Connect with your child: Ask for an opinion

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood

Don’t you love to be consulted? Don’t you love when someone asks you what you think? It pulls you into that person’s world and makes you feel honored, respected, and valued. Your child will feel the same way when you ask for their opinion about something that really matters.

Is there a decision you have to make that you could share with your child? Is there something you’re thinking about or a problem you have to solve that could use your child’s perspective? Look for an opportunity to sincerely ask your child, “What do you think?” or “What would you do?”

Demonstrating that you value your child’s thoughts will strengthen your relationship and let them see that the two of you are connected in an important way.

Connect with your child: Smile.


Today’s challenge is as simple as it gets. Today, you and I are going to intentionally smile at our child throughout the day. Smile when she wakes up. Smile when he walks into the room. Smile when you look at her across the table, when you glance at him in the rear-view mirror, and when you say good-night.

Your smile does three important things. It…

  1. Communicates your acceptance, trust, and approval.
  2. Demonstrates that despite all of the stress, obligations, and responsibilities in your life, you are trusting God to carry the weight of the world for you.
  3. Makes you more beautiful. (True story! When you smile, you are your most beautiful you. Ask anyone.)

When we smile at our child, we extend an offer of connection they can rarely and barely resist. It’s like a life preserver tossed to an exhausted swimmer, a free t-shirt launched to an excited baseball fan, and a handful of candy tossed from a Parade float to the kid with an open bag, just waiting for something sweet.

(Have you had an opportunity to ask your child what makes him or her feel loved? What’d you learn? Make sure you use that information! Snuggle, pray, play, sit by, or hike with your kiddo to say, “I love you”. )

Connect with your child: Just ask.


Do you ever feel like you get to the end of the day and wonder if you connected with your child?

I find myself wondering, Did I even look at her all day? Did I touch him? Did I smile at her?  These questions catch me off guard more often than I’d like and remind me to be intentional about connecting with my kids.

Sometimes I notice that I’m wrapped up in my own little world and I need to “up the connecting ante” across the board. Other times I notice that one particular child seems to be lonely and sitting on the sidelines of life; she needs me to intentionally pursue her and remind her that there’s a place for her here.

Now that we’re enjoying the sweetness of summer, let’s think of July as the month we’re going to intentionally connect with a sweet kiddo in our lives.  As often as I can, I’ll share a post-it note’s worth of encouragement that’ll help you build your relationship with your child.

So, here’s what we’re going to do today:

Ask, “When do you feel most loved by me?”

I feel loved – and naturally give love – by words of affirmation and engaging conversation. That means my kids get lots of affirmation, lots of listening ears, and lots of conversation, but this doesn’t mean they really feel loved by it 

When I asked my kids, “When do you feel most loved by me?” I was surprised by their answers. 

My 4 year old son replied, “I feel special when you pray for me.” I loved his answer because he unintentionally told me two things about himself: first, that “love” to him meant “feeling special” and secondly, that he really was savoring those moments at the breakfast table or at bedtime when I’d pray for him. Who knew?

My 7 year old daughter said, “I feel close to you when you cuddle with me.” Her answer helped me to see that “love” to her meant “feeling close” and that any time I could wrap my arm around her or sit by her side, she was feeling the love.

That was a few years ago, so I wonder if their answers have changed? It’s about time I checked back in. I’m going to jot this down on a post-it note and make sure I ask them today. You, too? Your child’s answer will flavor the rest of the ways you pursue them this month.

(If your child is stumped by your question, try this free and easy “5 Love Languages Profile for Children”. A few simple “either/ or” choices will help you to see what “love” means to your kiddo.)

Let us know what you discover!


The Big Family Book Party: June 2017

LauraAll Posts, Books

June has been a fun month full of birthday parties, picnics, swimming lessons, afternoons at the pool, women’s ministry planning, homeschool planning, and project-tackling. That means that I *almost* forgot to do a Big Family Book Party for June! My daughter reminded me about it and I am determined to “publish”this post before the month turns into July. The kids all rallied around me for the photo shoot.

This month, we are recommending our favorite activity-themed books.

For the ballerina…

Viv spends hours with this beautiful book. Ballet Spectacular: a young ballet lover’s guide and an insight into a magical world features rich photos, history, and information about the Royal Ballet. Viv has learned about the history of ballet, creating a ballet, life in a ballet company, ballet school, and famous ballets. It’s a visual delight with plenty of interesting information.  

