For the past few weeks, my school has been studying “What happens if a group of teachers read Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write?” They have been sharing joyous experiences via Slice of Life posts, texts, and shared stories. It has been exciting to feel the joy as my colleagues share their noticing and bits of kid writing. I’m looking forward to joining the research back at school now that my maternity leave is over.
As I have reflected on my time home with my girls, I realized that I’ve been doing some research of my own. Since I’ve been on this mission to find and rekindle joy in school, I’ve been wondering what can also be done in the home to foster a joy for learning-specifically joyful readers and writers.
Last school year, our district was fortunate enough to have Mary Ehrenworth share some tips with parents about how to grow lifelong readers. She talked about providing access to fascinating books, modeling a reading life as adults, and having conversations about reading-real conversations.
While home for the past five months, I’ve tried out some of Mary’s recommendations along with trying to layer in some of what I learned from reading Joy Write. Our house is always bursting with books. I have my entire former classroom library housed in our basement playroom. This summer, I made it a priority to read a variety of titles and genres to my girls, rather than just their favorites over and over. We studied the pictures and illustrations in new ways. We noticed more together. We even tried out some of what we learned in our own drawings. A bonus of this exposure to books was that their list of favorites and bedtime requests began to shake up.
Wren and Adi now know that if they are curious about something, we can find books to learn even more. They have become obsessed with bugs this summer. For a few nights, Adi even slept with her bug friends in bug jar. She refused to leave them outside by themselves. As they shower me with questions about what different bugs are called, what they eat, and where they sleep-I’ve reminded them that we can find answers in different books. We have a date planned to gather bug books at the library, so we can find out more.
During my leave, I made a conscious point to slow down- to read my own books while the kids were up, rather than when they were down for the night. The biggest impact I noticed though, was taking time to write with them. As they pulled out paper and tools for writing and drawing, I would stop what I was doing to join them. By joining in on their creating time, I could try out things I thought they might be ready for whether it was a new way to draw people, adding labels to drawings, or an invitation to observe objects from the world around us. This was never work or something I forced on them. But as they saw me trying new things, they were naturally drawn in.
Also modeling living like a writer was powerful. It started out with me pointing out interesting objects during walks or trips to the park. Pretty soon, they were bringing buckets along to gather items. Also, as events occurred, we talked about how that story might go if we wrote it down. Last weekend, I said to my oldest daughter who recently started kindergarten, what were some of your favorite things we did this weekend? That Monday, she came back from school and reported that during writing workshop, she wrote about our Saturday. “First we went to dance class. Then we went to the park at the beach. Then we had lunch. I ran out of pages mom, so I couldn’t write about going in the sprinkler. So I just wrote that we went to bed.”
One afternoon, while drawing with chalk outside after school, Wren instructed Adi, “add more detail, Adi. That’s what my teacher always says.” I asked her about thet kinds of details she usually adds. She talked about color and rainbow hair for her people. I thought this was a perfect pitch for adding labels to her writing, something I know will be coming in the classroom soon.
“You know, another way writers add details to their pictures is with labels,” I said.
“I know, Mom, ” she said, kind of rolling her eyes at me. “My teacher already told me that. We have to do that.”
When I probed about the kinds of labels she added, she said that she added a B for book and P for playground. When I asked if she tried added more sounds, something we have messed around with from time to time, she said “No, because I wasn’t sure if the other letters were right.” So now we have made that a game. Sometimes as we talk about possible stories in the car or while eating dinner and I’ll invite her to stretch out a word. “If you wrote that story, what label would you add? How would it go?” Wren is still just adding one letter labels to her pictures at school, but I think in time, she’ll be more comfortable taking the risk of adding even more sounds.
I took the same sort of organic approach to introducing my middle daughter, Adi, to letters. As the girls drew with chalk one summer afternoon, I wrote some letters and sight words in different stones of our patio. I then created a game where each daughter would jump to a different stone, depending on the letter or word I called out. This naturally peaked Adi’s curiosity and she began spending more time with some letter flashcards that we have. Now she’s pointing out letters all over the place. This week, the smile on her face as we counted the pile of letters she knew, lit up the room. Now that she knows eleven letters, she has decided that she wants to be a letter girl when she grows up. I picture her spinning letters on Wheel of Fortune, Vanna White style.
As I see evidence of some of the practices I have playfully tested out, transferring to new areas of my kids’ lives, in a joyful way, it has me thinking about how to share some of this with other parents who may not have the same education and literacy background. Would it make a difference? My biggest take away has been the value of taking time to share in joyful experiences reading and writing. I wonder if the joy will transcend the demands of school that my own kids will experience. Will my supplementation and our experiences at home make a difference as they get older? Can any of this transfer to the classroom setting?
My maternity leave question, of course, has lead to a new list of questions that I’m excited to continue investigating.