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Archive for child-centered learning

Read Aloud Magic – Ignite a FLAME that becomes a Passion for Lifelong Reading

Flame read aloud, read aloud magic, read aloud to kids

*Warning, the post you are about to read is VERY long, but just may bring a little reading magic to your child’s life!

As parents, caregivers, and teachers we are bombarded with information about the need to read to children every single day. I believe in children needing to be read to like I believe in their need for nutritious food, for shelter, or for warm clothes in the winter. Reading to children is THAT essential. There is so much information about the benefits of reading aloud to children that I don’t need to write about it here. Many other people have already written about it so well. Here are just a few great places to learn more about both the benefits of reading aloud to children, and the research statistics that back up those claims.

Jim Trelease - The Read Aloud Handbook

Jim Trelease is the Grandfather of the read-aloud movement. He has written, The Read-Aloud Handbook, and it is one of the definitive books about reading aloud to children, Mr. Trelease has spent much of his adult life traveling the country trying to convince people of all walks of life to read more great books to children. If I were to recommend just one book about reading aloud to anyone, it would be his book. He also has a website, and lots of good information about the importance of reading aloud.

Reading aloud to kids, flame read alouds, read aloud magic, mem fox

Another great book about reading aloud is Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by the terrific Australian children’s book author Mem Fox.

reading aloud to kids, how to get your child to love reading, flame read alouds, read aloud magic

One more resource that I really love is How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell.  It is filled with fun ideas and activities to pair with books.  She has a website too.

Some more good information from The Children’s Reading Foundation

Even more good stuff from Reading is Fundamental (RIF)


But what I want to write about is how to make the most out of the time you spend reading aloud. It is one of the things that I am especially passionate about, and there are many simple ways that you can take an everyday read-aloud experience and SUPERCHARGE it, so that it has the magical power to draw your child into the life-long love of reading club! I don’t want to scare you. I know that you are overworked and underpaid! Sometimes it is really difficult to even get the reading time in, now I’m telling you to BOOST it up? To do even MORE? Don’t panic! I’m not here to stress you out. I just want to provide you with some information that you can use to make some simple additions to your read-aloud routine that will really make a difference for the children in your life.


I made up an acronym for my read-aloud plan to make it easier to remember. I’m using the term FLAME read-alouds because I want kids to be soooo passionate about books and about reading that they are drawn to them like moths to ….er, well, a flame.


To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.
—Victor Hugo


Tracy, I read to kids EVERY day! Why should I go to all of the trouble of creating special read-alouds?

~ Read-alouds are the VERY best teaching opportunities in your trick bag! They are the greatest occasions  you have for enticing a child into the world of reading.

~A child who wants to read will read, a child who reads has the WORLD at his or her fingertips!

~Even when a child has a disability that makes learning to read difficult, if s/he loves books, and loves stories, it will make him or her more likely to put in all of the extra effort needed to learn.


Frederick Douglass reading quote, reading to kids, read aloud magic,

This is one of my favorite places, right outside my favorite bookstore.

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.
   —Frederick Douglass

So what does FLAME stand for?:








F is for FUN!

Fun is the first thing you should keep in mind when planning a FLAME read-aloud!

Why fun? Because, if books are not fun, children will not want to hear them, or read them. If they do not read they will not be readers.

Read aloud magic, flame read aloud, babies reading

Don’t these sweet boys look like they are having fun?


A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.
—Mark Twain

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty.  It should be offered to them as a precious gift.

—Kate DiCamillo

Read aloud magic, flame read alouds, babies reading

A room full of toys, and this boy wants books!

L is for LOVE

LOVE is perhaps the most important part of a FLAME read-aloud.

~Children learn to love reading when someone they love reads to them. The love transfers!

~Children learn to love reading when the people they love and respect love to read.

The LOVE is contagious!

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.
—Emilie Buchwald
I would add any person that children love and care about

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Grammas make lovely READERS too!

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This guy likes to choose his own books.


A is for Active!

~Children should be active participants in the read-aloud experience (this includes being actively engaged in making book selections).

~Active is the root word for activity, and I think there can always be an interesting activity for a book that enhances and extends the experience. These special activities make a book memorable, and build the LOVE and the FUN.

reading aloud to kids, flame read aloud, read aloud magic

After reading activities involve children in the entire experience of a story. The best ones deepen understanding, and should be FUN. Because…

M is for Movement and Music!

~Kids need to move. If kids want and need to move, and we don’t let them, they will see read-alouds as restrictive. Restrictive = NOT FUN! Why not build FUN and organized movement into your read-alouds for young children?

