brilliant to introduce Shakespheare in a fun & understandable way ~ especially the comedies.

  4. Do you mean the cartoon ones, Ganeida? We love those!

  5. I haven't seen the cartoon ones. No, I mean proper productions with real actors & that gorgeous English scenery. They are very good.

  6. Reading to my children is one of the greatest delights of my life. And reading with my mum one of my most special memories. Having a vision problem at the moment was troubling me for the new school year and today my wonderful big siste offered to come and take up some of the slack! That's ♥ for you!

  7. Hi Jeanne,
    One of the books that I have loved reading is Teaching Children by Diane Lopez, Introduction by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. This book explains what children need to know at each level through sixth grade, and I found it invaluable in those years. :)

    Have a great week,

  8. Oh, my time of refreshing comes in the form of a little CM-conference in my living room after all the men-folk have gone to bed. This January it will be the Laying Down the Rails workshop on DVD.

    As for "boughten," imagine my surprise on hearing store-boughten used here when we moved to New England! I looked it up and the following explains why Penny nor I had thought (thoughten) it was a word:

    bought·en [ báwt'n ] adjective
    U.S. regional not homemade: commercially made rather than homemade

    [Late 18th century. <bought after foughten, archaic form of fought]

    Regional History:
    The term boughten endures as a Northern folk term spreading westward out of New England, across the Northern states to the Pacific and virtually unused in the South Midland and Southern states. It is commonly still heard in the compound store-boughten, as in I don't like store-boughten bread.

  9. Sadly "boughten" is pretty common in rural mid-west America......

    I am always amazed at what Bethie brings home from school. Her teacher is so afraid to "let" her read a book she may not pass an A.R. test [a a terrible reading program here] on. I pulled out Plutarch and read from it--she remembered. I have to constantly encourage her to JUMP IN and read and [pardon me] screw the label the teacher or "experts" put on it!

    By the way--there is a "curriculum" that has lots of good crafts, etc that goes with the Little House books. Homespun can be made [small swatch anyway] with a handloom to demonstrate it. If you can get wool from farms you can do the whole thing--"sheep to shawl" is a popular 4-H Club sheep contest.....

  10. Being a native New Englander, I hear the word "boughten" only too often. Speaking of regional dialects, for you ladies in the States, here is a link to a very amusing tale I just read (I own a collection of old New England stories):

    I read For the Children's Sake for the third or fourth time this past summer, and was inspired once again. Have you read any of Karen Andreola's books, Jeanne?

  11. HA! Well being that I am in the Deep South that would explain why I hadn't heard it before. thanks Richele!

  12. What an interesting comments stream! I don't know quite where to start, so I'll start with Emily's book link. How delightful is this little story! I always love listening to American accents - and you all have accents to us, girls!!

    I have tried a number of times to get hold of Lopez' book, Jillian, but without success so far. It is now oop, but I will find it eventually I hope. I have read Andreola's though, and am savouring her new one slowly at the moment to make it last. Such a peaceful way of life is the one she depicts.

    Finally Ruby, hurrah for big sisters! What a load off your shoulders!!

    Do you think we would use a blogfrog discussion group thingy if I set one up on my blog? I think an interactive forum might work quite well. Shame the widget is so non-wabi sabi though...

  13. Jeanne,
    I love For the Children's Sake too. It is one of my standbys as well.

    **I thought you might like to know, that for some reason your blog isn't showing up correctly for me lately... the posts are WAY down. I wouldn't have noticed since I normally read in a reader, except I came over to comment last night and thought that there was something wrong since all I saw at the top was sidebars with blank in the middle... but today I figured out that it was all here, I just needed to scroll way down. I don't know if the problem is like that for everyone or not...**

    As usual, interesting things to think about, Jeanne. I'm still mulling over some other things that you've brought up in the recent past... :)

    Amy in Peru

  14. So, Penny, do you say 'go-oo-oo-oo-leeeeeee like Gomer Pyle then? :)

    Amybody have kids who can tell me what to do about my blog not loading correctly in older browsers? Thanks Jillian for explaining that to me. It works fine on both our new computer and our very old laptop, but we do have IE8 on both. Can't you just load the updated version, or does thatcost big bucks that I don't know about?

