The Read-Aloud Handbook

Read-Aloud Handbook 6
The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition by Jim Trelease

I read The Read-Aloud Handbook when my son was a baby, and it made a big difference in how I approached reading with him. First of all, we dove right in with reading board and cloth books, even though he didn’t understand them. I liked them, and he liked sitting on my lap, looking at and touching things. We’d snuggle up multiple times a day and pass some of our slow-moving time reading through stacks of chunky books. I got him involved in turning the pages by wiggling them until he grabbed them. Eventually he started turning them on his own. Now, in his twos, we still read board books, but we also read longer paper picture books, too. He’ll sit still for stacks of them, asking for them one after the other.

Trelease says as boys get older, it’s easy for reading to start to seem like a “girl” thing.  Sometimes moms and teachers are surprised when the boys in their lives don’t love the same books they used to when they were little girls, and it can be hard to be accepting of gross-out books or comic books or magazines. Still, letting boys read the books they’re interested in is key. Trelease also says boys respond particularly well to meter and rhyme — not something I remember being drawn to in kids’ books, myself.

On my own, I probably would not have gone this direction, but now when we see rhyming books about construction vehicles or rockets, we snap them up. My son loves them. I also look for all the books I can find on the topics he’s interested in, rhyming or not. (We have quite a construction vehicle book collection.) And if he seems especially interested in a book when we’re in a bookstore — even if it looks a little boring to me — we get it.

I buy books I like, too, though, and I also buy stretch books — books about holidays or important people or subjects I want to explore together. We look at them together at his pace about five times over the course of a week or two, and we stop when he wants to move on. He usually gets into them, and starts asking for them on his own.

Read-Aloud Handbook 2

At the end of The Read-Aloud Handbook, you’ll find a long, long list (maybe a third of the book long) of highly recommended books for kids at different ages and with different interests.

Note: I’m linking to the Seventh Edition, but the copy I have — which is in the pictures above — is the Sixth Edition.


Toddlers and desire 1
The other day at the aquarium, little one wanted this truck. It was in an outdoor gift shop — the kind with no doors or walls.

We had just bought a plastic penguin about thirty minutes ago inside, so I didn’t even bend down to look at it. We moved along (under protest) to the shark touch tanks and the penguins and the submarine movie. But he was so sad and so out of sorts. I chalked it up to being hungry or overtired. “Want to go back outside!” he told me, after we left the submarine movie early. Thinking he wanted to see the touch tanks again, I carried him out, but as soon as his feet touched the ground, he ran to this truck. This time, I bent down to look at it with him. I was going to sympathize about how much he wanted it and how hard it was not to get it. But as soon as I saw it at eye level, I realized how cool it was.

If I was two and loved trucks, I would want it so badly. I actually kind of wanted it myself. You fill up the truck tank with water and the fish can FLOAT in the tank. And there’s a submarine that floats in the tank with them.

So we got it. And then the morning was easy. He wasn’t overtired. He wasn’t hungry. He wanted a plastic penguin and he really wanted an aquarium tanker truck, and that was that.

When he picks out his own toys, he chooses things I would not have picked out myself. And he loves them. He doesn’t play with them once or twice and forget about them — he plays with them over and over and searches them out in our house and talks about them. Sometimes if he’s watching a video of a particular kind of truck working, he’ll find the toy version of that truck and try to copy what it’s doing on the couch or our patio table. It seems like he is collecting little models of the things he wants to learn about, and then works really hard to try to get them to do what he sees them do in real life.

The point I’m trying to make, though, is that he knows what he wants. And he’s right. He doesn’t just have a million flickering whims that come and go. He has desire — focused and lasting.

Sometimes — like yesterday — I hear a voice in my head saying, “I don’t want him to be spoiled. He has to learn…” But I never know what exactly it is that he “has to learn” because that phrase — even though it runs through my head — it isn’t really mine. It isn’t really what I think, when I think about it. What does he have to learn? That he’s powerless? That he can’t have what he wants? That even though I could easily help him get what he wants, I just don’t feel like it and don’t care about how urgent and important it feels to him? I want him to have an appetite. I want him to follow his desires. I want him to yearn and to be satisfied, over and over. I want him to reach, to ask, to try. I want him to play with his models of the real world.