~Music is fun, most kids love it, and it is another wonderful way to add activity, engagement and fun into your read-alouds. Music could include sing-alongs, recorded music, songbooks, or instruments.


A book is a device to ignite the imagination.
–Alan Bennett

Make the most of it.

reading to kids, flame read aloud, read aloud magic

E is for Engagement and Entertainment

You want to try to make the book so fun, so engaging, so interesting, and so memorable that kids are completely invested in hearing it. You want them to feel there isn’t anything that they would rather do!

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.
—Jacqueline Kennedy

Did you notice I didn’t mention learning?

But Tracy, What About the Learning?  We need to choose books children can learn from!

boys reading, read aloud, learning from books, flame read alouds

You cannot open a book without learning something

You don’t need to choose books with good morals, good values, good lessons to learn, good vocabulary. Just choose good books! Kids WILL learn from them.
It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own
—Katherine Patterson

Good books are the books that children LOVE!  Don’t worry about learning!  Worry about love!

boys reading, read alouds, flame read alouds, reading together

Only Two Things Truly Determine the Success of a Read–Aloud…
1. The Book

2. The Reader

reading to kids, flame read alouds, read aloud magic

1. Pick a Great Book!

A book with high entertainment value should be:

~a book YOU love, really like or have enthusiasm for.

~ Appropriate for the age, development, interests, and number of children in your audience
~ a story with a strong plot (that begins quickly and moves along with good action), interesting characters, and an engaging problem/solution
~ well illustrated (if illustrated)
And will most likely be one or more of the following:
~ silly
~ funny
~ timely (matches an interest, activity, holiday, situation, etc., that is timely)
~ written with a strong, rhyme, rhythm, cadence, and/or drama

 reading to kids, read aloud magic, flame read alouds

  1. Read It Well!

This will take reading the book beforehand, and a bit of prep, but it is worth it!

~Make it a performance, but don’t stress. Fluency and effort go a LONG way.

~Look for ways to emphasize cadences, rhythms, sound words, or special words.

~Identify places where you can punch up a text with your voice…
~character voices and vocal sound effects
~changing the volume (both soft and loud)
~focusing on, and changing pacing (fast/slow) as appropriate.


The more you read, the better you get, the more better you get, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
– Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook


So, how do you create a FLAME worthy read aloud?

Why with three easy planning steps of course!

1.Planning for BEFORE you read

 2.Planning for READING

3. Planning for AFTER you read


Setting the Stage – Planning for BEFORE reading

~Choose your book very carefully.

~Make it a great “fit” for your audience.

-What does your audience like? What can they relate to?

~What is going on in the lives of children that you can tie a book to?

-How complex a story can your audience handle?

-Is this a story that will knock their socks off?

~Do a dress rehearsal. Practice the book out loud before you read it to an audience!!! This is a very important step!


A read-aloud is a very special experience, with amazing possibilities. There are many books that are wonderful, but are not the right fit for reading aloud.

reading to kids, read alouds, read aloud magic, flame read alouds

Ready to perform?! Yes, I am dressed like a wizard to read to my son’s preschool class!

Time to READ! Time to Perform!

It really does help to think of it as a performance

~ Use your voice!

~Use your facial expressions.

~Use gestures.

~Use pacing effectively. Use pauses to create drama, suspense, humor, etc.

~Use props when appropriate (puppets, signs, pictures, flannels, etc.)

~Think about how you can encourage your audience to participate (questions, allowing children to call out a predicted word, use hand movements, etc.)

reading to kids, read aloud magic, flame read alouds, celebrate a book

AFTER Party – Celebrate the Book!
There is always a cast party; why not throw a book party!

~Find a way to celebrate the book in some way…

~Talk about parts you liked or didn’t like.

~Put the book out for children to explore independently later.

~Extend or enhance the story with fun activities such as cooking, a craft, an art project, read a related book or poem, sing a related song.

~Retell the story with: puppets, flannel board, play mats, dramatic play, photographs, student created video, etc.

have fun with books, read alouds, flame read alouds, book activities

Make the experience ENGAGING and FUN.

I’ve got just one more question for you…

How will you help spark the LOVE of reading for the children in your life?


Cat in the Hat, Seuss, read aloud magic, flame read alouds, reading to kids

A winning performance!


If you are looking for ideas…I have been collecting some great ones.  I have created a list of

“Shining Star” read-aloud books that are all kid tested, and have always been winners with everyone I have read them with.  To check the list out, just click here.   I have also have many boards on Pinterest that are filled with ideas for activities.  Here are some of the boards, with great ideas from all around the web, that might spark and idea or a flame!

The Big Big Homeschooling Decision – Part II: The Homeschool Epiphany

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

When you make a B I G decision, you really have to give it the proper consideration!