For the baby…

Josiah loves a lift-the-flap book. Where is Baby’s Bellybutton by Karen Katz is a current go-to.

For the big girl…

Audrey recommends this adorable quiet book, My Big Day. Brush your teeth, get dressed, put some socks in a washing machine, tie your shoes, take the dog for a walk… learn fine-motor skills with some simple everyday activities. This book is beautifully made and very sturdy.

For the LEGO lover…

We scored the LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary at our local used book sale (minifigure included!) and Malachi has studied it from cover-to-cover. Because it would never keep my own attention, I almost overlooked it, but my boy loves it. He couldn’t wait to tell you about it. If he studies his Bible, history, and science lessons like he has studied this book, he’ll do well in life.

For the chess novice…

My kids used The Kids’ Book of Chess to teach themselves how to play. The book explains the game in the context of a story with characters, motives, strategy, and everything. Easy as that. Lia spent hours setting up the board to replicate the examples in the book and playing against herself. Then, they all got in on the fun and had a tournament of sorts.

For women…

As for me? Well, I’ve had my nose in a stack of Women’s Ministry books because we are working on that in our church. I highly recommend Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt. It gets right to the heart of why women’s ministry is important and what it should be all about. I was borrowing a copy from a friend but was secretly happy when our daughter spilled water on it. This forced me to buy a new copy for my friend and feel free to underline all of the important passages in my own copy. 🙂

For men…

Although Ryan hasn’t had his nose in a book lately, he has been listening to Freakonomics (a “podacst that explores the hidden side of everything”) episodes during his commute. He comes home with the most interesting tidbits about carseats, stock markets, and lawn care.

Enjoy other book recommendations…

The Big Family Book Party: May, 2017

The Big Family Book Party: April, 2017

The Big Family Book Party: March, 2017

Get Your Child to Play More Games, Solve More Puzzles, and Exercise Creativity

LauraFamily Fun, Homeschooling, Motherhood

Don’t you just love when your child is totally absorbed in creating, puzzling, or playing? I do!

We have a closet full of incredible games and toys – solitaire marbles, colored blocks, a Buddha board, dominoes, chess – but with a baby crawling around, I haven’t known what to do with all of those tiny pieces and fragile items.

So, I shut them all up in a closet.

All of our beautiful games and learning toys were just sitting in a closet. Ignored. Sad. Lonely.

Last year, I was brainstorming a way to engage my older children in some of the hidden gems in our closet and I love what we discovered. I’ve just gotta tell you all about it.

This strategy rocks. It’s super-simple. Totally do-able. And has engaged my kiddos in hours of creative play. And the really nice thing is that the games no longer feel so dejected.

I call it… The One Thing on A High Table.

Yep, that’s right. Every few weeks, I place a different thing on the high black table that stands right in the middle of our everyday living.

None of the babies can reach the small pieces and the older children (and adults and all of our visitors) are immediately drawn into the fun. If it’s a game, they may play it the traditional way, but I’ve found that by leaving it out for two weeks or so, each child tinkers around with the pieces, creating designs, new games, slow-motion videos… I’m always amazed by what I discover at the high table.

The possibilities are endless…


Marble Solitaire

Colorful blocks


The Super Sorting Pie


Shut the Box



Even a basket of buttons or big, smooth stones beckons to a child, “Come and create a while.

The rules are simple: it all stays on the table.

The magic wand is in your hand. Here’s the key to keeping the fun alive: switch out the game before your child is tired of it and don’t ask for input. Just “let the new thing appear”. As they walk by the table, they’ll glimpse something new and interesting out of the corner of their eye, it will call their name, and they’ll be pulled into the wonder.

The bonus: Our table happens to be right inside our front door. It’s a great location. When guests arrive, they jump right in, painting on the Buddha board, or trying their hand at Shut the Box. If you have the space for something like this, try it out! It’s yard sale season, keep your eye open for a high table of your own. 🙂

Potty Training in 3 Simple Quotations

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood, Toddlers

A friend recently asked me to share all of my potty training insights. To be honest, I don’t have much to share. Potty training isn’t my forte.

Though I rejoice that 6 out of the 7 people in our family are potty trained, I’m not quite sure how it all came about. Each time, we tried the 3-Day Thing, and yet…

One of our kiddos took longer than others.

One was waaaay too distracted.

One was less interested.

