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Archive for engagement

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.

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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!

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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!

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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!


Pink Bullseye - blog post pic


Goals for the School Year

I thought it was important to think through what my goals for School4Boys would be for the 2013-2014 school year. We started school (on a modified schedule - due to life happenings) two weeks ago, so no time like the present!! I have always started each year of my teaching by setting overarching goals. I find it very helpful to go back to these goals throughout the year to assess how they are being met, and to give our activities a tweak if things are not going the way I wish them to. I find that by articulating the goals on paper I am able to really think through what I am trying to do, to refine my ideas, and to keep me on the course I set. I found that writing my goals for the School4Boys school year was a bit harder to do than in years past. I think because there are no outside curricular demands, and the goals for the year are a wide-open blank page, I was a bit intimidated on how and where to start. Total freedom can be a bit scary,  but exciting. The great thing about homeschooling is that I could truly tailor the goals for the year specifically and exactly to be a fit for Big A.


  S4B Big Learning Goal 1. - Engagement

I suppose this is my biggest goal of the year. I think engagement is key to true learning, and to supporting the development of life long learners. It is also probably one of the biggest reasons we are homeschooling this year. I want A. to want to learn, and I want to create an environment that supports his enjoyment of and interest in learning. Out of all of the things I see happening to children at school, one of the most distressing to me is the way that schooling oftentimes teaches students to dislike learning. Not only is A’s engagement my biggest goal of the year, it may be the most challenging because it requires constant planning and evaluation of how he is responding to what we are doing.

♥  S4B Big Learning Goal 2. – Building Connections

This is a powerful way to learn. I want to help A. see the big picture of learning, and how things work together.

  S4B Big Learning Goal 3. – Depth Over Breadth

I believe that it is very important to learn something well, and to experience it deeply. This also means coming back to important ideas over and over throughout the year. I want to focus on allowing A. to learn deeply, and experience how that feels. I believe this will support his engagement. We will do this even if it means leaving some important things out this year.

  S4B Big Learning Goal 4. – Project Work

I want to focus on giving A. the opportunity to construct projects where he is encouraged to take responsibility for the planning of what and how he learns and how he demonstrates what he knows. I will then do my best to integrate multiple curricular areas of learning (math, science, literacy, the arts, etc.) into his projects, which will hopefully build engagement.


♥  S4B Big Learning Goal 5. – Going Out Into the “Learning” Community

I want to plan to take A. out into the world and support/mentor him in learning how to learn from the world around him. I will do my best to integrate our field trips into project work and learning at home. I want us to try to go on one field trip per week, and figure out the best ways to make them opportunities for learning without sucking the life/fun out of them. This will also help with the development of his social skills and comfort in social situations.

♥  S4B Big Learning Goal 6. – Social/Life Skills Development

This is a big and important one for us. I want A. to feel more comfortable and confident in peer social situations, and have better strategies for controlling his own behavior, anger and frustration.

  S4B Big Learning Goal 7. – Do More Sensory Activities

A. has NEVER liked sensory activities. The internet is filled with creative teachers and moms developing clever sensory activities for their children. When A was very young I would bring simple sensory activities out, and he would reject every single one of them. As he got older he became even more resistant. He didn’t like water, shaving cream, sand, pebbles, dry oatmeal, pudding, finger paint, anything, anywhere near him. I didn’t understand about sensory processing disorder at the time, but now I understand him a bit more. Because of his dislike of sensory experiences, I just stopped trying them, but now I know how important they are for his overall development (including fine motor development). This one will be tricky because he doesn’t like them. That he doesn’t like them is a bit of an understatement, but I will have to find a way to make them more palatable and engaging for him.


  S4B Big Learning Goal 8. – Do More Fine Motor Activities

A. also has never liked any academic fine motor activities. Drawing, cutting with scissors, coloring, writing with a pencil, pen, etc. Now that I know that this is largely the result of his motor planning difficulties, it makes more sense. I need to try to find a way to structure what we do so that he gets better at these fine motor activities, and that he wants to do them. I don’t want to “force” him into it, because that would pretty much be the opposite of supporting his engagement. This seems like a challenge.

  S4B Big Learning Goal 9. – Incorporate Little Z. and Little B. Into Our Work Whenever Possible

There are many reasons why this is important. First, I don’t want them to feel left out when I work with A. Second, I truly believe in the benefits of differently aged children working together. I think it pushes every child to grow in different ways. Third, I am hoping it develops stronger bonds between the three of them. It rocked A.’s world when the Littles were born, and he is still unnerved by them sometimes. Often we are doing two/three separate things as a family. As we do more work together, and he helps to mentor them, I am hoping their relationships become more collaborative. The Littles just turned 18 months old (holy cow), so they are starting to be able to participate with A. in similar types of activities, but in different ways. It does not hurt that they clearly love vehicles and books too (just like A.)!

♥  S4B Big Learning Goal 10. – Help A. To Feel Comfortable writing conventionally and drawing representationally

This is a biggie, but it will be very difficult to do.   A. is really struggling with this, and he feels very uncomfortable with both skills.  At this point (in early September) A. can write none of the letters legibly, and his drawings are still scribbles, but he can now reliably (within the last 4 weeks or so) make a shaky circle. His confidence in making any kinds of marks on paper is very low. He is self-conscious and nervous about his lack of writing and drawing skill. My biggest struggle for this goal will be to find a way to break the writing and drawing tasks into small doable pieces for him. Give him too much at one time and he will totally withdraw and feel like a failure (Unfortunately, I already found this out the hard way.)


♥  S4B Big Learning Goal 11. – Cover the Academics That I’m Supposed To Cover In Kindergarten

Oh yeah, there’s the reading, writing, math and science part too. I know it sounds funny, but this is my lowest priority this year. The reason I set “academics” as my last goal, is because the other goals are just more important to me over the coming year. I am not ignoring these other pieces though, and I will be highlighting what we are doing and why as the year progresses. As for goal setting… I am pulling from a variety of sources to develop my academic plans for the year. The first is the set of Common Core State Standards. There are many reasons I don’t like these, but that is for another discussion. They are now the law of most states/lands. As we live in Missouri, I will also be pulling from the Missouri Grade Level Expectations. I am using these documents as resources to help me plan for what is expected for kindergarteners. I have printed out the different curricular expectations (enough pages to fill a three ring binder) and I have highlighted, with different color ink, what I want to work on each of the four “quarters” of our school year. These have been helpful to me in developing weekly and daily lesson plans. I am then pulling from different professional books to support the learning goals.

Tracy :-)