‘Back to Basics’ When Teaching Kids to Write

English: School room.

English: School room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are at all interested in literacy and education, you should find this article from the Atlantic really fascinating. It talks about correcting the pendulum-swing of faddish educational practices, and going back to teaching students how to write – how to build proper sentences and paragraphs and how to organize your thoughts into essay form. Nouns and verbs and prepositions and clauses and all that old-fashioned stuff.

It’s pretty convincing, and it’s quite interesting to follow the efforts of a staff of high school teachers in New York as they analyze why their students are unable to write effectively.

Unfortunately the issue is framed by some as a creative writing vs. essay writing battle. Emotions and self-expression vs. disciplined intellectual structure. I think the real sweet spot is in the middle, balancing both aspects of writing.

Banned Books Week

“Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”  – ALA website

Why not read a banned book this week? There are lots to choose from. Here’s a list of “Banned Books That Shaped America”. (I’m rereading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.)

And here’s an interesting article about some banned children’s books.

Top 5: Pre- Harry Potter Reads

As I wrote yesterday, Harry Potter books (and movies) can be pretty scary and intense for younger children. If your child is intrigued by magic and fantasy, but you’re not certain she or he is quite ready for Hogwarts, here are a few fantasy titles they may be more comfortable with.

(Click on the titles to see full reviews.)


Top 5: Beginner Fantasy Chapter Books

 

1. The Cuckoo Clock by Mrs. Molesworth – age 5+

A very sedate and old-fashioned (1877) story about a girl who visits some magical places and learns to behave herself a little better.

2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – age 5+

Quite different from the movie – a rambling, weird tale with a few scares and dustups along the way. (NB. some violence: see full review.)

3. Half Magic by Edward Eager – age 5+

One of my childhood favourites. This and other titles by Eager are lovely stories about children who come across something magic and mess things up a little. Slightly old-fashioned but charming and full of insight about sibling relations.

4. The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit – age 6+

Snappy and very funny short stories, each about a very unique dragon.

5. The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – age 6+

Nesbit books like The Enchanted Castle and Five Children and It inspired Edward Eager’s work, and are similarly about children who acquire some kind of magic and mismanage it with amusing or chilling results. This title in particular has one very creepy sequence.

And Two bonus titles… Rather long and wordy, only for the most hardy listeners (and readers).

6. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – age 6+

Find an abridged version if you can. (But NOT a Disney version!) The plot is captivating, but the original novel is a very dense read, and tangled with tangents.

7. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald – age 6+

Goblins living under a mountain plot to kidnap a Princess, but she is aided by the ghost of her great-great-great grandmother and a courageous miner boy. Another very old classic, creepy and intriguing, but a trifle loooong and slow to get going. (Not sure if there are any abridged versions out there.)

As you can tell, my tastes go to the older, classic novels. I must start reading some newer books!

If you have any suggestions for early fantasy books, new or old, please share them!

What Age is Right for Harry Potter?

My six-year-old is loving stories about magic and strange creatures, and it occurred to me that we might be ready to wade into Potter-mania. Maybe. I think. Or maybe I should wait. Isn’t it too scary? Too violent? Too intense?

Fortunately I’ve come across this succinct bit of advice on Commonsense Media re. what ages are best for all the Harry Potter books, movies and games.

Here’s the gist of it… At age 6 or 7 it’s fine to read first book to them aloud (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), and maybe watch the first movie.

After that the books and movies ramp up pretty quickly, agewise. You should check out the link for greater detail, but the last book, and the movies from Goblet of Fire onward are more appropriate for age 11 or 12.

Also included in the article are recommended ages for the various Harry Potter video games.

There really shouldn’t be any rush to put HP into your child’s hands, after all there are many, many fantasy books and movies out there more suitable for ages 5, 6, or 7, titles that are tamer, less violent and scary, and just not so grim. I’m working on a list of these right now, to be posted soon, I hope!

Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Boy: Tales of Childhood

Boy: Tales of Childhood

by Roald Dahl

London: Jonathan Cape, 1984

160 pp.

Age: 9+

Interests: biography, history, nonfiction, British boarding schools, family history

Next: Going Solo (the sequel to this book), also War Boy: A Country Childhood by Michael Foreman

Related Posts: A Roald Dahl Reading List

More

All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.