Years ago, before Every Little Adventure took off, I mostly used this blog as a place to share my thoughts about raising a child on the autism spectrum. As my son got older, I didn’t feel like it was right to put all of his business out there on the internet for all to see. And I still feel this way–however, we’re going through some big changes and I want to again start sharing some of our journey here on Every Little Adventure.
HJ (that’s the nickname I’ll be using for my son on this blog/social media from here on out) struggles with regulating his emotions. His mental health struggles have been elevated recently and we don’t yet have any answers. In the meantime, school has become a major trigger. Again, we don’t fully understand the reason. There’s a lot more going on here that I will never publish online (because it’s not my business, it’s here) but ultimately, we decided that the hell we’re going through right now is just not worth it.
That’s why, starting on Monday, I am going to start homeschooling HJ.
“Reading aloud is the most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read,” says Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams, a specialist in cognition and education. When we read out loud to our children, or the children we teach, we instill a love of reading.
But how we read to them matters. Now, we can’t all be as captivating as Ludacris when we read Llama Llama Red Pajama, but there are ways we can make it an exciting and interactive experience. Read on for 8 tips for reading aloud to children!
1. Read it yourself first
You might feel silly reading a picture book to yourself, but this is essential, especially if you’re reading aloud to a group. What can happen if you don’t read it yourself first? Here are some things that have happened to me: I’ve stumbled over words I couldn’t pronounce. I’ve mispronounced characters’ names. I’ve been taken aback by unexpected sad endings. I’ve even been surprised by naked characters in the middle of the book. (Eric Carle, I’m looking at you!) In short, I usually try to read the book myself first to make sure I’m prepared.
2. Choose great read-aloud books
Besides ensuring the book is age-appropriate, pay attention to how many words are on each page before reading it aloud. Avoid books that are meant for children to read to themselves. I typically avoid the “I Can Read” books, because the text is simplified and there’s usually very little dialogue. Also, make sure the book is captivating and has great illustrations.
3. Talk about the cover of the book
Build excitement before you even open the book. Let children make predictions about the story. “What do you think this book is about?” Give them time to view the cover and talk about the illustrations. Discuss the author and illustrator, and define what those new terms mean.
4. Introduce new words and their meaning
When you come across a word they’ve never heard before, pause to explain it in a way they’ll understand. For example, while reading Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak recently, I paused to define the word “rumpus.” I just spent a few seconds telling the children, “A rumpus is like a noisy party” before I turned the page to reveal exactly that. Sometimes, kids are able to decipher a word’s meaning with context clues–you could let them guess themselves.
5. Be expressive with dialogue and descriptions
Is a bear doing the talking? Well, by all means, talk like a big tough bear! Is the character feeling sad? Speak in a melancholy tone. (You should hear my version of The Pout-Pout Fish‘s “blub, blub, bluuuubbbb.” Gets ’em every time.) This keeps children interested and helps them differentiate one character’s voice from the next. When it comes to describing a scene, be emotive. Is the protagonist talking about his baby brother’s stinky diaper? Hold your nose and say “ew!”
6. Ask questions as you read
To make the experience more interactive, ask questions before, during, and after you read. Ask open-ended questions that make them think–for example, “How do you think Vashti felt when her teacher framed her artwork?” Help the children make connections with their own lives by relating the story to something familiar. “What color of apple is your favorite to eat?”
7. In repetitive stories, let children finish the sentence
By the third time you’ve repeated the same phrase, children might be able to say it along with you. For example, with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I stop when I get to the line “but he was still hungry” and let the children say it as a group. I do the same thing with my son. This gets them involved in the telling of the story, which is important for building those early reading skills.
8. Let children retell the story in their own words
Once you’ve read the book, help build their reading comprehension skills by discussing what happened. Ask questions like, “What kind of problem did the frog have? Who helped him solve it? How did he feel after he won?” Encourage them to use words like first, then, next, and last. Follow up by doing an activity based on the book (i.e. an art activity, puppets, felt board, a special snack, etc.)
Children thrive on imaginative play, and playing outdoors connects them with nature. At my house, I encourage my son to play outside as much as possible. Some days he complains that there’s “nothing to do,” despite the forgotten basketball goal and lonely scooter lying in the yard… you know how it goes.
I’ve been so inspired by these DIY outdoor play spaces–mud kitchens, tents, and musical spots–that I’m motivated to create one for my son at home, and at my preschool, too! I love that most of these are inexpensive to build and wouldn’t take longer than one Saturday afternoon to make. Best of all, the kids can be a part of the building process!
This outdoor music station is made from an upcycled swing, and seems so easy to make! I’m the type of mom who can give my kid a drum and tune him out for a while, so this music station is a big possibility for us.