One – one amazing child of ours – figured it all out within 24 hours of training and said, “I’m potty-trained, Mom.” Bam. Done.

Another one relapsed after 2 years of consistency.

SO, in my experience there is no pattern or formula for fail-safe, accident-free, blissful potty training.

I do, however, have 3 cosmos-shaking quotations about potty-training that I’m willing to share with you.

1. “Treat your child the way you’ll want to be treated when you’re old and they help YOU go to the potty.”

This is the golden rule of potty training.

A mother of 7 told me this one. I’m amazed that the concept has shaped how I think about the servant-part of parenting. When I consider that I’m modeling the way I’d like them to treat me, I’m kinder and much more patient, that’s for sure.

2. “There’s no turning back now, Mom.”

We aim for the focused 3-day Potty Training Thing, putting the child on the potty every 15- 20 minutes.

In the past, we’d transition to pull-ups. But when we were about to train our third child, we decided to go right to underwear instead of transitioning with pull-ups. That day, a good friend and experienced dad stopped by and heard about our Project of the Day. He said, “There’s no turning back now, Mom. Whatever you do, don’t go back to diapers or pull-ups.”

We took his advice and I’m glad we did. It required consistency and dogged determination, but the process seemed to go much more smoothly. Of course, there were plenty of accidents that I couldn’t bear to clean up (you know the kind) so, I threw some underwear away. We’ve shopped around for inexpensive packs of underwear. At the end of the day, we’ve thrown away and spent far less than if we had transitioned to pull-ups or gone back-and-forth.

3. “I count on my children having accidents until they are 4 or 5 years old.”

After a few years of frustration over occasional accidents – even 2 or 3 years after a child being potty-trained – a friend shrugged her shoulders and told me that she counts on her kids having accidents even when they are 4 or 5 years old. I breathed a sigh of relief to learn that I’m not alone! She told me that she keeps a change of clothes in the car and doesn’t make a big deal about it when it happens. Now I do that, too.

This mentality was a game changer for me.

Being prepared for accidents helps me to extend grace to my child as well as to myself. We’re not shocked. We’re not angry. We just clean it up. No big deal.

I haven’t tracked the data scientifically or anything, but I’m certain that my kids have far fewer accidents now that I’m prepared and relaxed. Wonders!

So, there you have it, all I know about potty training in 3 simple quotes: “don’t turn back”, “prepare for accidents”, and “treat your child with dignity”.

What about you? What do you know about potty training?

The Playful Pioneers Review: 3 First Impressions

LauraBooks, Homeschooling

I first heard of Jennifer Pepito’s curriculum on The Homeschool Snapshots podcast.

I love her philosophy about the preschool years and became interested in her “Peaceful Preschool” curriculum. While I was checking that out, I discovered her newest  curriculum, “The Playful Pioneers“, which provides a multi-sensory approach to the first 5 books in The Little House on the Prairie series for early-elementary students.

I wanted to make sure I got this post out to you asap because she is offering 20% off either curriculum through June with the discount code “Summer”. You may want to snatch this one up!

Why I Chose The Playful Pioneers for our Children…

Like SO many homeschoolers, I adore The Little House series.

I grew up believing imagining I was Laura Ingalls Wilder – surviving blizzards, teaching bullies, sweeping for hours, and making gallons of nature soup.

Eight years ago, I read the first few books to our oldest daughter. Then two years ago, our second daughter hid away behind one Little House book after another until she emerged from the entire series, smiling and inspired.

Now that our son is entering first grade and our 3-year-old is precocious enough to listen in, I think it’s time to enjoy the series together.

The Playful Pioneers curriculum provides just what we need to map out our reading and dig into the pioneer lifestyle.

I decided to begin the curriculum this summer since it’s targeted toward K – 3rd graders, but my rising 7th and 4th grader begged to be included in the fun. With the flexibility of summer, I want to try it on for size and see how it works best in our home.

I LOVE that it begins with Farmer Boy. This appeals to my 6-year old son right off the bat. I’m so thankful for that! After the first week’s reading, he wanted to run right off and “play Farmer Boy!” (Who could ask for more?)

One of the highlights from Week 1 was making a pink dye from rose petals. With it, we dyed some yarn and white socks. We decided that the color of the socks is best described as, “Well, ew, Farmer Boy Pink?”.

I dunno. What would you call this color??

With two weeks under our belts, here are my first impressions about The Playful Pioneers:

  • It’s well-organized, simple, and easy to follow. 

