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The Big Payoff of Reading Aloud to Kids of All Ages

Reading aloud to kids

Out of all the different ways that we can help our kids succeed in school, the number one thing that parents can do requires nothing more than a free library card and time. We can read to them.

In 1983, the U.S. Department of Education was concerned about low academic performance scores, so they funded a Commission on Reading who spent two years combing through thousands of research reports conducted over the previous twenty-five years, and in 1985 they published their findings in a report titled Becoming a Nation of Readers. Amidst all of their digging, they discovered that reading out loud to kids is the number one most important thing we can do to help our kids become successful learners.

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children,” the report said. “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

I’ve Seen It First Hand

I homeschool all my kids, so I have had the privilege of watching them learn to read. (Well, the first five that is; the four year old is just starting.) And I’ve noticed reading happens in different ways for different kids. A few of my kids were early fluent readers, reading simple chapter books independently before Kindergarten. But a couple of them did not take to it so easily.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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When Should You Start and Stop Reading to Your Kids?

reading

When Should We Start Reading to Our Kids?

Some would say we should start reading to our babies as soon as they’re born, but I think we should start even before that. A study was done at the University of North Carolina in which 33 pregnant women were given a passage from a children’s story to read to their unborn babies. They were asked to read it three times a day for the last six weeks of pregnancy. Fifty-two hours postpartum, the babies were each given a nipple to suck as they listened through headphones to a woman’s voice (not their mom) reading three different passages. The researchers measured the babies’ sucking rates and found that the babies showed a preference for the passages that their moms had read during pregnancy.

When Should We Stop Reading to Our Kids?

Remember the recommendation from the U.S. Department of Education Commission on Reading that we talked about yesterday? If you didn’t get a chance to read it click here. They said reading aloud to children “should continue throughout the grades.”

Reading to my teens has been one of the most bonding and rewarding times for us. It’s a time for deep diving when we talk about what makes people tick and what we hold as the core values that drive our decisions.

Tom Sawyer’s brilliant (albeit mischievous) ploy to manipulate his peers into paying him for the “opportunity” to whitewash his aunt’s fence sparked a great discussion with my kids. We talked about Tom’s genius and his ability to manipulate people and situations and how he had a choice to use those gifts for good or for bad. We talked about how Tom Sawyer could have been a great entrepreneur, and we contemplated what causes a person to choose well or not choose well.

When we read The Giver, we talked about the pros and cons of socialism and how this conversation is extremely relevant to changes in our own society. We talked about aspects of their society that we admired and aspects that seemed oppressive.

In the teen years, when so many things are competing for our kids’ attention, reading aloud can offer intimate moments with them that we might not otherwise find.

 

Check back on Friday. We are going to offer suggested reading titles for kids of all ages. In the meantime, leave a comment below telling us some of your favorite read aloud selections.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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A Key Predictor of Academic Success

Words

Vocabulary is an important part of reading success. Kids have a much easier time decoding words that they recognize and understand.  But vocabulary isn’t only critical for reading, it’s important to learning as a whole. According to readaloud.org, “The number of words that a child knows on entering kindergarten is a key predictor of his or her future success.”

This week we are talking about reading aloud to our kids. If you missed yesterday’s post, take a look.

Out loud reading is crucial to vocabulary development because it exposes kids to a higher volume of words and to words that you don’t normally use in everyday conversation. In his bestselling book The Read Aloud Handbook, author Jim Trelease explains that most people use about 5,000 words in regular conversation. These make up a person’s Basic Lexicon. People also pull from additional bank of about 5,000 less often used words, and together, these 10,000 words make up a person’s Common Lexicon.

read aloud book

But the true test of the strength of a person’s vocabulary lies in their ability to understand and use a smaller group called the “rare words.” So how do we expose kids to these rare words if they’re not a part of our daily conversation? By reading to them.

And as it turns out, words have a huge impact on learning.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

The Big Payoff of Reading Aloud to Kids

ReadingAloud

Out of all the different ways that we can help our kids succeed in school, the number one thing that parents can do requires nothing more than a free library card and time. We can read to them.

In 1983, the U.S. Department of Education was concerned about low academic performance scores, so they funded a Commission on Reading who spent two years combing through thousands of research reports conducted over the previous twenty-five years, and in 1985 they published their findings in a report titled Becoming a Nation of Readers. Amidst all of their digging, they discovered that reading out loud to kids is the number one most important thing we can do to help our kids become successful learners.