3. Scrap Yarn & Ribbon Tent, unknown source
Now I know what to do with all this yarn and ribbon I’m never going to use. Just look at this though–can you imagine the hours of fun a child could have weaving and tying spare bits of string through this tent?
Let kids explore bugs and see how they move, eat, work, and live with a bug hotel like this one! You could build a similar miniature version if you’re not too keen on the idea of a giant bug hotel in your back yard.
Experts say kids should have the opportunity to write on a vertical surface, and what better way to do that than by adding a chalkboard to the fence? Notice that they hung a bucket of chalk alongside it, too–handy!
If you’re alive and you’ve used the internet for more than five seconds in the past week, you’ve heard about Pokemon Go, the mobile augmented reality game that’s getting adults and kids alike to flock to the streets in search of Pokemon, the adorable “pocket monsters” with names like Pikachu and Jigglypuff. Released in the US on July 6, this game has already beat out Tinder for the most popular app on the market.
All of the negativity about this game on Facebook is sort of harshing my vibe. I’m not talking about the privacy concerns (which have now been fixed), but the memes that imply the game is for lazy people with nothing better to do. I’m not sure why people go out of their way to degrade an activity that others enjoy, but it’s made me feel like I need to defend why my family and I love this game so much.
1. It’s something we both enjoy.
As a parent, you probably know how rare it is when there’s an activity that enthralls both you and your children, especially when they’re younger. You can only “watch this!” 97 or so times as they knock over a Lego tower before you start to lose your mind. Pokemon Go has been an activity that my husband, son, and I can play together. None of us are bored, and it encourages a little healthy competition among us.
When it all comes down to it, your kids just want to play with you. And they can tell when you’re not enjoying yourself. As for me, I’m 100% comfortable being the kind of mom that will run around a park after work or do a sudden U-turn to catch a Pikachu. Holden wouldn’t be enjoying himself so much if I wasn’t right there next to him, matching his enthusiasm for a rare Pokemon.
2. He’s exercising–and he doesn’t even know it!
Pokemon Go actually forces you to walk to get rewards. To incubate an egg to hatch a rare Pokemon, you must walk 2 km, 5 km, or 10 km, depending on the egg. The app knows if you’re cheating, so driving doesn’t work. (Not that we’ve tried or anything.) In the week or so that Pokemon Go has been released, my kid has walked at least 12 kilometers, which is over 7 miles.
The rest of us are active, too. A family member actually told me they’ve noticed I’ve lost weight–and I’m guessing it has something to do with all the extra physical activity I’ve been adding to my daily routine. Instead of watching Netflix after dinner, we get outside and walk while playing Pokemon Go.
3. Pokemon Go is teaching my son about geography & maps.
My son is five, and until recently he was not very familiar with how to use and understand a map. And he still has trouble with left and right occasionally. Since we’ve downloaded Pokemon Go, I will hear him pipe up from the back seat saying, “Mom, drive two more blocks and then turn left. There’s a Pokestop by a lake!”
With Pokemon Go, my son can navigate the streets of our neighboring towns and alert us if there’s a river coming up. This app has taken us to the post office, many local churches, parks, historical sites, and small businesses. It’s taken us places we haven’t visited in a long time, and my son is discovering there’s more to our town than he ever knew. We found a pretty impressive buffalo sculpture that neither of us had noticed before. Pokemon Go led us right to it!
4. We’re getting history lessons from Pokemon Go.
As mentioned above, a lot of gyms and Pokemon stops are located at historical sites and landmarks. In the game, if a Pokestop is at a historical location, it gives you an opportunity to read about it on your phone if it’s nearby. The Pokestop could be a museum, a historical marker where an important battle was fought, a sculpture of a historical figure, etc. While playing, I take the time to explain the historical significance of the location to my son.
5. We’re interacting with strangers in positive ways.
I’ve never taught Holden about “stranger danger.” Instead, we talk about “tricky people.” Because some strangers are actually really friendly nerds who are trying to find a Snorlax just like us. The second time we played, Holden met someone who was on his team (Team Instinct!) and smiled for the rest of our walk. Another day, some teenage girls told us where to find an Onyx. (We weren’t so lucky.) With me by his side, my autistic son is having safe, pleasant interactions with strangers.
So while a few people (out of hundreds of thousands) have had bad experiences with the game, don’t let the negativity scare you. You can play Pokemon Go safely with your family, and your kids. are. going. to. LOVE. it. So get out there, trainers, and start throwing pokeballs! Just let me know where to find the elusive Snorlax, okay?
By the way, I found the coolest Pokemon phone cases on Amazon. I mean, if you want to be the very best, like no one ever was….