When you purchase the curriculum, you’ll receive a few downloads: The Student Worksheets, The Book List, The Cookbook, and The Curriculum. I printed it out, punched holes in everything, organized the student worksheets with their corresponding Week #, and put it in a 3-inch binder.

Each week provides a clear one-page overview of every activity, then each day has a more specific description with internet links included for project instructions, etc.

There’s no question about what to do, when. This curriculum provides simple, do-able assignments and projects to enhance each day’s reading. I’m confident that my children are learning so much from the multi-sensory approach of making rose-petal dye and popcorn, listening to music and poetry, and drawing and writing.

  • It’s a thorough curriculum.

Along with your favorite Math and Language Arts curriculum, The Playful Pioneers could be everything else you need for a 30 week school year.

Because we’re starting this in the summer, we’re simply doing the day’s reading while the children work on the copy work/ coloring pages or a related art project. If there’s an additional art or practical skills project, we do that in the afternoon.

In the fall, I’ll be more conscientious to include the Scripture copy work, the additional reading, as well as the science and history elements.

  • It’s hands-on, sensory fun for a wide range of ages and grade levels.

Even though The Playful Pioneers is geared toward K – 3rd grade, my 3-year old and 12-year old daughters are enjoying it just as much as anyone.

For example of how the assignments appeal to a broad range of ages, check out that photo of the horses. The prompt was, “Draw a horse, using p. 141 in Farm Anatomy as a guide”.  My 6-year old and my 6th grader were equally absorbed in the assignment and felt good about their work. You can see how they each naturally applied it to their own ability level.

My older daughters love the copy work and coloring, and are really enjoying the art and practical skills projects. And of course, who wouldn’t enjoy the books themselves? The Little House books are timeless literature for every age.

I’m anticipating that the older girls will want to continue being a part of the fun in the fall. If so, I’ll just shape their curriculum around what we’ll be reading and experiencing at that time. I can keep you posted about that if you’re interested.

My first impression of The Playful Pioneers? Two thumbs up! Excellent quality. Affordable. Do-Able. Meaningful.

Click here to check it out for yourself! And remember… 20% off with the code “Summer”. 🙂


Our Plans for a Regular Old Summer Day

LauraAll Posts, Books, Homeschooling

Year-round schooling is my style. I thrive in the sweet terrarium of structure and accomplishment.

My children, on the other hand, need a nice, long break from the monotony thrill of a rigorous academic schedule. Besides, our summer schedule is gladly full of friends, outdoor adventures, vacation, and camps, so it’s not realistic to expect school-work-as-usual.

When we are home, I like to keep a general daily schedule so the kids know what to expect. I’ve discovered that even summer vacation thrives with a little structure, so that everything hums along. The younger they are, the more passionate I am about having them read, write, and reason a bit each day. (Personal history proves that a 3-day weekend – let alone a 3-month vacation – can make a Kindergartner write their 5’s backwards after working so hard to write them correctly. Ack! That hurts. So, we keep things like “5’s” fresh through the summer.)

Here’s our “Regular Ole’ Summer Day” plan.

Play until Breakfast.

8 o’clock: Breakfast

Outdoor chores (Before the sun!)

9ish – 10ish a.m. The Playful Pioneer

We’ve just begun a beautiful and fun curriculum that takes young students through The Little House on the Prairie Books w/ activities, crafts, recipes, coloring, and Copywork. It’s meant for K-3, but my older girls begged to be let in on the fun. I’ll be sharing more about this soon. Stay tuned.

10ish – 11ish a.m. “Snack and Stuff”

We’ll all grab a snack and then… The older girls want to keep up with their math and practice their music or ballet. They’re both writing stories for The Secret Keep Girl Story-Writing Contest, so they use this time to work on that.

Meanwhile, I play with Malachi and Audrey, aiming to help Malachi do some math, reading, and writing as we play. My top 5 ideas: “Toy Store”, “Sunday School,” “Camp,” “Train Station,” and “Restaurant”.

11ish – 12ish p.m. Free time

12ish – 1ish p.m. Lunch/ Free time

1ish – 2ish p.m. Quiet Reading Hour

2ish – 3ish p.m. Read-aloud + an Art Project or a Game

I love this special time just with my older 3. We’ve read so many wonderful books together, painted many watercolors, and played many games. Just yesterday, Malachi and I won a game of Rummikub. 🙂

3ish – 3:30 p.m. Indoor Chores

3:30 – 5 p.m. Free time until dinner

All of that free time is beautiful for children! They can run and play and create! But, I must admit that all of that free time gives me the jitters. I don’t mind a dose of boredom that results in discovery and play, but I do mind boredom that results in complaining, snack-begging, and aimlessness. (Two-sides of the same coin!)

