The Best of Chapter Reading

imageMy Grandfather

Our current chapter reading book 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.  Gloria was part of the discussion.  She is different.  Laura was afraid of  Indians in her house, and some people are afraid of Gloria.  The Indian’s eyes sparkled at Laura, and Gloria’s smile is always there.  It’s what’s on the inside, not the outside, that matters.

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’ll be 72 next month.  I’m in the middle, 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 my grandmother Nan who was born in The 1880’s, and with my grandmother 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 America, books, chapter reading, children's books, Early Education, Gloria, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to The Best of Chapter Reading

  1. Ritu says:

    You bring this learning, Jennie!

  2. srbottch says:

    Great connection, Jennie. We toured a closed mine in the Scranton area and there were models of birds in cages, used as alert system in case of gas, and evidence of candles. When they turned out the lights, you couldn’t see a thing, even your hand in front of your face.

    • Jennie says:

      That’s right. The bird was a canary. Scranton Wilkes Barre was where my grandfather’s father settled when he came over from Wales. Once his Pennsylvania mines were established, he expanded into West Virginia and sent his son (yes, the portrait) to run the mines there. My grandfather was showing customers the mines when there was an explosion and he died. He was a prominent man in the community and a golfer. He played golf with Bobby Jones. Imagine that! You got the very, very short version of the story, Steve. 🙂

      • srbottch says:

        Terrific story, Jennie. One of my Senior Bar Night friends is from Scranton. He’s 90 yrs old and he tells good stories about growing up as a coal miner’s son. His father contracted black lung disease which eventually killed him. But the last few years of his dad’s life was spent in a sanitarium and they could only see him when they looked up at the window where his father would stand and wave. What a tough, tough way to make a living in those early coal miners days. Can you imagine laying in your back and working on a surface just a couple of feet above. They helped build this country. Bobby Jones, wow. I watched Tiger play today. Take care, Jennie.

      • Jennie says:

        I can’t imagine that life. Tough is an understatement, yet you’re right- they helped to build our country. I bet you have heard some great stories from your bar buddy. Thanks for letting me know, Steve. Best to you. I hope to catch some of Tiger at the Masters this weekend.

  3. pastorpete51 says:

    I love how you are connecting generations in such a positive way with the children!

  4. Wonderful to have arms reaching out from the past to the children you are with. Age is a marvelous thing. Lovely post Jennie.

  5. That’s a wealth of new learning, just from one chapter read aloud!

    • Jennie says:

      Yes it is, Liz. Not many chapters become a wealth of learning. Every chapter has something we talk about, and some become a great path for learning. When the family finally arrived in Kansas, we spent a long time looking at our big map. That lead to NSEW, and rivers flowing into the ocean. I was excited to connect my grandfather and the gas in the mines. His portrait as a child really told the story.

  6. K.L. Hale says:

    Jennie, you already know my feelings!! ❤️💛♥️🤗🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻

  7. Pingback: The Best of Chapter Reading — A Teacher’s Reflections – eyebamiblog

  8. Lori-ize it! says:

    the connections you are making, the realia you bring in to share the pieces of the past is a gift to the present and future. Children learn through experiences and you are providing those experiences through your words, artifacts and opportunities you create.

  9. quiall says:

    Children need to understand that we are living, this moment, in the past that will be. We have a connection to the past that was and that is important for us to understand today and the past that will be. Seeing people that were a part of history is incredibly important to give it a face. Wonderful story. I loved those books!

    • Jennie says:

      I wish children could fully grasp that concept, yet giving them snippets is a way to get them to begin to understand. Visual learning is concrete, so seeing faces and photos helps to cement stories. Thank you, Pam! I love those books, too.

  10. beetleypete says:

    Every year, ‘Little House On The Prairie’ continues to teach so many lessons to each new class of pre-schoolers. But they need you there to make it come alive in their minds, and relative to their experiences today. They are lucky to still have you, dear Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, it is one of the best teaching tools, year after year. I can’t imaging reading aloud the book any other way. Thank you for your kind words, dear Pete.

  11. Goosebumps! Your telling about your reach gave me goosebumps! They’re so lucky to have to show them and teach them all these wonderful and important life lessons, Jennie.

