Children’s Words, Part 3

In Part 2 I talked about children telling their stories in their own words.  Without a visual or help from a teacher- no crutch, it’s not so easy.  Welcome to the deep end, not the shallow end.  Children wrote and illustrated stories about their neighborhoods.  They were wonderful.  After one hundred days of school, children have conquered bravery and critical thinking.  It’s all about words.

Part 3
These were today’s words:

We love learning new words.  After a tree walk on a windy day, these were words that described what we saw and felt, so we wrote them on the chalkboard.  Can three and four-year-old children read?  No.  But, if I write the words they liked and remembered, seeing that word connects hearing that word.

If you want to know how important words are, this is it:

There was a study done on National Merit Scholars. Surely there was a common denominator among these bright high schoolers.  Right?  Were they all class presidents?  Captains of the debate team or sports team?  The study was surprising.  Yes, there was a common denominator, a surprising one.

Every National Merit Scholar had dinner with their family at least four times a week.

That was it.  It may sound simple, but it speaks to the power of words- all those dinner conversations with added thinking and conversation, year after year, four or more times a week.  That was their golden key.

I was floored when I learned this.  It inspired me to tell “Jennie Stories” at lunch time.  After all, we’re a family, too.  If I can spur great conversation with stories, I am adding vocabulary words, one pebble at a time.

Chapter reading is the next level, as thinking is critical.  Children have to make the pictures in their heads.  Comprehension is tested whenever we stop to ask questions.  This week we started reading Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

After Pa hunted for deer and hung it in the big oak tree, I stopped and asked, “Why didn’t Pa just go to the store to buy his meat?”  You can imagine the long conversation we had.  Oh, it was very long.

Emmett kept interrupting.  “Jennie, they ate the deer?”  He was not feeling good about this at all.  Finally Delaney said, “Emmett, they just ate the meat, not the whole deer.  They didn’t eat the fur.”  I talked about deer skin, how it was not fur, and all the things Pa could make out of that skin.  And so it goes, the conversations when we chapter read, every single day.  It is my favorite part of the day.

When children speak or sing in front of a group, there is power deep inside.  It’s not easy to be in the limelight in front of others.  We do play performances.  This is always a favorite.  Words + bravery + speaking = academic success + confidence + happiness.  It’s a tried and true formula.

The more words I pile on in many different ways work!  Just like the words la lectura piled on in the Cuban cigar factory worked.

The Cuban cigar industry understood this.  That’s why they make the finest cigars.

La Lectura 04521u.web_

They have la lectura, who reads aloud for up to four hours to the factory workers, from the daily news to Shakespeare to current books.  This is both brilliant and common sense; the workers are entertained, happy and productive.

Jim Trelease writes about this in his million-copy bestseller book, The Read-Aloud Handbook.  He is a master writer and has it nailed on reading aloud.  Here is an excerpt from the chapter about the history of reading aloud and its proof:

Then there is the history of the reader-aloud in the labor force.  When the cigar industry blossomed in the mid-1800’s, supposedly the best tobacco came from Cuba (although much of the industry later moved to Tampa, Florida area).  These cigars were hand-rolled by workers who became artisans in the delicate craft, producing hundreds of perfectly rolled specimens daily.  Artistic as it may have been, it was still repetitious labor done in stifling factories.  To break the monotony, workers hit upon the idea of having someone read aloud to them while they worked, known in the trade as ‘la lectura’.

The reader usually sat on an elevated platform or podium in the middle of the room and read aloud for four hours, covering newspapers, classics, and even Shakespeare.

As labor became more organized in the United States, the readings kept workers informed of progressive ideas throughout the world  as well as entertained.  When factory owners realized the enlightening impact of the readings, they tried to stop them but met stiff resistance from the workers, each of whom was paying the readers as much as twenty-five cents per week out of pocket.

The daily readings added to the workers’ intellect and general awareness while civilizing the atmosphere of the workplace.  By the 1930’s, however, with cigar sales slumping due to the Great Depression and unions growing restive with mechanization on the horizon, the owners declared that the reader-aloud had to go.  Protest strikes followed but to no avail, and eventually readers were replaced by radio.  But not in Cuba.

The Cuban novelist Miguel Barnet reports, “Today, all over Cuba, this tradition is alive and well.  Readers are in all the factories, from Santiago to to Havana to Pinar del Rio.  The readings have specific timetables and generally begin with the headlines of the day’s newspapers.  After reading the newspaper, the readers take a break and then begin reading the unfinished book from the day before.  Most are women.”

Used by permission of the author, Jim Trelease, 2013, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin)

No wonder Cuban cigars are among the finest.  This story is one of my favorites and illustrates the effect reading aloud and words has on people.  Thank goodness I get to do this multiple times every day with children.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty 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 am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My 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.
This entry was posted in books, chapter reading, children's books, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Jim Trelease, reading, reading aloud, reading aloud, storytelling, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to Children’s Words, Part 3

  1. Thank you for the story of la lectura. I had no idea!

    • Jennie says:

      This is one of my favorite stories, Liz. I knew you would feel the same way. One of the things I love about “The Read Aloud Handbook” is that Jim Trelease alternates facts and statistics that are fascinating even for a non-math person like me, with stories like la lectura. Every one is equally wonderful and interesting. There’s the kid from Russell, KY, and the new principal in Boston… I feel like these stories are branded into my brain, never to be forgotten. If you read the book, skip the newest edition (8th), as Jim Trelease handed over the reins and all those stories were dropped. Very sad.

  2. Opher says:

    Cigars full of stories – it makes you want to take up smoking!

