Making the Most of At-home Read Alouds

Originally posted August 23, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Snuggling up with your child and their most beloved books and just reading (or rereading) for sheer pleasure is magical—and important to developing children who love reading.

However, as school starts back up, children may be asked to do more reading at home, and parents might be looking for ideas to boost their child’s interest and understanding of new books. Here are a few ideas teachers and literacy specialists use with students of all ages (kids are never too old to be read to!) to develop stronger, more engaged readers. They are all based on the idea that good readers think deeply about what they’re reading as they read. Some of these strategies work best with books being read for the first time, and all of them can be used with picture books as well as chapter books and novels. So gather the little ones and the bigger ones, and tell them to bring their books!


Asking kids to guess what is about to happen in a book is one way to engage them in the story. It can be done using the title, the pictures, and/or the text that was just read, and is as easy as asking, “What do you think is going to happen?” While it seems simple, it’s actually not. Predicting requires readers to use not only pieces of the text they know, but also their knowledge of story structure from previous books they’ve read or been read, to formulate a logical guess as to what might happen.

Young readers might come up with silly (though amusing) predictions at first. That’s fine; let their creative minds go! But then help them by modeling. It’s as simple as, “I think __________ will happen next, because…” The ‘because’ is important. It shows them that predictions need to be based on evidence. By the upper elementary grades, kids will need to provide such evidence when speaking and writing about texts, so practicing at home is great preparation.

Asking Questions

How often as an adult do you find yourself yelling at a book or even a tv show: “Why are you doing that?” “How could they kill off my favorite character?” When we find ourselves conversing with inanimate objects, it’s not a sign we’re insane; it’s a sign we’re engaged. That is the same type of engagement we want to encourage in young readers.

As you read with your children, ask questions and encourage them to do the same. Depending on the text and your child, the questions can be as basic as “What’s happening now?” or “Who’s that?”, or as sophisticated as “Why do you think the author would do that? How does it affect the story?” Questions about plot, writing, vocabulary, characters, morals or messages, or main ideas are all super. And the best part? There isn’t always a right answer. Often these types of questions are just discussion starters. So there’s no pressure, just engagement.

Making Connections

When we encounter something new, we automatically try to compare it to something familiar in order to understand it. That something familiar might be a firsthand experience, or it might just be something we read, saw on tv, learned in school, or heard from someone else. If we can make a connection, we’re better able to frame our understanding. The same works for books.

Kids are asked to read books with a variety of topics and structures, not all of which will be familiar to them. While pictures and visuals in books can aid a lot with comprehending new material or reading a book with an unfamiliar structure, making connections can help as well. Encourage this by modeling it for your children as you read with them. If a book reminds you of another book you’ve read with them, a place you’ve visited together, or something you’ve seen or heard before, point it out to them or ask them if they can see the connection.

Connections can also be personal, related to experiences, but more likely just related to the emotions that experience evokes. For instance, your child will likely never meet a talking pig, but he or she might have had to say goodbye to a friend or loved one. Seeing the similarities between the known and the unknown will draw kids deeper into their reading and allow them to learn and explore people, places, and things they never otherwise could.

There are dozens of other reading strategies you can use when reading with your children, but you don’t need to know them all. And you certainly don’t want to cram every strategy into each at-home reading session. It’s enough to just read with your kids.

But when there’s time, talk about what you’re reading together. Share a little about what you’re reading as an adult, when it’s appropriate, or at least share that you’re reading and enjoying it. Find news articles your family or children can relate to, and read and discuss snippets of them at the dinner table. Make your home rich with words and stories, and your children will inevitably discover the magic of reading.


Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia

5 Tips for Reducing Back-to-School Stress

Originally posted August 9, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but it’s almost that time again. That’s right, some schools are starting up in another week, and even those that don’t start until September are starting to ready their bulletin boards and wax the floors for the first day of classes. Back to school will always involve some level of stress for parents and kids (and teachers!), but it doesn’t have to be doomsday. Here are a few tips to take a little stress out of the start of the year.

