Children Don’t Forget

I wish I could remember everything important, like the titles of all the books I intend to read this summer.  I can recall stories galore of yesteryear, with crystal clear pictures in my head.  The present often seems cloudy in comparison.   Children remember everything.  The tiniest detail is there beside them, for the longest time.  Isabelle is a case in point.

My library read-aloud group started the year reading Diva and Flea, by Mo Willems back in September.

It is the story of a dog and a cat, living in Paris.  Of course it is so much more, as Mo Willems weaves stories of growing, bravery, and fear throughout the book.  He also paints a verbal picture of life on both sides of the tracks. Does having all the conveniences and necessities dictate a better life?  Better hold on and read the book!

Since the backdrop for the book is Paris, French words are among the text.  Diva is a gardienne’s dog, and Flea is a flâneur.  I often stopped my reading to talk about the words.  That was fun!

Flea did have a fixed occupation, however.  He was a flâneur.  A flâneur is someone (or some cat) who wanders the streets and bridges and alleys of the city just to see what there is to see.  A great flâneur has seen everything… Flea was a great flâneur.

The children loved the book.  Adults enjoy the subtle humor of Mo Willems.  Win-win all around.  We continued the year reading The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown (a favorite) and The Story of Doctor Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting.  By the time June rolled around, reading Diva and Flea seemed like years ago.

On the last day of our library read-aloud last week, this is what Isabelle’s Mother showed me (it is in two parts):

The school assignment was to write the answer to a question for each day of the week.  Monday’s question was, “If you could be a cat for one day, would you like it?  What would you do all day?”  Isabelle answered:

“I would like to be a cat for one day.  I would flâneur all around.”

Wow!  Flâneur all around.  Imagine that; written nine months after reading Diva and Flea.

In the words of Mo Willems, “The biggest discoveries start with the smallest steps.”  I give children many, many small steps- especially through reading aloud.  They discover the world in avenues that often surprise me.  It is wonderful.


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Last (and Best) Parent Newsletter of the Year

My final newsletter to parents.  I tell them in a nutshell everything that mattered; the best thirty minutes of the day that made children’s minds come alive and made their hearts beat.  And every day, every thirty minutes, it happened.  Here is what I said:

Chapter Reading

June 14, 2017

Chapter reading is one of our treasured moments of the day.  We bring to life the imagination, the world, and the past.  The anticipation of ‘what happens next’ stirs excitement every day.  Children listen and think.  They ask questions.  Ask your child, “At chapter reading where do you make the pictures?”  You will hear your child say, “In your head.”

When we finish 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.

We are three-quarters through Little House on the Prairie, and it is thrilling; from Jack the dog, to building a house, to Indians in the house.  Pa and his neighbor Mr. Scott dug a well, and we learned about the bad gas deep inside the earth (Pa had to save Mr. Scott) that only a candle can detect.  Of course, I had to bring in my grandfather’s childhood portrait wearing a miner’s hat with the same candle. Laura and her family had fever ‘n’ ague (malaria), an illness that people thought came from eating watermelons. 


We encourage you to finish reading the book aloud to your child.  There is much more ahead, from Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus, to Fire on the Prairie.  If your child wants to continue the series, the next one, Farmer Boy is about Laura’s husband when he was a little boy.  I recommend the following one, On the Banks of Plum Creek, which begins their next journey after the prairie.

We voted on our favorite chapter books this year.  Charlotte’s Web was the winner!

These are the chapter books we have read this year.  Good books are meant to be read over and over again.  We encourage you to revisit these wonderful books with your child:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles

The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

Doctor Dolittle’s Journey by Hugh Lofting

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwater

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The fundamental constant that gives children the tools to succeed in school is language.  The more words that children hear, the better they will do in school.  Reading aloud to children is far more than an enjoyable experience.  It increases their language development!  In kindergarten through grade four, the primary source of instruction is oral.  The more words that a child has heard, the better s/he will understand the instruction, and the better s/he will perform in school, in all subjects.  Therefore, we will always campaign to read aloud.

