Thursday, January 21, 2016

Benefits of Reading Aloud

One of the most common questions we hear at BFB, is "Should I continue reading aloud to my children once they know how to read?" This question takes various forms including, "Should I still read aloud to my teenager?" or "How much of this curriculum should be read aloud?" And our answers are always, "Yes!", "Yes!" and "As much as you can!"

While it may seem counterintuitive to read aloud to your students and children once they're able to read on their own, experience has shown us that the more children are read aloud to, the better readers they become. Some parents fear that reading aloud too much can hinder their children's reading development, but we've found just the opposite to be true, especially with children who are struggling to read! The video below is an excellent primer in the benefits of reading aloud, especially in regards to allowing children and teens access to stories. When a story is read aloud it becomes much easier for the listener to engage in a meaningful way with the story which, in turn, creates the desire to read more. The video is only 10 minutes long, but well worth your time!

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Over the past couple of years I've been reading and hearing a lot about fixed versus growth mindsets and am fascinated by the topic. If this is the first time you've heard of this, I am so happy to be able to share the following 10 minute video from RSA Animate. It is the most straightforward introduction to the topic I have found and I think everyone (really!) can benefit from watching it:

Having grown up in the self-esteem boosting 1980s, my mindset was definitely influenced by praise that affirmed intelligence over effort and that worldview is definitely not something I want to pass on to my children. Therefore, I have been personally challenged by all my reading on the topic. Changing the language we use when praising the youngsters (and adults!) in our lives can be really challenging but I think that it is essential if we're going to help our kiddos become life-long learners. Of course, some people have cultivated a growth-mindset and some families are already great at encouraging effort and curiosity. In my interactions with thousands of families over the decades, I must say that I find growth-mindsets to be the exception rather than the rule. It is so easy to slip into praising naturally intelligent children for their smarts. Encouraging a child to work through a difficult math problem or diagraming a complex sentence takes a lot more time and patience. Even trying to get my two-year-old to not give up when his block towers fall over can be exacerbating. It's so much easier to just quickly build him another tower and restore his sunny spirits. Sitting out his tantrum, encouraging him to build the tower again, praising the fact that he hasn't given up, this takes more time. Yet, those 10-15 minutes of patience are more than rewarded when you see something "click" in his mind and he starts stacking those blocks, pride beaming in his face.

Children are all brilliant at seeing through empty praise. While trying to use growth-mindset language, it is important to not fall of the other side of the horse and praise every effort. Not all effort is praiseworthy and saying "Good try" at every turn will not encourage a child. Instead there should be an emphasis on future challenges. Angie Aker provides two great examples in her article on Upworthy:
FIXED MINDSET: "You finished that puzzle so quickly — what a smart kid!"GROWTH MINDSET: "I'm sorry I wasted your time with an easy puzzle — let me find another one that will give us a bigger challenge. I know we can do it!"FIXED MINDSET: "You got an 80% on your test." (And then moving on to the next chapter immediately.)GROWTH MINDSET: "You got an 80% on your test; that means you are well on your way to knowing this stuff! If you review the ones you missed and take the test again tomorrow, I bet you'll get closer to a 100%."
In choosing curriculum, I believe that it is important to look for programs that encourage this growth mindset. Charlotte Mason-style approaches naturally encourage inquisitiveness as does notebooking. When you get away from rigid standards that rely on simplistic answers and instead encourage reasoning, discussion, and the development of analytical skills, you will develop students who are much better equipped to succeed.

I would love to hear from you! Have you heard the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset? Have you implemented some of these practices in your homeschool? Did you grow up in an environment that encouraged the development of one type of mindset over another? Comment below!

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Lewis Carrol and the advent of children's literature

Today Kathy takes us on a journey through the early history of children's literature with a retrospective on Lewis Carroll's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Enjoy!

Alice's Wonderful World

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and having nothing to do…when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.” As my ten year old daughter and I read these words together we were suddenly whisked away down the rabbit hole with Alice to join her adventures in Wonderland. On November 26, 2015, Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland celebrated its sesquicentennial, which is a fancy way of saying “150th birthday party.” What has made this particular book a favorite of children and adults alike? Why has this particular story endured through fifteen decades? I believe the answer lies in the pages of history.

From didactics to enjoyment

In retrospect, children’s literature before the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland stemmed from spoken stories, songs and poems which were used to educate, instruct, and entertain
Lewis Carroll
children as well as adults.  Homer’s The Odyssey, Aesop’s Aesop’s Fables, John Bunyan‘s The Pilgrim’s Progress and Perrault's Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault were considered the normal literary fare of the day. However, in 1744 John Newbery created what was believed to be the first modern children’s book, A Pretty Little Pocket-Book. The book was specifically targeted at giving enjoyment to children containing a mixture of rhymes, picture stories and games for pleasure. Author Phillip Pullman provides insight into the world of children’s literature prior to 1865 in his forward to The Complete Alice, “There were books for children before 1865, but they were almost all written to make a moral point. Good children behave like this; bad children behave like that, and are punished for it, and serve them right.” (1)  In the mid-19th century the genre of children’s literature began to shift away from didacticism to pave the way for humorous, child-oriented books which were in tune with the child’s imagination. This time period of history is referred to as the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. It was well named so, for many of what are now considered children’s literary classics were penned during this time period including, Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes, The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Alice Liddell, the girl behind Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll changes children's stories