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children,” the report said. “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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The Power of Definitions – Bringing Peace and Order to Your Home

To hear our radio show podcast by the same title click here.

From the White House to the school house to your house, a clear definition can prevent a world of trouble. Even the highest office in the land could stand an occasional dictionary review (apparently they don’t teach the meaning of the word “is” in law school).

All joking aside, clear definitions do bring a certain peace and order.

In the Stahlmann house, “obedience” is defined as “immediately, cheerfully, and thoroughly.” I heard the definition nearly a decade ago from a homeschool mom with an army of kids – very well behaved kids, might I add.

When our kids were little, we spent a good amount of time defining each of the three attributes of obedience. Most of them understood “immediately” right off the bat, but “cheerfully” and “thoroughly” took some time.

Over the years, as I’ve shared our definition with other parents, “cheerfully” seems to have inspired the most raised eyebrows. “Kids can’t always be expected to be cheerful, can they?” When it comes to obeying orders, they sure can.

I’d say one of the most valuable lessons our kids can learn is that attitude is a choice. We can’t always control what happens in our life, but we can always choose our response. And although it can be difficult to choose a good attitude, a good attitude bears good fruit. (For a glimpse at how we recently confronted an attitude struggle in our family, check out Without Anger or Excuse.)

“Thoroughly” can be a tricky one. Some kids seem to come pre-wired with a dominant thoroughness gene, and others…well…don’t. I call them 80%ers – they always seem to think they’re finished about 80% through the job.

I have to admit, it does take some effort to teach the “thorough” part of obedience, because it means we parents have to be willing to follow-up (often again and again) until the job is 100% done. But we can’t expect what we’re not willing to inspect. The good news is that over time, our kids will learn to strive for excellence in all they do.

As they’re learning how to be thorough, it’s okay if they miss a few details, as long as they ask for an inspection before assuming they’re done, and they’re willing to make adjustments with a cheerful spirit.

When we catch our kids slipping in one area of obedience, we’ll ask, “What’s the definition of obedience?” and instantly they know what needs to be adjusted. That’s the power of a definition!

Another thing worthy of defining is your family rules. When a child misbehaves, you can point to the family rules and calmly say, “It says here there is no screaming allowed in our house, and you were screaming.”

Which leads to the next thing worthy of defining, and that’s the consequences for disobedience and misbehavior (breaking a family rule). Deciding ahead of time what the results will be creates an atmosphere of justice in your home. Your kids don’t feel wronged by discipline because the expectations of them were clear, as were the results of poor choices. They won’t enjoy it, of course, but they’ll know it’s fair, and fairness is especially important to young souls.

On a side note, a great principle to post in your home is “Good choices equal good results. Bad choices equal bad results.” Imagine the fruit our kids will produce if they arrive at adulthood understanding that they can always make a good choice and that many good choices, over time, will yield good results. It’s the biblical principle of reaping and sowing. Sow good seed and reap a good harvest.

Our oldest son has autism, and because communication is one of his greatest struggles, definitions are particularly important for him. When Griffyn clearly understands what is expected of him, and what the results will be for both good and bad choices, he has an easier time making good choices and accepting the consequences for bad ones.

Definitions create boundaries, and boundaries offer safety. Perhaps no one is more sensitive to that fact than our sweet Griffyn.

Stop by later in the week to read about the Power of the Three Question Correction, and the Power of Routines.

In the meantime, we’d love to love to hear about your family rules.  Here’s a peak at ours.

Stahlmann Family Rules

  1. Obey mommy and daddy immediately, cheerfully and thoroughly!
  2. No spitting, hitting, kicking, pushing, snatching, throwing things, or hurting people or animals.
  3. No screaming in the house and no temper tantrums.
  4. Always treat each other with honor and respect.
  5. No playing with water in the house.
  6. Put things away when you are done using them.
  7. Take snacks only with permission and always eat at a table.
  8. No going outside without shoes or permission.
  9. Don’t interrupt when someone is talking.
  10. Always tell the truth!

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Okay…So Now What?

