The Violin and Ice Hockey and St. Patrick’s Day

Tonight, St. Patrick’s Day, the Boston Bruins play the Tampa Bay Lightening.  Two great ice hockey teams.  The National Anthem always introduces the game with a variety of singers.  Not tonight.  Two musicians played “The Star Spangled Banner” – a violinist, backed up by a guitar player.  No voices.  No singing.  Just the pure sound of every note on the violin.  It washed away all of the fluff, the extras that often accompany this song.  There was only music.

It was powerful.  Music does that.  A single instrument, like a violin, can often convey more feelings and understanding than a full orchestra or chorus.

The power of one.

The violin and music reminded me of Pa in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books – Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.  I always read these books aloud in my classroom.  Pa played the fiddle.  Many of Laura’s stories are about Pa and his fiddle.  His singular notes conveyed to Laura much the same as the violinist I heard tonight.  Simple notes that held a deeper meaning.

I’m introducing children to these sounds and classical music next week.  We are beginning to paint in earnest for out art show.  Music inspires art.  I see this every year.


Posted in art, Early Education, music, patriotism, Singing, Teaching young children, The Arts | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

The Importance of Reading Aloud – Guest Post

Thank you Norah Colvin at readilearn for having me as a guest.  I’m so glad you asked.  It was a pleasure.

The Importance of Reading Aloud — A Guest Post by Jennie Fitzkee

Jennie, a passionate and inspirational teacher, has been teaching preschool in Massachusetts for over thirty years.  She is considered by many to be the “book guru” and the “reader-aloud”.  She is also a writer and her work is often posted  by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  This is what Jennie says of teaching:

“I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience.  Emergent curriculum opens young minds.  It’s the little things that happen in my classroom that are most important and exciting.  That’s what I write about.”

Jennie is highlighted in the new edition of Jim Trelease’s bestselling book, The Read-Aloud Handbook because of her reading to children.  Her class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.  Their latest quilt is currently hanging at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.  In 2016, Jennie was one of seven teachers in Massachusetts to receive the Teacher of the Year Award.

I’m sure you’ll agree that there is much more we can learn from Jennie.

Welcome to readilearn, Jennie.  Over to you.

This story is far more than reading aloud; this is about academic success, learning to read, and loving to read.  It’s about young children and older children, and what happens along the way.  Here are worrisome statistics and great stories.  You should feel empowered.

Let’s talk about academic success.

Jim Trelease was spot on when he said “Reading is the heart of education.  The knowledge of almost every subject in school flows from reading.  One must be able to read the word problem in math to understand it.  If you cannot read the science or social studies chapter, how do you answer the questions at the end of the chapter?”

Parents tell me all the time about their child’s struggles in school, and it boils down to reading, whether it’s reading the homework assignment or a chapter in assigned reading.  When the parent has to step in to help with homework, it often is because of struggles with reading.  I think of how much more difficult the work must be in the classroom with the expectations of independent work.  I wish those children had been in my classroom when they were younger; I could have helped them and their parents.

Now, let’s back up from reading to reading aloud.  In order to read, and more importantly to want to read, it all starts with parents and family reading aloud to children, every day.

The statistics on reading aloud and its link to academic success in all areas is profound.  If reading is a pleasurable experience, then school work is by far easier.  Every child begins school wanting to learn to read.  In other words, we’ve got 100 percent of enthusiastic kindergarteners when they start school.  The National Report Card found that among fourth-graders, only 54 percent read for pleasure.  Among eighth graders, only 30 percent read for pleasure.  By twelfth grade, only 19 percent read anything for pleasure daily.  Yikes!  What happened?  The better question might be, what did not happen?

The seeds of not only learning to read but loving to read were not planted early.  Reading aloud to children for 30 minutes every day, starting at birth and continuing after they have learned to read, is the single best thing a parent can do to build a reader.  I know this.  When I read aloud in my classroom, it’s the time that children are totally absorbed.  Totally.  A good story, read aloud, is the best learning and pleasure experience I give to children.  It opens the door to questions and discovery.

