Reading Aloud + Family History = The Best Learning

We often take it for granted that we have fresh water to drink.  Children certainly do. In our chapter reading book, “Little House on the Prairie”, Pa and Mr. Scott dig a well.  Learning where fresh water comes from was one thing, adding real stories and pictures about my family brought the story to life.

     “…he set a candle in a bucket and lighted it and lowered it to the bottom.  Once Laura peeped over the edge and she saw the candle brightly burning, far down in the dark hole in the ground.
Then Pa would say, “Seems to be all right,” and he would pull up the bucket and blow out the candle.”

‘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.

As 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 all ‘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 again 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.

This is my grandmother’s log house built in the 1700’s.  I have memories of staying there as a child, especially hearing the sound of a train.  The family stories are plentiful.

It is much like the house Pa built!  Another opportunity for family history to make books and reading aloud come alive.

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 books, chapter reading, Early Education, Family, history, Learning About the World, reading aloud and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

122 Responses to Reading Aloud + Family History = The Best Learning

  1. Pingback: Reading Aloud + Family History = The Best Learning — A Teacher’s Reflections | davidbruceblog #2

  2. Ritu says:

    What an amazing way to connect past and present learning!

  3. beetleypete says:

    Just wonderful as always, and your personal connection with the log house and the portrait is the icing on that delicious historical cake!
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. Thotaramani says:

    After a long time I saw your post Jennie

  5. beth says:

    what a perfect way to make connections, the personal with the written word

  6. What a wonderful personal connection to share with your students Jennie!

  7. A great way to teach history, and make it sustainable for the future. Thank you for sharing, Jennie! Enjoy a beautiful weekend! Michael xx

  8. Jane Risdon says:

    Wow, so interesting. We all take reading for granted, those of us who can read. I could read and write before I started school aged 5, my husband could and our son could. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be unable to do either. A gift that keeps on giving.

    • Jennie says:

      You make a good point, Jane. That’s why reading aloud to children is so important. That is what grows readers. I’m the classic child who was never read to, and I was a poor reader. I need to post more about that… Happy Sunday to you!

      • Jane Risdon says:

        that is so sad. Actually my parents did not read to me, they belonged to libraries and I got the addiction to books very early. I have no idea why I could read and write before school, I guess they taught me. Do not recall a time never being able to do either. Have a fab week. x

      • Jennie says:

        How delightful to grow up being in a library! Best to you, Jane.

  9. Darlene says:

    Such a great way to bring history to life. It will mean so much to the children. I love how you described your connection to your family´s past and future. I am also pleased that I knew my great-grandparents and now have a relationship with my great-grandchildren. I consider myself lucky as not everyone has that connection.

  10. srbottch says:

    Terrific connections, Jennie. I wonder if some of the children went home and asked about their grandparents. Great read to start Sunday.

    • Jennie says:

      I wonder, too. If I had expanded the discussion on family and history, and brought children’s grandparents into the mix, perhaps some would have asked when they went home. If this had been a group of young elementary aged children, I think that would have happened in the way you’re thinking. Happy Sunday, Steve. And many thanks!

  11. I like the idea of you reaching into the past and then being a conduit to the future, Jennie. The picture of that log house was very interesting. I can’t imagine living in a house built in the 1700’s. That must have been a treat. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Another wonderful example of your important teaching style, Jennie. Loved seeing your family pictures!

  13. Orvillewrong says:

    Its wonderful the interaction between you and the children!

  14. Books are a great way to provide these connections. They have a much more lasting effect than a movie might could achieve.

  15. frenchc1955 says:

    Hi Jennie, I wish we could appoint you head of education!

  16. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:

    Here is another excellent post on teaching from Jennie, the extraordinary teacher!

  17. Love Alone says:

    Reblogged this on Love and Love Alone.

  18. Beautiful, Jennie. What a great way to help children to understand and learn.

  19. Making connections… A wonderful experience for you and the children! How blessed we are to be able to use literature to do this, Jennie! ❤ xo

  20. Chris says:

    Nice story 🙂

  21. What a wonderful history and way to tie life now to that of the past! I wish my parents talked more about their lives as kids, and about my grandparents.

    • Jennie says:

      I would give anything to talk with my grandparents, and my parents, especially my grandmother who grew up in that log house. There is so much more I want to know, like their lives when they were kids. Why is it that we appreciate our family stories too late? Sigh! Thank you, Deborah.