And maybe part of me wants to play with them, too.

The iPad and our toddler: What works for us

The iPad 2
iPad prepped for toddler use with a puffy case and a screen protector

I thought I wasn’t going to let my kid play with computers or watch TV until he was much, much older. Like maybe sixth grade. I wanted him to get comfortable in the “real world.” I wanted him to run around and use his limbs and his senses. I wanted him to get bored and to learn to entertain himself. And I wanted to be all the way there for him. I didn’t want to substitute screen time for my attention.

Guess what. We let our two-year-old play with the iPad.

I spent the first year and a half of his life with an old school cell phone because I was afraid a smart phone would be too sticky. I went online during his naps, and my internet time was rushed and short. I had always thought that screen time was wasted time — that if I watched TV, surfed the internet or checked Facebook, I was avoiding being fully present.

Then I got an iPhone.

After a year and a half, I was connected again.  It felt good. It didn’t feel like it was changing my parenting. It just felt like I was getting more — and better — brain food here and there. And getting in touch with people more easily. And not needing to print out Google maps before I left the house.

I used to read my kindle or actual paper books when I was nursing. Now I read my iPhone. Pretty soon, my son started grabbing for it. I locked it and let him hold it. Why not let him explore? What could he do?

Within a week or two of poking at it, he pushed the little slider all the way across the screen with his finger, and it clicked unlocked.

I laughed in surprise and grabbed it back.

It turned into a game. He unlocked it and shrieked with laughter while I tried to get the phone back. After a few days, I just let him have it. Why not let him mess around with my phone? It felt… okay. It didn’t feel wrong. Then he started poking around in my email and randomly calling people in my contacts, and I realized I could make us both happier by installing a few games for him. Soon after that, we got a big puffy plastic case and some screen protectors for our iPad and let him play with it in earnest.

He wanted to play with it a lot. I didn’t want to use it as a substitute for my attention, so I sat with him while he played. He loved it. He got really upset if I wanted him to stop and do something else, and I was bored. The amount of time we were spending playing with it bugged me. I knew that if I didn’t add any new apps, eventually he would get tired of it and move on to other things, but I didn’t want to wait for weeks or maybe even months. Left to his own devices, we wouldn’t be going outside or reading books or doing anything other than swiping at screens for a long time. That didn’t feel right.

Around the same time, he started fighting getting into his carseat and stroller. He hated them so much that we stayed home more often than not. That’s when it all clicked. I stopped giving him the iPad on demand and offered it to him whenever he had to be strapped down instead. He was playing with it by himself and I hadn’t wanted to substitute screen time for my attention, but this was different — it felt like substituting one kind of freedom for another and during a time when he wouldn’t have very much of my attention anyway. It worked. Having clear times when he would get to use the iPad (when strapped in) and clear times when the iPad would be put away (when we got where we were going) made it easier for him to stop, and it turned riding in the carseat or stroller into something he liked instead of something painful for both of us.

We went to museums, aquariums, parks, the library, playgroups and playdates. We played in the sun and the dirt and the water. In between, when we were driving or strolling to the places where we could do these things, he played with the iPad on his own and started doing things that amazed me.

One of the apps I thought would be way too hard for him had an activity where you moved four batteries into a toy with the positive and negative sides alternating directions (like how you stick batteries into things in the real world). The next thing I knew, he had it all figured out and was clicking them into place by himself in the back seat. There’s another one — Truck Tunes — that showed music videos about construction vehicles. The menu didn’t have pictures of the trucks — just numbers and text, and the menu was split between two screens. So to choose the backhoe video, you had to touch “Next Screen” and then “7 – Backhoe”, for example. After a lot trial and error, he could navigate it.