Now let’s talk about pleasure.

People often ask why I chapter read.  After all, many of the children in my classroom are three-years-old.  When we chapter read, the children don’t have an image from a picture book.  They have to make the pictures in their head.  That requires language development.  The more they hear, the more they learn.  Even the youngest children benefit enormously.  For example, they may not ‘get’ the humor of the goose repeating everything three times in Charlotte’s Web, but they are still getting a huge dose of language.  And, that language is sparking their imagination.  No pictures; just words pouring into eager, young minds and creating their own images.

I read picture books as well, at least twice a day.  That’s a given!  As in chapter books, we stop to ask questions.  That’s how we learn.  Remember the five W’s and the H?  Who, what, where, when, why and how?  Those are the most important questions, because they are the foundation for stimulating language.  We stop our reading all the time to ask these questions.

When I read Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky, it takes forty minutes to get through the book.  Really!  I ask, “How did he get in and out of the garden?”  “This does not look like my house; does it look like yours?”  “Where is this place?”  “How did Rapunzel get into the tower?”  “How was the tower built?”  Questions prompt so much interest and dialogue, not to mention imagination.

Fairy tales seem to spark the most conversation.  It’s no wonder that Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff are consistently books that bring words to life, and turn a magical golden key to open imagination.  The world becomes an ocean and children sail with abandon.

Our conversations during chapter reading are often powerful.  Once when we read Doctor Dolittle’s Journey, a sequel to The Story of Doctor Dolittle, a child asked, “Are Indians bad?”.  What an opportunity that question created to talk about acceptance and diversity.  The classroom conversation felt intimate.  It’s not easy for a child to ask a sensitive question in front of the whole class.  Somehow, in the middle of reading aloud a good book, questions feel open, and we talk about everything.

Chapter reading is one of our treasured moments of the day at school.  I know this, and so does Jackson.  Books bring to life the imagination, the world, and the past.  The anticipation of ‘what happens next’ stirs excitement every day.  Children listen and talk.  They ask questions.  Jackson is first to remember what we read yesterday and ask questions about what we read today.  When I ask children, “At chapter reading where do you make the pictures?” they answer “In your head.”

When we finish reading a good book and then start a new one, emotions run high and low.  The end of a good book is so satisfying and pleasant, yet…it is over.  That is the wonderful roller coaster of reading.  And, with each chapter book we read, we ride that roller coaster again and again.

In the fall I begin the school year by reading “Charlotte’s Web”, always a favorite.  When I chapter read, it is rest time, the lights are out, children are on their nap mats, and they listen.  Boy, do they listen.  Often, I stop and ask questions.  We talk about Templeton and his unsavory character.  We laugh about the goose that repeats things three times.  Of course, we talk about Wilbur and Charlotte.  Children are learning new words and using their brain to associate all that language with the story.  More importantly, children are learning right and wrong, values and morals.  They are beginning to develop character and goodness.

Jackson worried when Wilbur went to the fair.  He became very fond of Charlotte.  The more we read about Templeton, particularly when he refused to get Charlotte’s egg sac, the more Jackson became bitter towards Templeton’s character.  Jackson ‘got it’; the language and literacy and learning for him now included the subtleties of morality.  But, the best was yet to come.

Jackson was really learning.  He was becoming ‘one’ with each book, and by now it was pleasure learning for him.

One of the characters throughout Little House on the Prairie is Jack, the dog.  As the family travels in a covered wagon, Jack happily trots behind the whole way.  Then I read the chapter, “Crossing the Creek”.  The creek rises quickly; Pa has to jump in to help the horses get the wagon across the water.  After they are on the other side, Laura says, “Where is Jack?”

I read this chapter with heart, and the passion of what is happening.  I always read like that.  When Laura says those words, the children are stunned.  Shocked.  They know.  I finish reading aloud, sometimes standing and pacing, because this is a big deal.  I, too, have a lump in my throat.