A wonderful guide to book recommendations and to understanding the importance of reading aloud is the million-copy bestseller book, The Read-Aloud Handbook.  I have used the book since my children were little.  The author, Jim Trelease, visited the Aqua Room and GCS.  We are featured in the new seventh edition of the book.


Posted in chapter reading, Early Education, Imagination, Jim Trelease, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Reading “Little House on the Prairie”, Then and Now

I have two stories to tell; both happened on the same day this week, yet they are fourteen years apart.  Every year my last chapter reading book at school is Little House on the Prairie.  Here is what happened:

Story One:  My school’s annual presentation of a college scholarship to a former student happened this week.  Martha, the recipient, was a preschooler in my class, way back when.  As her winning essay was read aloud, these were her some of her words:

“I have been fortunate to grow up in an environment where a love of learning was instilled in me from a young age.  Between my mom and Jennie, adults read out loud to me multiple times a day.  They also encouraged me to ask questions and to be a curious learner, which led directly to my success in high school.”

Martha and Jennie…now

Martha was the quiet one, the child who “took it all in”.  Questions?  Bursting with things to say?  Not really.  But, oh how she listened!  I never underestimate the brain of a child. What goes in builds and grows, like all those words from chapter reading.

I thanked and congratulated Martha.  And then her Mother said, “Jennie, don’t you remember?  You didn’t finish reading Little House on the Prairie, and you told me I needed to finish reading the book to Martha.  I did.  That started reading aloud and chapter books.”

Martha is headed to an outstanding college, Trinity College in Connecticut, among the best.  She has been a volunteer at school, and in her college essay she said:

“I have always adored children and believe that I am able to connect with them, so for the past few years I have volunteered at the preschool I once attended.  As I read to the students during rest time, I love seeing how excited they become to see what happens next.  I know how important it is to read to young children, but now I know its value firsthand.”

Martha and Jennie…then

Story TwoAaryan is not a Martha. He constantly asks questions and has something important to say at chapter reading.  He verbalizes all he remembers with great excitement.  We were reading the chapter of Pa going to town, close to three-quarters of the way through  Little House on the Prairie.  Pa’s neighbor, Mr. Edwards, came over to help Ma with the chores while Pa was away.  Immediately Aaryan said, “Is he the ‘wildcat from Tennessee’?”  My goodness!  That phrase to describe Mr. Edwards was ages ago in the book and only mentioned one time.  I threw back my head and belly-laughed.  “Yes, Aaryan.  Mr. Edwards is the ‘wildcat from Tennessee’.”  Remarkable.

I told the children we would not be able to finish reading the whole book.  What!  That did not go over well.  I took a positive spin, reading ahead all the upcoming chapters, like Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Clause.

“You can get the book from the library.  Your Mom and Dad can read the rest of the book to you.”

That did not go over well, either.  Especially with Aaryan.  We talked together.  My words could not soothe him.  He has experienced what all readers feel when reading a good book.  I think for those children who hear the words, the feelings are even more powerful.  It happens in my class, all the time.

Perhaps fourteen years from now Aaryan’s Mother will say the same words to me that Martha’s Mother said; “Jennie, don’t you remember…?”  Perhaps she’ll tell me the same story Martha’s Mother told me.  Perhaps ending the school year with an open book is a good thing.  An open book is an open door.


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Quotations on Education

Open a book, read aloud, and you open a mind.

charles french words reading and writing



“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

                                                                        Walter Cronkite



“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

                                                                        Victor Hugo



“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”

                                                                        Malala Yousafzai

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Quotations by Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s words are full of courage and humor, ideals I teach my students.

charles french words reading and writing



“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”



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“Gloria” On The Playground

Gloria is a dear classroom friend.  Well, that’s an understatement.  I have a hard time making my fingers type that she is a puppet, because she is the best thing that ever happened to my classroom.  She is the kind one, the shy one, and the one who is… well, different and not pretty.  She is real.  She is the best friend.  Gloria spends most weekends with children and their families.  From decorating Christmas trees, to attending graduations, going out to dinner… the long list is a testament to Gloria.