  12. Darlene says:

    Children are fascinated by the generations. I took my 9-year-old great-granddaughter to visit my great grandmother’s grave. That’s six generations. She was visibly moved. I love that picture of your grandfather.

    • Jennie says:

      I love connecting generations. That was a wonderful thing for you to do! Did you have a photo of your great grandmother to show her? (Darlene, how are you old enough to have a great-granddaughter?) The portrait of my grandfather was done in 1907. I’m lucky to have it.

      • Darlene says:

        Thank heaven for photographs. We did find one photograph of that great grandmother. Although I have many pictures of my mom’s grandparents, I didn´t know my dad’s grandparents and we don’t have many pictures. You are indeed lucky to have this one of your grandfather.

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, thank heavens for photographs. I’m glad you had one to show her. I am lucky.

  13. At 80 I feel the same way about having two arms. One to the past and one to the present. Good lessons today, Jennie.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I have lately had the same insight about the stretch of years we can connect to. To think, my grandmother couldn’t even vote until she was 30. It does make it easier to read American history because it seems much shorter than it used to!

  15. Making connections–past, present and future… Such a wonderful way to do just that, Jennie!

  16. beth says:

    what a wonderful personal connection to the book and I love that photo of your grandfather!

  17. petespringerauthor says:

    Another brilliant lesson made better by sharing your recollections of your father and grandfather’s mining experiences. There are many interesting things to discuss with students about Little House on the Prairie.

    Kids are so fascinated by ages. On the first day of school, when I wrote a letter to my students each year, and they wrote me back telling me about themselves, I told them they could write about anything they wanted to share and ask me any questions they wanted know about me. The most popular question as you can imagine, was, “How old are you?” Their eyes would get so big when I told them. “You’re older than my grandpa,” was one of the ones that made me laugh.

    • Jennie says:

      I love how you started off the school year with writing letters back and forth with your students and telling them they could ask any questions. Talk about making a connection right off the bat! And knowing you’re older than a child’s grandpa is really funny!

      There are so many lessons in the Little House books. I’m glad whenever I can bring one to life. That portrait is a keeper! Thanks so much, Pete.

  18. TanGental says:

    I can well remember aged about 12 watching the moon landing wit my family Inc my gran born in 1894. I think it was then someone mentioned gran was about my age when the Wright Brothers flew and here she was happily absorbing the idea of men on the moon. I found it mind boggling that someone could go from a place of no flight to space rockets in one life. You’re so right about those links stretching back and forward.

    • Jennie says:

      Just perfect- you were at an age to fully understand, and you had your gran right there, the full span of flight literally in front of your eyes. Wow! Mind boggling, indeed. Thank you, Geoff!

      • TanGental says:

        Still makes me stop and thing about where I’ve travelled. The walk up typewriter and a phone wired to the wall and if you wanted long distance you asked a real person to connect you and now with something the size of dad’s wallet I have a worldwide street atlas, encyclopedia britannica more computing power than that first moonshot, all my banking needs, the full gamut of high Street shops, a library of books to read, every TV radio and film i might want to access, a post office connecting me to my friends and much more at my fingertips. And still I moan when it’s a bt slow…

      • Jennie says:

        Well said, Geoff!

  19. Dan Antion says:

    I love how you bring first person history into these stories. I’m sure that makes these stories more realistic.

  20. I read this a couple of days ago and left the tab open to let you know how much I enjoyed this but failed to get back right away. I’m impressed that children question so much of what they hear. It’s absolutely wonderful. Enthralled as always with how you teach.

  21. A great discussion about a marvelous book, Jennie. I love the picture of your grandfather. I didn’t realise you were 72 and you are so active and involved. My dad is 71 and he is retired and has become rather inactive since his pulmonary embolism last year. My mom is 83 and she is full of energy. She reminds me of the energizer bunny.

  22. Loved that Book and TV series… What a great way of sharing History too by teaching the struggles and conditions of the past… Great share Thank you Jennie ❤

  23. So wonderful, Jennie! The photo of your grandfather is also great. Happy Easter to you and yours! xx Michael

  24. That is so wonderful! Lovely post😊

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