Jackson pulled his blanket over his head.  His body was jerking in sobs, yet he was holding those sobs deep inside.  I scooped him up, and we disappeared to a quiet place to read aloud, together, the next chapter.  Jackson needed to know that Jack the dog found his way home.  I think I was calm when I read the chapter to him.  We were wrapped together in his blanket; perhaps we both sobbed a bit.  It was my greatest moment in teaching.  I had taught the most important values through reading aloud, and Jackson was moved to tears.  He cried tears of the heart.  So did I.

Reading aloud is the best thing I do with, and for, children.  They are preschoolers.  Yes, I chapter read to four-year-olds.  It is marvelous.  After three decades of teaching, I know this is “it”.  Jackson is proof.

Learning can happen unexpectedly, and reading aloud is often the catalyst.  Children don’t need to sit and listen to a book in silence.  Asking questions is a good thing!

Let me say it again: reading aloud is the gift of language, and language is the most important element in a child’s development and success in school.  Wow!  The number of words a child knows can be directly attributed to his or her success in school; not just in English, but in Math and Science as well.  Perhaps these are the most important words a parent can hear.  Reading aloud is a strong part of my classroom curriculum, and children love it!  The more you read aloud at home increases your child’s development!  The biggest bonus is bonding together.  Nothing beats snuggling with Mom or Dad, one-on-one, reading a book.  Life is good!


Posted in books, chapter reading, children's books, Early Education, Imagination, Jim Trelease, picture books, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

“Katy and the Big Snow”…and So Much More

Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton is a classic children’s book that continues to be beloved today.  After three nor’easter snow storms these past two week, it was the perfect read.  The book never gets old, children always find something new.  Today was no exception.  Frankly, the book exploded into unexpected learning about directions, geography, a yard stick, and more.

It happened like this…

As we enjoyed reading the first page, I had an epiphany.  The border depicts all the trucks that belong to the highway department.  A border.  Wait a minute — the only other author that does that in her books is Jan Brett.  Of course; Jan Brett must have read Katy and the Big Snow when she was young and been inspired.  I felt like a child in school who “got it”.  This was exciting!

We stopped to talk about  The Mitten, a Jan Brett book we read last Friday.  They were different, yet the same; different because Jan Brett’s borders in her books are clues to the next page, the same because the borders in Katy and the Big Snow detail the story.  It took a long time to finish reading the first page.

A few pages later a child said, “There’s a compass.”  Sure enough, a compass is featured throughout the book.  Our Big Book of the World has a compass on each page, and we often talk about north, south, east, and west.  Understanding the geography of the town is key to Katy’s snow plowing in the story.  And, this is just what we have been doing recently.


We are learning about France this month, and over the past week we have used our atlas and our satellite map to understand France in relation to the world.  We compared the two, together.  The questions flowed, including north, south, east, and west.

This was our compass guide for Katy and the Big Snow.  While north is not pointing to the top in the book, children needed a reference of true north.

Then came the page with only words:

A strong wind came up and drifts began to form… one foot…. two feet….. three feet…… five feet…….. The snow reached the first story windows………. the second story windows…………

The children seemed to understand that more dots in the text meant more snow.  As I read the words I held my hand above the floor to the approximate height, but that wasn’t enough.  I needed to show children how much snow is two feet, etc.  A yard stick to the rescue.  I use this in my classroom more than I use a ruler.  Young children need big!  I could show them one foot, two feet, three feet.  I stood up to show them five feet.  They got it- a lot of snow!

This is everybody’s favorite page, especially after measuring with a yardstick.  It puts a visual as to how much snow we measured, and beyond:


So, Katy plowed out the roads in each location, north, south, east and west.  She helped the police, the schools, the airport, and of course the fire department.


The story does not end here.  Learning and enthusiasm isn’t a switch that turns on and off.  It grows.  Today, after two snow days, we were the first class to venture into deep, new snow.  Children had to lift each foot high at every step just in order to walk through the snow.  We were trail blazers.  It was a thrilling adventure for children.