This is what happened today:

“Can we bring Gloria outside to play?”

Long pause…

Gloria has never played outside at school.  It hadn’t occurred to me to include her on the playground.  When the question was posed, I thought this was a good idea.  Leave it to children to think outside of the box.  They know Gloria far better than I do.  She’s their best friend.

So, Gloria was brought outside.  At last.  She was busy in the arms of children.  Then, I looked across the playground and saw her on a swing, being pushed by Lexi.  I watched for a long time.  This is what friends do, and Gloria is a friend.

A child on the playground who had never seen Gloria before asked, “Who is that?”  Aaryan replied,

“She’s just a person.”

Just a person.  Yes, she is.  She is you and me.  She has a soul.

Gloria is different, and that is why I wanted her to be part of my classroom many years ago.  If I could help children understand and accept all people, I knew Gloria would be the one to do that.  Oh, she has.  Ten-fold.

Early on, Gloria lived in a picnic basket on a shelf in the classroom.  She came out from time to time at a Morning Meeting.  One day I left her out in a chair, and I watched the children hover and clamor over her, desperate to ask her questions.  They just wanted Gloria to “be”.  She moved from the picnic basket to the couch in the classroom.  That was my first wake-up call.

I have had many wake-up calls since then, including Gloria having sleepovers.  Today was yet another.  I never underestimate the brilliant minds and big hearts of young children.  It makes me want to be a child again.

I’m so glad Gloria is a person.


Posted in Early Education, Kindness, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , | 35 Comments

1-800-Viola Swamp

Kate brought her mother’s beloved old book in to school this week.  Miss Nelson is Missing is a classic.  I love that book!  My children loved it.  Over the years I must have read it hundreds of times.

The story is about Miss Nelson, a kind teacher, and her unruly class.  In exasperation she leaves school one day only to return the following day dressed in character as Viola Swamp.  Hmmm…

Naomi, my assistant teacher, started to read the book to the children.  I couldn’t wait to hear those words again.  Now, it is important in this part of the story to tell you that Naomi is a saint.  She has never-ending patience, kindness, and a deep understanding of children.  She is the best teacher.

Wait!  She sounds like Miss Nelson.

So, as Miss Nelson (aka Naomi) began to read, things went wrong.  Really wrong.  Perhaps remembering that the children have now outgrown “their nest” might have been a good idea.  After all, when fledglings leave home to branch out into the world, things happen.  Not always good things.  Fighting and survival come to mind.  And of course, when reading the story began, things happened.

Nobody could see.  Yet, they were all in the front row.

Everyone complained of pushing and shoving.  Gee, there was lots of space.

Children yelled at each other.  Best friends.  Hmmm…

Naomi – I mean Miss Nelson – was beside herself trying to read the story.  It seemed hopeless.  We needed Viola Swamp.  We needed some humor.

Remember Viola Swamp?  The teacher who took over for Miss Nelson?  I called.

1-800-Viola Swamp.

I grabbed my cell phone mumbling loud enough for the children to hear that I needed to call Viola Swamp.  The conversation went something like this:

“Hello.  I’m calling for Viola Swamp.  Is she there?”

You could have heard a pin drop.  The children looked worried.  I covered the phone with my hand and whispered, “She sounds grumpy.”  Then I went back to the phone.  I don’t know how complete silence can become even more silent, but it did.

“Is this Viola Swamp?”

Those fifteen gigantic saucer eyes were now ready for some humor.  After all, laughter is the best medicine and can cure anything.  We needed some curing, and Viola Swamp had been just the right fix.

I smiled.  Big.  Then Savannah asked, “Was that really her?”  Parker said, “Of course not!”  We all started to laugh.  Even Naomi, the real Miss Nelson, belly laughed.  Then, we sat down to read the book.

There are two more weeks of school to go, and children have grown.  They’re ready to move on to their next journey.  With humor and hugs, the next few weeks will be fun!

Viola Swamp told me so.


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