Our kids love to play outside and can spend hours with Playmobil or LEGOS, it’s just a matter of getting them going sometimes.  So for a quick reference, I made a list of fun things they can do and posted it on the fridge. If they need an idea, there it is. The list is full of everything you’d expect: playdoh, dolls, bubbles, clay…

My biggest concern is myself:  I can flat-out wilt under the intensity of unstructured time. To appease myself, I posted a 2nd list on the fridge: a list of “You ACCOMPLISHED something!” ideas for myself. (I used Pam Barnhill’s free Summer printables.)

I’m sure that most of that “free time” will be taking care of business, getting supplies for little ones, applying sunscreen on four little noses, restoring peace to the universe, and patching up boo boos. BUT, for those rare moments when I have free time and don’t know how to begin, I can glance at my list for an idea to make the most of my opportunity. 🙂


When it comes to community and online summer reading programs, I tend to fail.

I don’t know why.

They are just so hard.

The lists, the entries, the prizes… I try to juggle the Summer Reading Program Ball, but it’s one I keep dropping. So for the past few summers, I’ve just created our own Family Reading Challenge.

This year, I compiled a list of good books that are also good movies. Read a book from the list and we’ll watch the movie! Easy and fun.

I tried to include titles that are both good books and good movies. Want the plan for your own fridge? Here’s a copy that you can edit according to your particular family’s taste. Just click here: A Book and a Movie: Summer Reading Fun.

What goes on at your house on a regular old summer day?

A 3-Step Plan for Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers

LauraBabies, Books, Motherhood, Preschool, Toddlers

Picture this: You are holding your precious baby on your lap and opening a book to read aloud. You are building his love of reading, nurturing him with quality time, enriching his understanding of humanity. Two seconds later, that same child is escaping across the room – crying, no less – with a freshly-chewed board book in his grasp.

Sound familiar?

You and your baby are perfectly normal.

All of the experts agree that one of the most important things a parent can do is to read aloud to their child.

Most of us know this and we want this, but we silently face challenges on every side when we want to sit down with our baby and a book at the same time.

How in the world are we supposed to read to babies?!?

If reading aloud to your baby or toddler feels impossible, take heart: you’re not alone. All parents have to work with childhood’s limited attention span, unpredictable emotional needs, and ferocious appetites for book corners.

These challenges are part of reading aloud to children. So, if these things pop up in your home, you’re in good company.

All you need is a plan.

Reading aloud to babies requires a strategy.

Today, you and I are going to consider the obstacles and work out a plan so that we know when to, how to, and what to read.

I’ve learned how to read aloud to babies by asking my mom how she did it, and by trial-and-error over the past 12 years of reading to 5 different baby personalities in all kinds of circumstances. (Recently, I’ve received tons of inspiration, encouragement, and ideas from The Read-aloud Revival. I feel like I’ve found my people.)

I have some ideas that will help you to succeed in the ever-elusive ideal of reading aloud to your baby or toddler.

Are you ready?

The 3-Step Baby-friendly Read-aloud Plan:

(increase the odds that you will get through a page or two, un-chewed)

  1. Discover your child’s read-aloud style.

Every child has a unique learning style already at work by the time you open Goodnight Moon for the first time.

Part of your calling is to discover what your child likes about books in the first place.

We all read for different reasons. I read for life lessons. One of our daughters reads for story. Another one of our daughters connects with the characters and likes to re-enact the story afterward. One of our sons likes using books as a reference point. (True story: when he was 2, he suggested to his Sunday School teacher that they reference a picture of a truck from a book whilst working on a little art project.)

Remember that children are simply adults-in-the-making. Some contemplative adults read one paragraph, copy it in their Commonplace Books, and meditate on it for a few days. Other socially-charged adults join book clubs, read half the book, but have lots to say at the meeting.

Have fun observing your child’s unique approach to books and daydreaming about how they might grow to enjoy them over time.

What does your child like about books? 

  • Watching the words
  • Hearing the words
  • Looking at pictures
  • Interacting with the pictures
  • Connecting with the characters
  • Spending time with you
  • Role-playing afterward
  • Asking questions
  • Discussion
  • Personal contemplation
  • Something else?