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known by his pen name as Lewis Carroll was a mathematician, inventor of words, magic tricks, games, riddles, nonsense verse, puzzles but most of all he is  remembered for his ability to “spin a yarn.”  Charles, a tall, slim, shy man who spoke with a stammer and was more comfortable the company of children than adults. While serving as a mathematics professor at Christ Church College in Oxford, England he became acquainted with the Dean of Christ Church College, Henry Liddell, his wife, Lorina and their three daughters, Lorina, Edith, and Alice. It was during a rowing expedition along the River Isis in Oxford that Dodgson began his tales of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, featuring Alice Liddell as the protagonist. During subsequent meetings with the Liddell family, Dodgson’s storyline began to take shape based on experiences he shared with the Liddells. Eventually, Alice Liddell requested a written copy of Mr. Dodgson’s stories. The result was a hand written and illustrated book titled, Alice’s Adventures Underground. Soon afterward, Dodgson was persuaded to publish the book to make it available to the general public. The end result of Dodgson’s labor was the children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. The initial 2,000 copies of the book sold out quickly due to the sensation it created among children and adults alike. Since its first publication in 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has never been out-of-print.

Enduring through time

     As I talked to bibliophiles who have a fondness for Alice and her adventures, I noticed there was a commonality among us which draws us to the story again and again. An imaginary land which can only be accessed by falling down a rabbit hole, nonsensical verse, a host of varied and colorful characters, and an adventure of a lifetime are all the things which have allowed this particular story to endure through the pages of time. Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic has inspired Alice-themed cinematic, theatrical and dance productions, as well as literary prequels, sequels and mysteries. In addition, there are books which have been written about the author and his famous yarn. One of our favorites is by Christina Bjork and Inga-Karin Eriksson titled The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland.

     I believe author, Phillip Pullman sums it up best when he penned these thoughts on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, "In Alice, for the first time, we find a realistic child taking part in a story whose intention was entirely fun. Both children and adults loved them at once, and have never stopped doing so. They are as fresh and clever and funny today as they were a hundred and fifty years ago.” (2)

1.  The Complete Alice by Lewis Carroll; Henry Holt & Co.; 2015
2.  Ibid

Thank you Kathy! Any other Alice fans out there? Chime in and share your favorite Alice memories. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Happy New Year!

Ah, a new year is upon us and full of endless reading opportunities. As we plan our lesson plans and look to our children's literary development, it's important to remember to cultivate our own love of great books. So, in light of that, I am wondering what books are on your 2016 to-read list? I would also love to hear about your favorite reads from this past year. Let's help one another engage in what is known in Charlotte Mason circles as "mother culture" and encourage one another to spend time reading for our own hearts and souls. I love the approach put forth by an article in one of Charlotte Mason's journals:
The wisest woman I ever knew--the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend--told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, ‘I always keep three books going--a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!’ That is the secret; always have something ‘going’ to grow by.”
This speaks to me so well because there is no rigidity in this approach. The author recognized that reading serves different purposes at different points in a woman's life. I've just finished an intense semester of heavy reading that included Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, the Federalist Papers and more. Right now the very last thing I want to read is something that requires a lot of close attention. My current reading serves as a distraction from third trimester pregnancy fatigue and two-year-old meltdowns. It needs to be enjoyable and interesting. As I grow older I've also found that trivial reading no longer provides the entertainment it once did. This probably has something to do with the realization that reading time is much more limited then it used to be so if I'm going to be reading for pure pleasure I want books that are well-written and thoughtful. It also means that even if I am reading a "classic" and it is just not working for me, I now feel free to set it aside. I had to read The Brothers Karamazov for a class recently and did not enjoy it at all. I found the characters to be less than sympathetic, the constant tirades and emotional meltdowns too reminiscent of the tantrums I have to deal with in real-life. I was able to see that this is an important piece of literature, but if I had been able to, I would have set it aside and returned to it at another point in my life.

This year I am looking forward to more unstructured reading. Three years of grad school are behind me and I now will be able to pick and choose whatever my heart desires! I plan on reading more on Charlotte Mason and her educational approach (which I will share here), some biographies, and returning to some well-loved books because I love re-reading old favorites. Books I'm especially looking forward to are:

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior
I absolutely loved Prior's autobiographical Booked, Literature in the Heart of Me and have had her biography of More on my nightstand for over a year. This one will be one of my first reads of 2016. 

I will also plan on re-reading Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and Home. I read Lila when it came out and it made me want to return to the Reverends and their wise and thoughtful and flawed lives. 

One of my all-time favorite novels is Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner and I also loved his Angle of Repose so I plan on digging in to his works a bit more. 

What about you? Any favorites you would like to share? Any books you were expecting to love but found to be disappointing? Which books have spoken to your soul - share them here so we can all benefit! 

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.

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