Recently, I wrote a post about finally feeling good about making the decision to homeschool A. long term. If you missed that post, you can read it here. The funny thing is, that I had an epiphany not long ago that made the pieces of my decision fall into place. I cannot express how grateful I am for this piece of mind. Here’s what happened that made me realize we were doing the right thing for him…


A. was bored. I am not worried about the kids being bored. I told him to find something interesting to do. And he did! As the afternoon unfolded, I was just blown away by his creativity, his ingenuity, and how much fun he was having. The best part was that it was 100% self-directed learning fun. I didn’t give him any ideas or suggestions. I didn’t make him continue. It was all him, and he had a blast.


It all started because A. loves donuts. He really loves donuts! His father takes him for donuts at least once a week, and it is a really important bonding time for them. He also likes to watch the employees make the donuts when they go to the donut shop. He decided he wanted to build a working model of a donut shop including a kitchen. He figured out how to do an image search for donut shop kitchens on the iPad by using a few known letter sounds and auto spell. He then selected his favorite picture, set the iPad on the window ledge, and went to work.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

iPad Research


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Gathering supplies!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Slight Setback!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learningng

Customer seating, and donut conveyor system!

He used large soft blocks to build the table areas.


homeschooling, self-directed and child-centered learning

Making the sign!

We worked together to make a donut shop sign. He asked me to write the words, and he drew the picture.


Homeschooling, self-directed learning and child-centered learning

Time to make the donuts!

He used the playhouse as the kitchen.


homeschooling, self-directed learning, child-centered learning

Making donuts is hard work!

He used play dough and silicone donut molds to make the donuts.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Ding! We bake our donuts here!

He used a wicker basket as an oven to bake the donuts.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Ready for Business!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Nothing better than donuts and conversation (can I have a coffee with that please?)

His shop was finally ready for business, and I got to be his first customer!


The whole process took over two hours. To say that A. does not typically stay with an activity for a long period of time is an understatement.


As I was watching this whole thing unfold, offering help or suggestions only when asked, it just came to me…This is the kind of learning opportunity I want for him on a regular basis! I want for him to have unstructured time and opportunity for exploration, and for creative play, for making discoveries, for solving problems, and for finding his interests. I want him to feel successful as a learner even though much learning is hard for him. He won’t be able to have unstructured time all day long. He still needs to learn specific skills, and he needs visits with specialized therapists. Learning to read, write, and process visual information are very difficult for A. It will take very specific and individualized instruction for him to learn, and to get better at these things. Homeschooling is working for him, and I want his schooling to work for him. Homeschooling is the right thing for him at this moment, and now, I feel REALLY confident that I am making the right decision for him.

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Getting my shield ready!


All I have to do now is put on my criticism shield, and get ready to fend off the mostly concerned and well-meaning people who think A. should be in “school.” Having true confidence in my decision is going a long way to make that shield stronger!

Happy Learning!

Tracy :-)



Kindergarten Redshirting: The Difference Between Readiness and Redshirting

kindergarten readiness vs. redshirting

Spring is in the air, and so is the kindergarten round-up

This is the time of the year when many parents are making a difficult decision about their five year olds. They are asking themselves, should we send our child to kindergarten this fall, or should we wait until next year? It is also the time of year when the term “kindergarten redshirting” comes out.


Kindergarten redshirting…Just hearing those two words makes me bristle. It was one year ago, when I stood in front of the preschool asking the teacher for a re-enrollment form for Big A. She explained that the forms were only for students who were returning to preschool. When I said that I had decided to have A. wait for another year before starting kindergarten, even though he would be old enough to start, the fireworks began. His preschool teacher became very agitated, really far more agitated than I thought fit the situation, and after several comments she said, “It is just not fair to the other children when you redshirt a child, and I don’t think this school is the right place for A. next year!”


One of these children is going to get a red shirt

One of these best friends is ready for Kindergarten, but the other one isn’t.

In the end she was right, and I’m actually glad that his teacher and I had that “exchange” on the sidewalk. It made clear to me that the preschool he was attending was absolutely NOT the right place for him anymore, but that’s a different story. As for kindergarten, no, that wasn’t the right place either. I really agonized over the decision about what to do about kindergarten for A. I spent countless hours thinking about it, and discussing it with Mr. Mad Scientist. I had used all that I knew about A., and kindergarten, and what was expected, and I knew that he wasn’t ready. Looking back now, I’m surprised I worried about it at all, because I feel absolutely confident that I made the right call.