  1. Return to Routines Early

Lazy mornings. Late nights making s’mores by the fire pit. Ice cream for supper. These are what make summer the relaxing reprieve we all cherish. Unfortunately, the school year follows a far more rigorous schedule. There are busses to catch, soccer practices to make, and homework to be done. For learning, playing, and family time to be a success, kids need to be well rested and nourished. For that to happen without excess stress, families need to get back into a routine, and the best time to do that is not the day school starts, but a few days (or weeks) before. If you use the week or so before school starts to slowly adjust bedtimes, wake up times, and even meal times (schools serve lunch anywhere from 10:30 am to 1:30pm!), the start of school won’t seem like such a jolt to everyone’s system.

  1. Plan Ahead

Back in my Weight Watchers days my favorite leader loved the expression “Proper planning prevents pudgy people.” It’s corny, but I think she was definitely onto something. Nothing increases stress and anxiety like having to make decisions and get things done last minute. So make a list now of everything that needs to get done before school starts, as well as updating your list of weekly chores and to-dos to include school-related activities, and then start checking things off as soon as possible. Have the kids help with whatever they can, too. I’m still only running a one-woman show at my house, so there’s a lot less chaos than most families deal with, but even I get all my outfits and lunches for the week ready on the weekend. If you have the closet space to hang things and some great Tupperware, it’s doable, and it makes mornings so much smoother.

  1. Address Anxiety

There are those fearless kids, often younger siblings who’ve eagerly waited for years for it to be their turn, who dash onto the bus the first day of school without a worry in the world. But for most, starting school brings with it some anxiety. Kids worry about having friends in their class, liking their teacher, fitting in. Parents worry about Common Core, bullying, reduced recess time, and standardized tests. Anxiety around school is natural, and while we certainly shouldn’t worry the kids with our own fears, it’s good to address theirs. If they voice concerns or just act differently in the days leading up to school, be sure to talk to them about it. Try to make a concrete plan for addressing any worries you can, things like making new friends, talking to the teacher, and catching the right bus. But be honest about the things you likely can’t change: teachers, classmates, homework. Learning to deal with people and things that might scare us at first is one of the best lessons we learn in school.

  1. Jump Start the Learning

One stressor you can help your child with is getting his or her brain back into school mode. If traveling, camps, swim lessons, and just plain relaxing has got in the way of your best intentions for academic play and practice, returning to it in the week or two before school starts is a good idea. This might be a scary fact, but nearly all children regress to various degrees over the summer months. While teachers know this and spend time reviewing skills from previous years, new rigorous curriculum guidelines don’t give teachers the time they used to have to re-teach previous years’ material. So to assure your children don’t feel overwhelmed in those first weeks, do a little review with them at home before school starts. Obviously, they’re still in summer vacation, so make it fun and active. You don’t want something that’s meant to help adding to their anxiety, but if you can find games, apps, or activities that sneak in some math, spelling, reading, and writing, transitioning back to school work won’t seem as challenging for them come September.

  1. Celebrate New Beginnings!

Growing up with two teachers as parents, you might think early September was a time of mourning in my house. It wasn’t. Ok, it probably was, but my parents hid it very well! In fact, they did such a great job of celebrating the start of school that I looked forward to it like it was Christmas or my birthday. I remember the little gifts—a few pieces of candy and maybe a fun pencil or eraser—that was left at my spot on the kitchen table when I came to breakfast before the first day of school, the notes my dad snuck into my lunch box, the dinner at a favorite restaurant at the end of the first week. Was there anxiety, mine or my parents? Probably, but it was overshadowed by excitement.

Back to school was an affirmation of the importance my parents put on learning and a celebration of new beginnings, new friendships, and new opportunities. If you can create that for your children, you’ve given them a tremendous gift.

So this back to school season, try to squash the stress and get giddy with your kids. Skip down the aisles of Staples like the dad in that commercial, but not because you’re happy to get rid of the little buggers, but because you’re overjoyed to watch them to learn, play, and grow over the course of a wonderful new school year.

Photo by Prometeus