From my Exceptional Parent/Teacher Guest Blogger Carissa Yfantis-
“The wind began to blow. The tree house started to spin.” In case you don’t recognize those famous lines, they are from The Magic Tree House series of fiction adventure books for young readers. They are the opening lines that lead the main characters to an adventure in each book. When my daughter was 4 1⁄2 years-old, my friend gave her a complete set of the first 28 books for Christmas. She had begun reading them to her own daughter when she was four, and they both adored them. My friend assured me that if we read them aloud to my daughter, we would all love them, too. At first, I wasn’t sure if the stories and themes would be too mature or too frightening. I previewed a few of the books, trusted my friend, and embarked on a six-month read-aloud adventure.
Back then we read aloud to our daughter at least twice a day, before afternoon rest time (formerly known as nap time – naps were a distant memory at this point, even though Istill needed her to take one) and at bedtime. This gave us plenty of opportunities to read these chapter books aloud. As promised, we all loved the books immediately. Each one is based on a specific event or time period from history. Even though she was quite young, we were able to teach her little bits of history (edited as necessary to be age-appropriate) as we read the different books. Our daughter was totally engaged with the stories, and the illustrations scattered throughout each book gave a visual representation of important points in the text.
I was happy to enjoy the stories and squeeze in some history, but the best part of reading these books was the few times when my daughter was inspired to create things from the stories. At some point during our second reading of Tonight on the Titanic, she decided to draw a picture of the ship with SOS above it. On her own. (I need to mention that we did not tell her anyone died, just that the ship sank.) I was overjoyed. The history had truly become authentic for her. In Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve, the two main characters turn into ravens. We discussed what ravens were and found photos of real ones on the internet. There were also illustrations of ravens in the book. One day, she made raven’s wings out of black construction paper and a beak out of yellow paper. She asked me to tape them to her arms and face. Again, this was on her own. Knock me over with a feather. She had an authentic learning experience because this piece of the story was interesting to her.
When you read aloud with your children, whether you read to them or they read to you, there will be many opportunities to converse about the subject matter. With the world at our fingertips, you can quickly find photos, definitions, and facts about topics that interest them. Authentic learning takes place when your child actively explores a topic in a way that is meaningful to her.
By the way, lest you think we have some sort of child prodigy, her spontaneous bursts of creativity have dwindled considerably since The Magic Tree House days. Okay, they’re basically gone, but it was amazing while it was lasted!