  22. Dan Antion says:

    What a great story, Jennie. Working in people that you knew, is a wonderful way to make it real. I can imagine the children’s interest growing.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Dan. I try to work in me, or my family, whenever I can. It really makes a difference for children in so many ways. Jennie Stories started in the same way.

  23. petespringerauthor says:

    The best lessons involve a little bit of the past and the present. I know as soon as you introduce a little bit of yourself, the kids become more invested.

  24. I greatly enjoyed your discussion of connecting the children to history through your own memories and family history. Thank you for sharing the photos of the log cabin that you’ve mentioned before. I was glad to be able to see it.

    • Jennie says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the connection discussion, Liz. ‘Real’ makes history meaningful for children and also adults. Yesterday Ma saved the feathers of four ducks that Pa shot. She will use them for a featherbed. I have a pillow stuffed with feathers, which is annoying because the feathers keep coming out. I’ll bring that to school today and hopefully children can pull out the feathers and get an idea of Ma’s featherbed. I hope to see the log house once again and take more photos.

  25. Hi Jennie, I also learned a huge amount from this series of books. My favourite scenes in Little House in the Big Woods are when Pa cleans his gun and makes bullets and when he smokes the meet in the hollow stump.

    • Jennie says:

      I love those scenes, too! My favorites are when the whole family comes down with malaria and discover it is carried by mosquitoes, not by eating watermelon, and the stories that Pa tells, and Jack the dog getting lost in the rising creek, and… there are so many!

  26. the use or real items to bring stories to life is so important. We need to help them see the connections between what they read and what is true. often times we read and talk about the past as if it is just fiction. the need to make the connection to real stories brings history to life

    • Jennie says:

      That’s so true! Yesterday Ma saved the duck feathers for a featherbed. I have a pillow that is stuffed with feathers, and the feathers keep coming out. Today I’ll bring it to school!

  27. What a marvelous post, Jennie — and amazing family history… a log house from the 1700? Awesome. Hugs on the wing.

  28. The log house is amazing! Great way to teach and enthuse your little students.

  29. Patty Gordon says:

    Great read! My mother went to a 2 room school house. Lower age kids on one side and older on the other! Amazing how unique situations like that are so interesting these days.

  30. You are great and unique teacher who know how to connect the dots.
    Love seeing the pictures and the connection you made with the story.

  31. I just heard on the radio that our German students are becoming less and less interested in reading. Jennie, come over! We need you! They don’t seem to get it! 😉 Have a beautiful week! Michael

  32. Norah says:

    A lovely lesson in history, Jennie – yourstory, theirstory, ourstory. More families need to discuss theirstory.

  33. An absolutely wonderful story… on all levels!

  34. Claire says:

    I learnt all of my history through books. I’m writing my own novel for kids now and the historical research is the best bit! My WWW post is here:

  35. santro23 says:

    We should not forget beautiful past. The log house belong to your grandmother is precious.

  36. This is an incredible post with so many wonderful points. So many of us have lost our connections to the past. Many the understanding of how important the past is to everything. I was as excited as a child reading this. You are just the best teacher.

    • Jennie says:

      You are so right, Marlene. Those connections with the past are really important. As you said, they’re everything. I felt so compelled to write this post and to bring in my past in order to give children a piece of history. Did they understand that I was ‘there’ in that history? Only a little bit, but I think a little bit is huge. Books make all this possible. Isn’t that wonderful? I’m really glad you enjoyed this. I knew this would bring up many points for you. Thank you, Marlene.

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  38. What great memories of your family. I love the portrait of your grandfather, he looks so proud. How lucky you are that your grandmother’s lovely house is still standing. My grandmother grew up in a Soddy (grass turf house). It’s probably not even a lump of mud any more.

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks so much, Dayne. Memories and photos are precious. How fascinating that your grandmother grew up in a Soddy. Now I know the correct term. Is that the same kind of house as the one in “On the Banks of Plum Creek?”

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  43. joylennick says:

    It is a wonderful privilege to learn and an even greater privilege to teach!. xx

  44. Pingback: Reading Aloud + Family History = The Best Learning — A Teacher’s Reflections – Historytalker

  45. Pingback: Reading Aloud + Family History = The Best Learning – Chilly’s History Podcast

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