  15. I just wanted to stop by and say thank you for your comment on my blog Living Life. I really appreciated your sweet remark about my writing. It was so encouraging.

    What a great post your wrote here! Last year, I was reading Robinson Crusoe aloud to my older daughter. We faced that situation where I had a hard time getting into the book. And at times, I think my daughter was bored with it too. We ended up not finishing the book and choosing something else. I definitely see your point about pressing forward even when we can't get into the book. Very good point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

    Hope you're having a wonderful week!

  16. I've had the same trouble as Amy with my screen and actually think I'm behind with the blogs because the first thing I see are 'the other articles you may like' links.

    One of the things that I really noticed with my elder daughters and myself is that we would often have others correcting our pronounciation of words. I've put it down to having seen those words in print before hearing them in conversation. It happens less than it used to esp. I think for my girls.

  17. Amy,
    I often have that problem on Jeanne's blog. Usually, after a couple of attempts and some time, it comes up again.

    Re the blog frog... is that where someone nominates a book and we all say "readit, readit"
    Come on you all know that animals at the library joke, right. (Slinks off foolishly wondering whether I am the only homeschool mum who has a repertoire of kids corny jokes...)

    P.S. Have no idea what it is but I'm sure I am up for it.

  18. Hi Jeanne,
    wrt your blog and its errors. The flashy side of me wants to say, "Welcome to my world" LOL where a site looks and performs correct on a few browsers but not all. But that's nt much help.

    I use FF on a mac and yes, the posts are all the way down the bottom. If I were a new visitor to your blog I wouldn't be able to find the posts- most new visitors don't click or scroll around for more than 3.5 seconds.

    Have you put in any new widgets lately- maybe into the sidebars? It looks to me like either your sidebars or your main content area has something in it which is too big, thus forcing the main content area to the bottom of the sidebar area.

    You may just have put a few graphic in a sidebar or something simple like that...


  19. Hi Jeanne,
    nah I'm not giving you comment spam but You might wan to look into your right hand sidebar- at the book:
    Un, Deux, Trois: First French Rhymes

    I *think* this image from amazon is too large, thus causing your issue. Try removing it from your list and see if it helps.

  20. I did get side-tracked by the word "boughten" (which, btw, I actually get a sort of thrill each time I hear it).

    There is one book I have an incredibly painful time reading - David Macaulay's "The Way Things Work." I have a hard time even feigning interest when the words "fulcrum" or "mechanical advantage" are on the page. I was able to make it through his book "Pyramid" last term - though the kids were on their own when they requested it a second time through.

  21. Yup and over yonder and thang and yes ma'am/sir or no ma'am/sir and all kinds of crazy things. lol

    This stream is great!

  22. Penny, you so need to record yourself speaking for me to hear!! I'd love that!!!

    Richele, I feel the same way about Great Inventors and their Inventions. Bleurgh. I'm trying to feign delighted interest though!

    Thanks so much for your input Susan. I haven't added anything at all to my sidebars recently except Christmas books which I have subsequently removed. I will try removing 1,2,3, but any layout changes will need to wait until we return home from hols. I don't have enough Internet time here. I do so appreciate everyone's help. It is difficult to fix a problem when my blog loads perfectly on my computers!

  23. Good encouraging info!:) Thank you for sharing.

  24. I'm wondering if "fullcloth" is cloth that had been through the fulling process, i.e., worked through with mud and water to make the fibers softer and "fuller" and the weave tighter? Fulled cloth was much finer than homespun. We learned about this in the book _Walter Dragun's Town_. Just a thought. . .

  25. It would certainly fit with the context, Ellen, wouldn't it? Thanks.

  26. Wow, You made such a good case!! Thank you so much for writing and sharing this with us. Be blessed,Angie in GA

  27. I really want to get back into reading aloud. I think Lindsey, at 15, thinks it's a bit weird, but I don't think we're ever too old to be read to. Just have to make it fun enough, I suppose!


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