What Happens at Chapter Reading, Part II


Our final chapter reading book this year at school is Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The last chapter that we read, ‘Indians in the House’, sparked intense questions and conversations about Indians and people who are different.  Diversity 101, through the eyes of children.

The next chapter, ‘Fresh Water to Drink’, was riveting.  White knuckle and heart pounding.  The life and death adventure of digging a well, and the deadly gas deep in the ground, became a lesson in history.  I had family history that was much the same.

Pa and his neighbor, Mr. Scott, were digging a well.  Pa was careful to lower a candle each day into the deep hole to make sure the air was safe.  Bad gas lives deep under the earth.  Mr. Scott thought the candle was ‘foolishness’, and began digging without sending the candle down into the well.  The rest of the chapter was an edge-of-your-seat nail biter.

I love this chapter.  So did the children.  I realized I could connect what happened down in that well to something real; a portrait of my grandfather as a little boy wearing miner’s gear, including a candle on his helmet.  My grandfather and his father had mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  I grew up with their stories and photographs, including this portrait.

I brought it to school the next day to show the children.  “This is my grandfather”, I said.  “He went deep under the earth, just like Pa and Mr. Scott.  What is that on his head?”  Children couldn’t sit.  They jumped up, pressed against me and each other, all wanting a closer look.  “That’s fire!” someone said.  “No, it’s a candle.”  “A candle is fire.”  “What did he do?”  Ah, those wonderful, spontaneous questions that spark the best learning.  This was ‘a moment’, fifteen children eager to hear more and learn.

I told them about mining, going underground, and about the candle.  I then showed them the Garth Williams illustrations in the chapter ‘Fresh Water to Drink’, with Ma and Pa turning the handle of the windlass to get Mr. Scott out of the well, and Pa digging the hole that is as deep as he is tall.

We talked about how hard that would be.  We imagined what it would be like inside the hole:  Dark or light?  Hot or cold?  Then someone asked, “How old is your grandfather?”

I was connecting generations and connecting learning.

I’m in mid-life, where I have a strong, real link with the past and also the present.  My one arm can reach and touch my parents from before 1920 and my grandparents from the 1880’s and 1890’s   They were just here ‘some years ago’.  My other arm can reach and touch my children and grandchildren, and all the preschoolers I teach.

I find this mind boggling; I’m equally part of the past, a long line of family history, and part of the present, teaching children and learning.  I want to connect all the lines.  I want people to know that I was there with Nan who was born in The 1880’s, and with Lulu who was born ten years later.  I want people to know that I understand life from that point forward.

More importantly, I want my preschoolers to have a firsthand piece of history.  It is a ‘real’ way to enhance learning.  That happened with my Grandfather’s portrait, and with chapter reading Little House on the Prairie.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. 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 the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
This entry was posted in chapter reading, children's books, Death and dying, Early Education, Family, history, reading aloud, reading aloud, storytelling, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to What Happens at Chapter Reading, Part II

  1. Ritu says:

    So amazing that you can bring these stories to life!

  2. Dan Antion says:

    It must be captivating for them when you add personal bits of real life to these stories.

    • Jennie says:

      It is, Dan. Imagine if you were reading to a group of children a story about trains, from a hundred years ago, and they were excited and asked you questions. You would be all over the place, in your element. Teaching and reading aloud is wonderful.

  3. Fabulous Jennie.. and have pressed to go out later today.. hugsxx

  4. beetleypete says:

    Another riveting tale of classroom life, connected not only to the story book, but the real history of your own family. That very connection brings it to life in more ways than can be imagined by a syllabus.
    Wonderful stuff, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Pete. Making books come alive for children is thrilling, especially when you can include real family history. A syllabus pales in comparison. And, it is the best teaching because it ‘sticks’. Best to you.

  5. delphini510 says:

    Wonderful lesson you gave the children, so full of life and hands on experience.
    You really taught them history and science ( the candle ) as well as how people
    supported each other.
    I like the image of stretching out the arms and reach the generations before and those after.
    ~ miriam

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your lovely comments, Miriam. History, science, and family- it was all there. The story of a candle and a great book provided so much. And, the stretching of arms to connect with generations is still quite mind boggling. Best to you.

  6. Pingback: What Happens at Chapter Reading, Part II | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  7. Darlene says:

    With five generations alive right now in my family and me remembering my great-grandparents, I could identify with your connection to the past, present and future. I love that you had that picture of your grandfather to bring to the classroom. I can see how the children would be so excited.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, Darlene! When you feel as connected to the 1890’s as you do to 2018 and beyond, that is humbling. I’m so glad you can identify with your family in the same way. Five living generations is incredible! The portrait was perfect to put it all together for children. They were so excited! Thank you, Darlene. 🙂

  8. robbiecheadle says:

    We have a great-granny who will be 96 years old this year, Jennie. It is quite incredible. It is very important that children stay connected with the past as it avoids the repeating of historical mistakes.

    • Jennie says:

      That is wonderful, Robbie. Has she been able to help with your WWII book? I hope she has shared stories. Yes, children must stay connected to the past. If we don’t learn history, we’ll repeat mistakes.

      • robbiecheadle says:

        Granny Una is my husband’s grandmother so she is South African and not British. She has a very interesting story too and I am hoping to incorporate some of her experiences of life in South Africa during WWII into a book of South African short stories I am writing.

      • Jennie says:

        That would be wonderful, Robbie. Family history and stories need to be preserved.

  9. Hi Jennie, I shared this on Facebook. The Little House on the Prairie is wonderful for all ages. Karen

  10. Norah says:

    When children can make those connections themselves, or have someone help them join the dots, as you have done, the learning becomes more powerful, more meaningful, and more memorable, a part of them that will always belong. Ver powerful, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Norah. You said it well. The portrait was the trigger. I kept pointing and repeating, “This is my Mother’s Dad. This is my Grandfather.” They needed to hear it different ways. That helped to connect the dots.

      • Norah says:

        It is easier for children to connect the dots when their families discuss their own family’s history with them. Not all parents think to do that, which is sad. It’s important to explain the relationships to them.

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, it is so important.

  11. kowkla123 says:

    es liest sich toll, ich wünsche dir ein schönes Wochenende ohne Kummer und Sorgen, Klaus

  12. Wonderful experiences for your students. They are positive and uplifting and applicable to everyone’s life. Oh to be a child in your class!

  13. Patty says:

    Reblogged this on Campbells World and commented:
    This is such a wonderful thing this teacher is doing.

  14. I always love coming here and reading your stories. You make the world such a better place.

  15. Love this for so many reasons. Some days I’m amazed that I knew people born in the 19th century, like my grandmothers. Other days I’m amazed that I have firsthand knowledge of stuff that for my much younger friends is ancient history. I never stop thinking that WWII ended six years before I was born but it might as well have been ancient history for all it affected my life — until my veteran dad talked about it with me when I was a teenager. Passing it on is so important, however we manage to do it.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, YES! Like you, I am amazed that my grandmother was born in 1889, and she was always right there, even when I had children. Her name was Rose, the same name and same age as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter. How can that be; covered wagons were a lifetime ago, and I’m only 68 years young. I also felt that WWII was a lifetime away. I dearly wish one of my relatives had talked about it. But, that’s how it was back then. You were lucky, Susanna. Passing it on is important. Thank you.

  16. What a treasure your grandfather’s portrait is! I also find it amazing to have known people born in the 1800’s and to now be two centuries later, looking forward to the 2020’s and beyond (a time that seemed so futuristic when I was a school girl).

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