Friday, September 17, 2010

Favorite Thing Friday: Read-Aloud Handbook

Note: my apologies to those of you who will receive multiple versions of this in your reader. Every time I wanted to type "Peter Pan" I wanted it in italics and kept hitting "control P" for "Peter" instead of "control I" for "italics" and it kept publishing. I swore a lot.

Despite my devotion to teaching the boys at home the Montessori way, I am a bit of a home eduction book junkie. My favorite non-Montessori homeschooling book is The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I have a tentative plan to use the massive resources in this book to keep me well-stocked with ideas for all the "rabbit holes" the boys will follow as they continue their Montessori education past the 3-6/6-9 sequence. It seems only natural that parents who homeschool their children worry about "gaps" (topics they may have missed) or whether they are keeping up with the "public school kids." This book is a little like "gap insurance." Instead of worrying about whether we are keeping up with the public school kids, I can worry about keeping up with the Bauers (impossible).

I was rereading the chapter "Unlocking the Doors: The Preschool Years" recently because I remembered that they mentioned that around Kindgergarten age is a good time to start reading novels aloud and listening to books on tape ("not the fifteen-minute children's tapes with all the bells and whistles designed to keep children occupied, but real books read in their entirety without sound effects" [32]) if you haven't already been doing so.

Children can listen to and enjoy books that are far, far above their vocabulary level; in one year, Susan's [Wise-Bauer's] three year old and five year old listened to all of Kipling's Just So Stories, the original Jungle Book, all of Edith Nesbit's books, The Chronicles of Narnia, Barrie's densely written Peter Pan, E. B. White's Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan, Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, the unabridged Christmas Carol by Dickens. Books on tape stock a child's mind with the sounds of thousands of words. When children start sonding out words later on, they'll progress much more quickly if they recognize the words. [32]

In the resources section of that chapter they mention that there are too many read-aloud favorites to list but recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease as a good guide. As always, I like a plan so I headed straight to the library. When I got there, I picked up the Trelease book and a novel to begin reading aloud straight away. I seem to have forgotten the "densely written" comment by Bauer and brought home Peter Pan because it seemed likely to appeal to my boys' sensibilities. Now, I know the Montessori purists out there are cringing right now because of the very sound arguments for only non-fiction before six. I agree, I really do and we read mostly non-fiction around here. I just can't help myself. I would say they are probably deleting my blog from their readers right this minute, but truthfully we all know that the Montessori purists deleted me long ago.

Fortunately I had the good sense to bring home more than one version of Peter Pan. We sat right down and started in with the "real thing." After reading less than two pages and listening to Kal-El ask several times "when is the story going to start?" I realized my children are not as smart as Susan Wise Bauer's and switched to the Random House version edited by Josette Frank. I like what she says at the beginning:

This book, specially designed for young children, is a brief retelling of the famous story entitled Peter Pan and Wendy. When the children are a little older, they will want to read, as their fathers and mothers did,the whole story, many times longer than this, just as it was written by J. M. Barrie.

This book is not a super-short Disney version of the book. It is a shorter retelling with a certain percentage of description eliminated but the plot and sense of the language intact.

Anyway, the Read-Aloud Handbooks is an absolute gem. As a former teacher and the wife of a teacher I encourage all teachers to read this book. It will change the way you teach your classroom whether you teach English, Science, Band, Physical Education, or any other subject at any age level. It made me wish I could go back and teach again just to do things differently (Montessori has had that effect as well).

Much of the book is an up-to-date treasury of more than 1,200 children's books, from picture books to novels. Each recommendation is teamed with an age range and synopsis. It was enjoyable to read through the "treasury" as it was the rest of the actual book. I was shocked at the number of great books I had completely forgotten about over time and would have forgotten to introduce to the boys. We have tackled quite a few things from the list in the last several weeks and are having such a good time.