This is emergent curriculum at its best.  That means something sparks the interest of children, and a teacher builds upon it.  The most important learning, things that stick and are the foundation for more learning come from the children.  Math, science, geography, literacy, art… the list is a long one, and is greatly enhanced through emergent curriculum.  Katy and the Big Snow is a perfect example.

Oh, how I love reading-aloud and the windows that open to learning!


Posted in Book Review, children's books, Early Education, geography, Learning About the World, picture stories, reading, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Parenting Illustrated

Parenting and Humor. Thank you, Mitch Teemley!

Mitch Teemley

Raising a Toddler:Slide1

Raising a Teenager:Slide3

Parent’s School Experience:Slide2

Child’s School Experience:


Parent’s Goals for Teenager:Presentation1

Teenager’s Goals:Presentation2

Off to College!Slide5

After College:boomerangkid

Any Questions?

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Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Meeting Jane Yolen at the Eric Carle Museum

Jane Yolen spoke to teachers, librarians and writers yesterday at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.  She has just published her 365th book.  Really.  Sold out event.  I knew I had to be there because of Owl Moon.  It was the first picture book that exploded for me when I read the story aloud to my preschool class.  It opened the door for far more than the story and the words in the book; it opened the door for teaching, and connecting.  I remember it well.

Children were spellbound.  Their silence and wide eyes told me I had to do more, and I did.  We went on a nature walk to collect all the things necessary to make an Owl Moon mural.  First the children drew with pen, then painted in watercolors.  It looked just like the art of the illustrator.  We added our nature pieces to make trees and the owl.  It was magnificent.

We went owling at night, parents and children bundled in the cold.  There are woods beyond the playground at school.  That night, we heard an owl answer our call.  Children and parents still talk about going owling at school to this day.  And that was nearly thirty years ago.

I told this story to Jane Yolen

She told me that her editor said, “Every word in this story is important.”

I said, “Yes!  Every single word.”

I was on my knees.  Nobody else did that.  It was the right thing to do, the right way to meet this author.  The long line behind me must have been surprised.  Stunned is a better word.  They were silent and watching the tremendous conversation.

The event at the Eric Carle Museum was a discussion and presentation with Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi EY Stemple.  Heidi asked the questions and Jane answered.  It was engaging and informative.  Really fun.

At one point, Heidi talked about Owl Moon, and how the story came about.  Owling was something her father always did.  Sometimes she went along.  I realized that she was the little girl in the book.  I interrupted and said aloud, “That was you!”  Heidi smiled a big smile and said, “Yes.”

The series of dinosaur books that Jane Yolen has written are very popular.  Children in my class love them.  Their favorite is How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

Great writers say important words.  Jane Yolen said:

“Writers have ideas.  It’s what they do with them that counts.”

We need teachers to turn on the lights for us.  It’s hard to read and write in the dark.”

“The author isn’t important.  Their writing is.

“Don’t write down to children.  They will know and remember the words.”

Words of wisdom. Thank you, Jane Yolen.


Posted in Author interview, children's books, Early Education, Eric Carle, Inspiration, museums, picture books, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 57 Comments

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

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How Not to Become a Troubled School Shooter

Make Friends

Be Kind



Read Books, Together


Know That Crying Lets The Hurt Come Out

Tell Stories, Real and Make Believe

Tell your Mom When You Feel Angry

Say Please and Thank You

Ask For Help

Accept Help

Remember That People Love You

Play Outside

Run, Jump, and Swing Really High

Be a Listener

Know That Scared and Lonely Does Not Feel Good

Remember That a Hug Feels Really Good

Watch the Wonders of Nature and Animals

Love a Dog, Pat a Bunny

Let Ladybugs and Beetles Crawl on You.

Write Your Stories

Draw Pictures and Paint

Sing Loud


Follow the Golden Rule


Posted in behavior, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Kindness, Love, self esteem, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 65 Comments