Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Read-Aloud Hanbook, by Jim Trelease

I read about 'The Read Aloud Handbook' by Jim Trelease, on Passionate Homemaking and went out and picked it up right away at the library.  I'm so glad I did!

What a fantastic read!  I already knew that reading to the kids is important. But I didn't understand many of the different facets of it.  This book has a lot of anecdotes and scientific studies.  I tend to rely more on the anecdotes then the science, but both are fun to read and consider. He has some of the book on his website. 

As I had already decided to base most of my children's homechooling on books, this was more of an encouragement then a 'push'.  But encouragements are so necessary sometimes, and it's esp fun for me to realize the idea is more main-stream then I realized. 

It was one of those books that I wanted to write down half of the quotes in the book.  I love reading authors who 'get' children.  So many people in America truly consider children to be a nuisance instead of the blessings that God intended them to be.  This guys truly cared about, and understood, children.  I feel so blessed to have read it.

A funny story before I quote half the book.  Our church did VBS last week, and they have classes for the adults who drop off their children, but don't want to leave.  One of them was done by a friend on reading to your children.  I asked her yesterday if she had ever read The Read Aloud Handbook, as it was very much her style, plus she had done a class on the subject. And she said that was the very book she used for the class.  I love it when I hear about a book from different people and angles!  Obviously she highly recommended it. She is, after all, an elementary teacher, and she is going to school to become a librarian as well.

The message that Trelease gives in this (the 6th edition, originally published in 1979) book is that children need to be read to daily, from birth.  He gives a lot of scientific and anecdotal evidence for why this is so.  The man actually travels the globe doing seminars on this very subject.  He feels very strongly about it, and for good reason.

He talks about why reading aloud is so important to children (humans really).  "A school's objective should be to create lifetime readers-graduates who continue to read and educate themselves throughout their adult lives.  But the reality is that we create schooltime readers-graduates who know how to read well enough to graduate.  At that point the majority take a silent vow: if I never read another book, it'll be too soon."  That is exactly how I though until I learned by own learning style and started to truly learn and love it.  I can't read enough now, but that was not true until about 2 years ago.

"Human beings will voluntarily do over and over that which brings them pleasure.  We approach what causes pleasure, and we withdraw from what causes displeasure or pain." That is what I realized when I started researching the homeschooling thing. I realized that why they did things was as important as them actually doing them.  God cares about the heart, more then the actions.  Everyone has something that drives them.  And being aware of that is so important. Otherwise, Satan will get in and twist it for his use. But being aware of that fact has helped me to set my own priorities and make good decisions, and I'm enjoying guiding my children to the same knowledge and vision.

One thing that he mentioned throughout the book is that children from poorer homes had more problems in school and read less in general.  But the reason, he believes, is much like what I learned in 'The Knowledge Deficit' by Ed Hirsch.  Oral language is not as rich as written language.  More words and concepts are used in print then in conversation.  So, a child who is read to, will have a much wider base of knowledge and vocabulary.  And the harder you have to work to understand a book, the less you are going to enjoy reading. And the less you enjoy reading, the less you'll actually do of it.

He had some interesting numbers in regards to words spoken at various socio-economic levels of school and home.  I wish I could copy the charts.

Total of words heard by a child by the age of 4 in said families.
Professional: 45,000,000
Working class: 26,000,000
Poverty:  13,000,000

And you add to that, the fact that most people don't choose books to keep around if money is severely limited. And it makes sense why kids in poor families rank lowest on the tests and charts.

Another 'chart' he had that I wish I could copy, but will try to write out:
The number of rare words heard through auditory means (conversation, TV, radio) is 9,000-22,000.  The number of rare words read through books, newspapers and magazines, etc. ranges from 30,000 to 128,000. 

So if you don't read print, you are missing out on 20,000+ words that would make your vocabulary richer and make reading more pleasurable and meaningful.  It's a process of course.

Trelease has lots of 'lists' that I enjoy also. :)  Summaries are helpful to me for some reason.

He mentions 4 factors present in the home environment of nearly every early reader:
1. The child is read to on a regular basis.
2. A wide variety of printed material is available-books, magazines, newspapers, comics.  (I'm not great on that, magazines annoy me as they are hard to keep organized and newspapers are expensive and annoying to keep around to recycle)
3.  Paper and pencil are readily available for the child.  'Almost without exception, the starting point of curiosity about written language was an interest in scribbling and drawing.  From this developed an interest in copying objects and letters of the alphabet.'
4.  The people in the child's home stimulate the child's interest in reading and writing by answering endless questions, praising the child's efforts at reading and writing, taking the child to the library frequently, buying books, writing stories that the child dictates, and displaying his paperwork in a prominent place in the home. 

I found this interesting: 'According to experts, it is a reasonable assertion that reading and listening skills begin to converge at about eighth grade.  Until then, kids usually listen on a higher level than that on which they read.' Fascinating!!!

He also talks about how reading one-on-one with children is important.  And how it can bring up difficult subjects that are otherwise hard to handle.  And that not only opens up discussion about them, but also builds a more intimate relationship with the child which will be drawn upon later in life.

He talks some about how reading is the first step to good writing. The more  you read, the better you write.  He had a quote from Jacques Barzun 'Words get in through the ear or eye and come out at the tongue or the end of a pencil'.  What a great visual that makes!

Another fabulous quote. "The reader is walking around with the brain of the author stuffed into a back pocket or a purse. With that arrangement, you're no longer limited to just your own experiences.  Every time you read, you're tapping into the author's experiences, tomorrow a different author, a different brain. it's the reader's advantage.

Really, doesn't it just give you goosebumps?  :)

He had a quote from the 1700s, Samuel Johnson, that I thought was interesting.  "I am always for getting a boy forward in his learning, for that is sure good. I would let him at first read any English book which happens to engage his attention; because you have done a great deal when you have brought him to entertainment from a book.  He'll get better books afterwards."

Which brings me to pretty much the only thing I'm not sure I agreed with.  There always has to be something. :)

He believes that reading is more important then what you read.  And while I agree with that to an extent, I think there are dangers involved.  I read for pleasure, but I find pleasure in learning and bettering my world.  Drew, on the other hand, can read for learning sake, but only for a few pages and then he is over it. Whereas, he can read for hours and hours, if it's fiction and entertaining.

So while I agree that the first step to reading for betterment is just learning to love reading, I think it's important that one take it past that also.  How to do that, I'm not exactly sure.  But I'll figure it out eventually.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with children (or grandchildren, or students, or nieces/nephews, etc.).  I love that his idea is for the betterment of all children, rich or poor, homeschooled or conveyor-belt schooled.  And all it requires is some time and access to a library.  Oh, and a parent/teacher who is sold on the pleasure of books.  Just like 'A Thomas Jefferson Education', role models and books are so important in a child's education and life.

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