This book is very Montessori in its notions of developing attention-span/concentration. It is helpful in developing a deliberate plan for increasing the length and difficulty level of books your child will enjoy listening too. It also echoes the Montessoriesque notion that the child is most engaged when a material presents just the right level of challenge. It was obvious after reading this book that they boys were not properly prepared for the full Peter Pan novel as originally written. However, children love repetition and will enjoy the real thing even more when the time comes for having heard the shorter version. This is an idea broached in the Well-Trained Mind frequently as well. In the Classical Education Model, children cover the same subject matter several times with increasing level of detail. For example, they will read a simple versions of the tales from The Odyssey in elementary, a simplified version of The Odyssey in middle school, and the real thing in high school.

We have jumped into the treasury at a more appropriate developmental level and I'll try to share some of what we have been reading with you as we go.

Home of:The Ultimate Montessori Blog ListThe Ultimate Montessori Search BoxThe Ultimate Montessori Homemade Materials Collaboration


  1. I always read a chapter book with my 3rd year students! Very Montessori, indeed. It was even recommended in my training. This year we are reading Fantastic Mr. Fox. I have had to change a few words/sentences when I read it, though. I forgot about how mean and nasty Dahl makes the farmers! Still, it's a great story and has enough drama to hold their still-developing attention spans.

  2. I just finished "Little House in the Big Woods" and am currently reading "Little House on the Prairie" with my 4-year-old. He loves those books. Thanks for the reminder too about books on CD - I put some of those listed plus the Guide to Read Alouds on my Amazon wish list. :)

  3. I have The Well-Trained Mind by my beside. While I don't follow the classical approach (more in line with Charlotte Mason), I have found some of their tips and recommendations invaluable. It's very straight forward and cuts to the chase which is nice. We've been listening to The Magic Treehouse series and I agree 100% that it has helped our daughter read longer words. We need to find other series to delve into because we've listened to almost all of the MTH audiobooks.

  4. Very interesting! I will have to check that book out. I currently read to my son every night from a classic, currently Jane Eyre. He even askes me to read to him. I do not think he completly understands everything yet but he enjoys it.

  5. My kids LOVE books, poetry and short stories on cd's. I started about 2 years ago with Aesop's fables and short stories, we slowly went from 5 minute stories to magic tree house(our first chapter book). I remember Bella not being able to get through it until about 4 years old.

    Some recommendations: A Collection of Just So Stories Unabridged Audio CD Greathall Productions Inc.
    Rudyard Kipling, Jim Weiss-Reader,

    Poetry by Shel Silverstein

    Aesop's fables - Milo Winter

    I can't wait to hear what you guys are reading!

  6. Dear My Boy's Teacher,

    many thanks for your post in the preschool6 yahoo group, I visited your blog and loved it! But unlike you, I send my children to a Montessori school, so I will be mainly compensating their experience at home. Still, I love the resources you put out there with all the book/link references!

    I am writing with a specific question: I have a 19 months old son, who so far are mostly interested in cars, balls, pouring water everywhere, running around. In his class, his teacher put out some small cars for him. I was told that he loved to play those cars, and running around in a corner of the classroom (which is designed for their gross motor skills exercises). I wonder if there is any Montessori material that is designed for his obsession with making things move. I do notice his rapid learning with pegged puzzles, but he rarely wants to play with them on his own. It seems to me that most of Montessori's material is "static". Since you have two boys, I wonder if they also have similar obsession, and how you dealt with it (or not to deal with it).

    Many thanks,
    (I posted this in the yahoo group as well)

  7. What do you know, I just finished reading The Well-Trained Mind over the weekend! I quite enjoyed it and, like you, found it to be friendly toward the Montessori style of learning. And talk about a ton of resources - the book is invaluable for that reason alone!

  8. you said "I would say they are probably deleting my blog from their readers right this minute, but truthfully we all know that the Montessori purists deleted me long ago."

    I really like reading your posts. They give me new insights on things I just never though of before.

    not a purist... learning from you