Originally posted in April 2011 at A Gentle Answer Ministries 

Early Intervention specialists flooded our life with eleven therapy appointments a week. Occasionally they’d suggest we meet with a neurologist, but I just thought it was a casual recommendation. As educators and social workers, they were not allowed to offer medical opinions. In other words, they couldn’t come right out say they suspected Griffyn was autistic.  So truly, I had no clue.

When someone first said the word autism, it sounded ridiculous to me. I had never met a 2-year-old autistic child. My only exposure to it was from the movie “Rainman” with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Certainly my two-year-old was nothing like that. But as it turns out, the only reason he was nothing like Rainman was because he was a baby and Rainman was an adult. Had the movie shown Rainman at two, the character might have behaved exactly like my son. Now, at 13, he’s very much like Rainman.

As the months of therapy followed, I noticed more and more how profoundly different Griffyn was from other kids his age. One day, I asked one of his therapists, “You don’t think Griffyn is autistic, right?” Silence, and then a slow, hesitating response.  “Well…the thought has crossed my mind.” What? I was stunned!

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day we got the diagnosis. It was March 17, 2000, a cold and rainy day. The doctor spent a good half-hour just observing Griffyn, and then he conducted an extensive interview with me. When he was done, he leaned back in his big leather chair, crossed his legs, and closed the portfolio containing his observations of my precious little boy.

Perhaps he’d said the same words a dozen times a week. I was told he was one of the most sought after experts in the tri-state region. Maybe the repetition of this experience made him forget that all my hopes and dreams were sitting on the floor of his office that morning. It’s not that he was apathetic or even unkind, he just seemed completely unaware of the fear that was squeezing my heart. At that moment, it seemed as if my entire life hinged on the next few words that would come out of this man’s mouth. Perhaps in some ways that turned out to be true; I just didn’t realize then that there was nothing to fear.

The doctor was entirely aloof as he stretched his arms up, crossed his hands behind his head and assumed a position of relaxation. His work was done. “Well,” he said with a certain finality, “the diagnosis is clear. This is autism.”

In a moment I felt as if an avalanche had dumped on me, the weight of it dulling my senses. Had it lasted more than a fraction of a second, I would have been consumed with panic, clawing desperately through the swirling thoughts that filled my mind and clouded my ability to respond.

But in that fraction of a second, something amazing happened. God, the Creator of the universe, the very One who knit my son together in the depths of my womb, reached out with His amazing grace and poured it over me a like gentle waterfall, washing away the fear and the hurt and the desperation. In my own strength, left to my own thoughts, I would have crumbled. That fleeting moment of panic let me know that I was not able to manage this on my own. But in the power of God’s grace, I was suddenly bathed in peace. This is what the book of Philippians is referring to when it describes “the peace that passes all understanding.”

I breathed in His strength and leaned forward, and in that pivotal moment I looked the doctor soberly in the eye. God had pointed me in a new direction, and with great determination and focus, I said, “Okay…so now what?”

When our children are first born, they hold so much promise and mystery, and in our flesh it is tempting to imagine their future. When our son was diagnosed with autism, God showed me that I would need to let go of my ideas of what I thought he should be. Until I fully released my agenda into God’s hands, I would not be able to receive all the blessings that God intended to bring through this special child. And although God had guarded my heart and mind against despair, there was still a process that had to happen, a shifting and refocusing.

One morning a few years ago, as I was writing at my desk, my daughter brought me a 3-D picture to see if I could find the image. I held it close to my nose and let my eyes relax. As I slowly pulled it away, the image became clear. In relaxing, even allowing my eyes to go blurry for a time, my perspective was transformed. Once my focus shifted, the new picture was easy to spot. Instead of seeing the mish-mosh of seemingly random patterns, I could clearly see the crisp outline of a horse emerge from the page.

What a great metaphor! When we relax and allow God to refocus the eyes of our heart, a new image clearly emerges. Things may be confusing at first—blurry—but soon the events and circumstances of our life don’t seem so random, and instead of asking why, we are left asking how. Instead of crying out to God for answers, we cry out to God for wisdom and direction.

During my season of refocusing on Griffyn’s diagnosis, God gave me this verse: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  (John 12:24) Once I let go of the child I thought I had, the one I’d created in my own imagination, I could open myself to so many new possibilities. God has so many riches in store for those who are willing let their own agendas die and trust Him for the harvest.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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