  3. Darlene says:

    I have always been so against the “kids should be seen and not heard” philosophy. When kids are discouraged to ask questions and engage in conversation, it has life long negative effects. Thanks for encouraging the children in your care to speak!

    • Jennie says:

      You are absolutely right, Darlene. There are too many teachers who teach with the approach that teachers impart information and children listen. They are putting a lid on learning and so much more. That negativity sticks. I will always champion for conversation. 🙂

  4. quiall says:

    I love the stores that show how simple, unmechanized activities are so valuable! As for dinner? I grew up that way. Even as adults we would come back to my parents home many Sundays and spend hours at the dinner table. Great memories.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Pam. Having family dinners together are great memories. I am saddened that so many children today don’t have that experience.

  5. beetleypete says:

    Such a good idea, to introduce difficult words at an early age. As always, you prepare your kids so well for later life. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  6. K.L. Hale says:

    Jennie ~exquisite post! From the beginning of my career I understood the importance of reading aloud. I must admit, your inclusion of a book from the Little House series, had me at “Pa”….am currently watching an episode now. Lol. La Lectura is outstanding. I’m assembling fishing rigs for a nearby resort as I await moving back to my RV to begin another season. Listening to podcasts and books on tape truly make me more productive. My grandson, only 8 months old and far away in Alaska (boo for me, but yay for him!) is blessed to have a Montessori Momma. And to my delight, is healing the words of “Llama Llama” and other other rhymes that light up his life and brain! I’m so proud of you, Jennie and what you are instilling in the young ones around you. Keep up the amazing work! PS~I’ll refrain from lighting up a cigar in honor of La Lectura~🙂 but the thought was there.

    • Jennie says:

      Your comment was such a pleasure to read, almost a post in itself. I should probably wear a sign that says “I am the reader-aloud.” I wish you were a fly on the wall when I chapter read “Little House in the Big Woods.” How delightful to be assembling fishing rigs, and living in an RV. The people who live in McMansions are missing life. How wonderful that your grandson has a Montessori Momma. “Llama Llama” books are among the best! She (and you) would love “The Read Aloud Handbook.” La lectura is but one of many stories, along with all the great research on reading aloud. For Momma, the second half of the book is book recommendations. Big wow! Skip the new 8th edition (the author turned over the reins), as it eliminates the great stories. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      • K.L. Hale says:

        Aww. Jennie, I want to come meet you ❣️🤗🙂 McMansions….I snickered. May I use that term in your honor? Mcplease? I remember when my guys were little and we had conversations that contained “Mc” words for fun. 🤗😂💚 And I’ll definitely recommend “The Read Aloud Handbook” if she doesn’t already have it!

      • Jennie says:

        Of course you can. You’re Mcwelcome. 🙂 it’s a great phrase. And, its a great book. Many thanks. 😀

  7. beth says:

    i love words and love that kids love words

  8. lunasmithart says:

    It is so important to encourage children to express themselves and to never stop believing they can change the world. We never stop learning from each other. I learn a lot from my child.

  9. You are a mind of information Jennie and I had no idea they did that… 🙂 No wonder their cigars ar the best.. 🙂 loved reading Jennie…
    Have a brilliant weekend my friend… ❤

  10. You are a mind of information Jennie and I had no idea they did that… 🙂 No wonder their cigars ar the best.. 🙂 loved reading Jennie…
    Have a brilliant weekend my friend… ❤

  11. Wonderful words! Books and book talks–extend learning for us all, Jennie. Thanks for all you share!

  12. Elizabeth says:

    And it doesn’t count as a family having dinner together when each member is on a cell phone or the tv is on! I can’t believe how many families I see sitting together without any interaction.

  13. Dan Antion says:

    I remember that story, Jennie. Thanks for sharing it again.

  14. I remember the Cuban cigar factory story (first heard here at your blog)…and its message still resonates loudly IMHO.
    As for those students of yours…”onomatopoeia”???? Wow.

    • Jennie says:

      That story will always resonate loudly with me, too. Will my students remember onomatopoeia? Not this first time hearing it, but the seed is planted. When they learn that word down the road it will be far easier for them. Today I explained ‘shocked’ to Ethan. That wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I keep the words coming and they keep asking. Win-win.

  15. petespringerauthor says:

    As usual, I spend the time reading your posts nodding my head, Jennie. Words for the day—fantastic! Such significant and meaningful words. Little House in the Big Woods—one of my favorites. The power of public speaking and performing is one of my core beliefs. I saw so many kids blossom using this same strategy. One of those kids was me. When I used to tell my kids I used to be shy, they would look at me skeptically, only knowing my outgoing persona. Keep up the excellent work, Jennie. You have a gift.

    • Jennie says:

      I was the shy child, too. I have no memory of public speaking before college. Maybe I just blocked it out, which is probably a good thing. And here I am today telling stories and reading aloud, giving out words like they were candy. I knew you would enjoy reading this, Pete. It’s what you did, too. Thank you so much!

  16. Great article!!! I believe it. I family conversations are priceless. Vocabulary words are important. I am sad that not of us don’t read much anymore. (High schoolers)

  17. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is another wonderful post from the brilliant teacher, Jennie!

  18. Another terrific post, Jennie. My family has dinner together most nights.

  19. Norah says:

    Thank goodness you do, Jennie. And the children and our society thank goodness for you, too. I think you’ve shared that story about the Cuban cigars before but it’s a good one and worth sharing over and over until everyone’s heard it, then start again. You do a fantastic job.

  20. The news about the Cuban cigar production are great too. But honestly your work is much more greater Thank you and best wishes, Michael

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