Posted in Children's Literature Series

You’ve Read A Book: Now What? The Case for Open Ended Conversation with Children.

Reading Aloud.

How do we make the most of the precious moments after the last page of a book? In children’s literature, the author and illustrator open a window into another world. They share a perspective and a way of making sense of a moment in time. There is so much to learn, to notice and to digest. As adults, we interpret the story through our own lens, adding a layer of our beliefs to the discussion. The concept of utilizing open-ended questions removes the influence of grownup intentions or directives. It allows the child to express their understanding, to make sense, to play, to imagine and share thoughts freely. In addition, developmentally speaking, children have typical worries and sometimes challenging life experiences that are difficult to articulate or process. When the books selected reflect this, it is an invitation to express and explore thoughts and feelings, to synthesize the story and to decrease isolation and increase connection.

It’s not just a growth of vocabulary that matters here, but what those words convey about the nature of life, of hope, of crisis, of security, of love and of despair and of family. If we add the experiences of others, in other lands, in other family configurations, in other times, to what we experience in our own limited lives, we have the world’s wealth. The capacity to be human means to understand others, to satisfy curiosity, to recognize and express compassion, to see cause and effect, to wish for justice, to seek independence, to awaken empathy. All this, and much more, begins with the ideas gained through being read to. Nothing a parent or teacher does for a child’s intellectual and social growth is more important than talking to and – by extension reading aloud to a child.”

Rebecca J. Lukens. A Critical Handbook of Children’s Literature. New York: Penguin, 2007.

One way to capitalize on the content books offer and enrich children’s experience is to keep talking after the book is finished. These conversations vary by book, by child, by day and so much more. They provide an opportunity to model thinking aloud. Here are a few examples of what these questions might sound like:

  • What did you notice?
  • I wonder..
  • Do you have any questions?
  • Does that remind you of anything?
  • Why did that happen?
  • What is going on here?
  • Has that ever happened to you/to your friends? What did you do?
  • What do you think is going to happen? *making predictions
  • What would you do? *this question may be difficult for very young children.
  • How do you think he/she felt? *again this may be difficult for very young children as it requires ‘metacognition’ or thinking about thinking.

As readers we “create interpretations to enrich and deepen our experience in a text,” (Debbie Miller. Reading with Meaning. Ontario: Stenhouse Publishers. 2002. pg. 115.) Even as adults we read books that help us to learn or challenge our understanding. Books can be life-changing, eye-opening and even change our belief systems. These conversations, even for a few moments and in their simplest form can heighten a child’s experience of a book.

What questions do you use? Share a few in comments.

Posted in Children's Literature Series

Children’s Books as an Opening to Challenging Discussions.

A Child’s Bookshelf

Observing an active toddler at mealtime reveals a ritual of comings and goings. This process begins with a few nibbles snatched from an artfully arranged plate before rushing away to play with a coveted toy and then returning again. In many ways, a child’s readiness to digest discussions with grownups is similar. Children come to their grownups with questions and at times with heavy interrogation. Sometimes a simple phrase is enough. Sometimes they need more. When they continue to wonder, they return again and again to ask questions.

At times, life presents us with moments that are difficult but urgent to discuss. A child’s experience of these moments differs from adults. It can be linked to development, temperament, experience and so much more. So, how do we invite conversations in the bite sized nibbles they fancy? How do we garner an understanding of the child’s experience, emotion or readiness? How can we meet the child, right where they are and then scaffold to provide the support necessary?

Dewey’s age old reminder that we start “where the learner is in time, place, culture, and development,” the philosophy suggests that once children are exposed to reading, the decoding process has more meaning for them if they find what they read to be attractive.”

Rebeca J. Lukens. A Critical Handbook of Children’s Literature. New York: Pearson, 2007

This series, ‘Children’s Literature’ will introduce the practice of using literature as a provocation for conversation and as an window into a child’s understanding. The posts will cover the process from open-ended discussion tactics to the art of book selection. In addition, the series will review classic and new children’s literature as it relates to the challenging topics such as:

  • separation
  • illness
  • starting school
  • worries/anxiety
  • fire
  • poverty
  • diversity
  • death
  • darkness
  • emotion
  • new siblings
  • loneliness
  • being different
  • imagination
  • bullies
  • and so much more

A range of books will be introduced and discussion questions for children will be included. The books introduced here are by no means the only options available. Any book can be an invitation, simply read it and then ask: “what did you notice?” It’s is an incredible and non-directive way engage a child and open the door to their own story.

Stay tuned for posts on sourcing books, the art of book selection, using technology to engage readers and discussions about the value of unhappy or unfinished endings. These and more will be filed under the ‘Children’s Literature Series.’

*Requests for books related to specific topics can be left in the comments.