But getting back to “redshirting” and why I think that it is such an ugly term to use… If you are not familiar with the term, it comes from the world of big-time college athletics. College athletes only get four years to play sports. The rule is in place to keep colleges from using players for years and years without the slightest possibility that they would ever graduate. So, many universities “redshirt,” or bench, a player for a year, so that he/she can practice with the team and develop the strength and skill to compete, without losing a year of eligibility. I have no doubt that there are parents who wait to send their child to kindergarten because they want them to be the biggest, smartest, and most athletic in the class. That would be somewhat similar to college-level redshirting. I think most parents though, wait to send their children to kindergarten because they are concerned they are just not ready to be successful, and to me that is NOT the same thing. For most parents, delaying the start of kindergarten for their child is not a desire for their child to be better than all of the other children. It is a desire for their child to be successful in school.

These are things you should see in kindergarten

These are the things you should see in kindergarten.

Why is there a problem?

The real problem is that kindergarten has become too difficult for all five-year old children to handle. In my humble opinion this is utter nonsense and really, really destructive to young children and their long-term education. In the dark ages when I went to kindergarten, we learned to use glue, scissors and paint; we learned to sit in a circle; we learned to try to wait our turn, we learned to work and play in a room full of other children, we learned to follow verbal directions. We did these things by listening to stories, doing art projects, playing with dolls, blocks, kitchen things, play dough and playground balls. We also put on a simple play. There weren’t many kids in my class who couldn’t do these things. There are children, with disabilities, who need support and accommodation to do these things, but otherwise, a typically developing five-year old child can thrive in a play-based and truly child centered environment like I experienced as a child. The kindergarten of today is very different. There are new rigorous standards that come with expectations that are very high. There are also mandatory tests that loom three years down the horizon, and sadly many schools now start prepping children for those tests in Kindergarten. Many five-year old children cannot meet these standards. Some can, but many can’t.


I recently read this piece about a new Kindergarten screening program in Kentucky that went statewide at the beginning of the school year.

If you Google kindergarten screenings you will get many similar articles from all other states. Screening is not new. I am including this particular article because of a statistic that mentions:

“Based on last year’s data, only about 28 percent of students start kindergarten ready to succeed without additional supports,” ~Terry Holliday – Kentucky Education Commissioner

If I did the math right, which isn’t always a given, that means 72% of children in Kentucky did not begin kindergarten ready to succeed according to the screening criteria. What? How is it possible that soooo many children aren’t ready to be successful in their first year of school? So, if children are so far behind at the beginning of kindergarten, what will happen to them?


I used to teach kindergarten and first grade, and I will tell you what I saw…If children struggled mightily in kindergarten (in my experience many of these children were boys) the struggle often followed them for MANY years, sometimes for the rest of their educations. I don’t want to frighten people. Many kids ended up doing just fine, but school was often not an easy, fun, or engaging proposition for them. It was just hard. Some children got so defeated they began acting badly, gave up, or never discovered their potential. People like to do things that make them feel successful. This goes for kids and adults. If you constantly feel like you do something poorly, and you constantly feel incompetent, or like something is just plain too hard, how long will you keep a good attitude and keep plugging away? Many kids will not hang in there very long. Some will, but they never see themselves as students. How sad! Why on Earth would we create a kindergarten that is so difficult that 72% of entering children can’t do it without additional supports?????????? I am a huge believer in the idea that kindergarten should be ready for all children rather than children needing to be “ready” for kindergarten. Kindergarten should be a place where all children can be successful. Sadly, right now, this is not the case.


What to do?

I looked at several pieces of educational and economic research when I was making A.’s Kindergarten decision last year. It is a totally mixed bag, and seemed no help to me at all in figuring out what to do. The research that has been done, in my opinion, does not point one way or another on this issue, and has far too many variables to be useful for making decisions about individual children.

Another year of preschool can be a good thing

Another year in a child-centered preschool can be a good thing!

That leads to the dilemma…Start Kindergarten at five or wait? If you are a are concerned about your child’s readiness to begin kindergarten…my opinion is listen to what your instincts are telling you. Really listen. Follow what your instincts tell you. And if YOU feel it will be best for YOUR child, wait. I have never met a parent who had their child wait out a year before starting kindergarten tell me that they wish they had made a different choice. I can tell you from personal experience that an extra year made an incredible difference for my son, and that he is much better off for an extra year of maturation. I know many other parents who have told me the same thing. I’m not saying that all children need an extra year. If yours does, give them the gift of time. Let them go to preschool another year if that is an option. Let them do art projects, go to the park, listen to stories, play with blocks, play dough and playground balls. Notice the letters, numbers, words, and the world all around. There will still be so much time for rigorous academics, and then hopefully your child will be ready to take it on!


Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)