He started recognizing numbers. Then, he could kind of count to fifteen. He matched letters. Then he knew most of the letter names. He knew letter sounds. He was two — less than two and a half. From what my friends were telling me, their kids who played with iPads or iPhones could do the same things or even more.

On a touch screen, it was safe to explore and mess up. He wouldn’t get hurt or break something or make a fantastically huge mess. He chose what to try or not to try. He chose when to quit and when to try again. There were fewer interruptions, corrections, instructions, admonishments or directions. It was just freedom — the kind of freedom he almost never got in the real world. It’s not like I punished him or constantly bossed him around, but he didn’t get to walk in the street or squish dog poop between his fingers or pour rice on the floor. There were a lot of things he wanted to try that I pulled him back from. On the iPad, it was different. I could load it with apps that I thought were safe for him, and then let him loose. With this kind of freedom, he learned like crazy.

Watching my son play with the iPad — especially seeing what he could do on his own — took my respect for him to new levels. I still want him to be comfortable in the real world, but I’m starting to feel like reality is more complicated than I initially thought. These days I’m thinking that screens are part of the real world, too.

Playing with bugs

Playing with bugs
Here I am taking a picture of my niece’s pet cutworm. (Photo by Gavin.)

In my family, we grew up fascinated with — and playing with — bugs. My niece and oldest nephew seem to have inherited the Davis love of bugs. (It’s too soon to tell with the youngest nephew.) It didn’t occur to me until I joined the Doughtie clan that bug love might not be a universal childhood trait.

I remember the first time I suggested to my youngest stepson that he turn off the electronics and go in the back yard and play with some bugs. He looked at me with gentle, puzzled concern. There might have even been a little bit of pity in his eyes. It was the sort of look I might get from another adult if I suggested out of the blue that the other adult go in the back yard and find some insects to play with. It was an “Are you sure you’re feeling okay? Is everything going all right for you?” kind of look.

What’s normal?

Check out this confession post and all of the confession comments over at Mormon Mommy Wars. Sometimes in the mom-stepmom world, I think we get super careful about doing a good enough job because we know another woman is going to be seeing and hearing all kinds of intimate details about what we’re doing and that she’s not likely to be a very sympathetic observer. And sometimes, sometimes, I think it’s easy to look down on the other woman when she’s parenting in a way that’s … well … pretty normal, actually. I think the things people are confessing to in the comments to this post are just that: pretty normal. If kids are getting love, there’s such a range of things parents can do or not do and still have the kids turn out okay. That’s my theory anyway.

(And yes, I have a crush on Mormons. I lurk in their blogs. I read their books. I’m an atheist, but Mormon culture hits me where I live. And I’m linking to a “mommy confessions” post on a Mormon mommy blog because Mormons have some of the strongest family values I’ve ever heard of. These are folks who clearly love their families, they’re devoted parents and spouses, and they sacrifice a lot for their families. And they still struggle and compromise and maybe occasionally let a kid eat Cheetos for breakfast. That’s why I think this is such a good comment thread to read when trying to figure out what’s normal in parenting.)

(Originally posted on The DHX.)

The sick bell

The sick bell

When I was little and I got sick, my mom would tuck me into my bed or under blankets on the couch and give me a bell so I could ring for her when I needed her. My mom’s bell had a stained glass handle and lived on the bookcase when everyone was healthy. Mine is this brass apple (and it also lives on one of our bookshelves when we’re all healthy).

A bell is nice for sick people because they don’t have to yell from their beds, and it’s nice for me because I can hear it all through the house. I give it to Gavin and to the kids when they come down with something that keeps them home from work or school, and they half smile like they’re not going to use it because it’s funny to ring a bell for help. Believe me, they don’t abuse it. They always ring it a little shyly. I like coming to see what they need right away, because it’s a way of showing them that I love them. When I was little and miserably sick, it felt comforting and special to know that I could ring a bell for love and attention and Seven-up and Saltines and help rearranging my blankets. I like being able to do the same thing for Gavin and the kids.

Originally posted on The DHX.