Try this: Keep your eye open for your child’s learning style and be ready to nourish your child accordingly.

For example, some children will be far more interested in the illustrations, others will need one word or idea to spur a discussion, others will need one idea to spur a play time, others will like to listen to the words while staring into space, others will listen while playing something else, etc.

Once you know what your child likes about books, you can emphasize that when you read aloud. You’ll capture your child’s attention, have more fun, and feel like THE BEST MOM IN THE WORLD when you see your little one in love with a book.

(acting out The Tale of Peter Rabbit)

2. Discover when and where you will read-aloud together.

When is your child most likely to connect with a read-aloud? Every child has a natural “body clock” of energy highs and lows, times of contemplation and times of output.

Most of my babies have been mellow immediately after nursing, so I often read 1 book then in the morning and after nap-time.

Also, where does your baby or toddler seem to settle down and seem most attentive? In the high chair or bouncy seat? Snuggling on the couch? Make the most of the best time-and-place.

When and where are you willing to read aloud? 

Growing up, I always imagined that I’d snuggle with my young children before bed and read chapter upon chapter to them. Now that I’m a mother, this is not my reality.

Some people love to read at bedtime, but I don’t: my patience is as thin as paper by then, so I need to focus on getting those lights out. “Bedtime stories” don’t work for us because I want to spend those few precious evening hours with my husband, or with my own book, or writing to you. So, instead of reading aloud at bedtime, I sing a little song and we pray as a family.

It works best for me and my children to read at the table or in the playroom during the day, not snuggled up in bed at night.

Try this: For 3 days, simply observe when and where your child is quietest and most mellow. Then, plan to read 1 book during that time.

3. Design a Read-aloud Plan that suits you, your child, and your daily rhythm. 

Don’t wait for perfection: The perfect time, temperature or book might never come your way – so, you’re just going to have to do your best and jump in today. Have a hunch that now’s a good time to read? Grab a book and give it a try!

Set yourself up for success:  Keep a small basket of books in every location where you’ll be likely to find an opportunity to read to your baby: near the kitchen table, in the bathroom, next to the rocking chair, etc. Then, you’ll easily access a good book AND it’ll be easy to tidy up afterward.

Age-specific Suggestions…

Maybe some of these ideas will get your wheels turning as you create your Read-Aloud Plan:


Consider reading a poem or a Psalm when you nurse or bottle-feed your baby. Place the poem on your end-table so you don’t have to turn pages and read it aloud to your little one.

Lay down next to baby during tummy time, or prop baby up in your lap and read a simple book with well-defined pictures that you can point to and identify. Even if your baby isn’t looking at the pages, she is absorbing the language and the experience. You are establishing her expectations: you read aloud.

Our Five Favorites:

Goodnight Moon

Big Red Barn

Usborne First Words Look and Say Book

I Know a Rhino

DK Touch and Feel Farm


Highchair-sitting Baby:


Read nursery rhymes or a baby prayer book while your baby is eating.

The short poems allow for frequent interruptions, and yet you are introducing baby to rich language, ideas, illustrations, and the concept of reading from a book. You won’t feel as frustrated by the interruptions and your baby’s attention span will grow over time. (Added bonus: your baby is eating food and not the book.)

I think it’s often easier to read to an active baby when they are not sitting in my lap wrestling the book out of my hands. So, I like to read aloud when my baby’s in the Exersaucer or Jumpy Seat. I try to keep a few books in the base of the Exersaucer and in a basket near the jumpy seat, so they are accessible.


After you’ve taken some time to observe what type of reader/ learner God has given you, plan your read-aloud time accordingly.

Do you have an active kiddo? Read one board-book, then act it out.

Contemplative kiddo? Read a book, then let her play alone to think it through.

Talkative kiddo? Read a book, then talk about it all day long! Write down some of his thoughts and read them aloud as a story.

Some children like to hold a related toy while listening to the book. (i.e. My daughter loves to hold her “Corduroy” doll while reading the Corduroy books.)

Other children like to have their backs rubbed while they listen.

Our Five – okay, Seven – Favorites:

Judy Dunn’s “The Little ….” books like The Little Kitten

Robert McCloskey’s books like Blueberries for Sal

Clifford the Big Red Dog


Little Bear books (read one chapter at a time)

Frog and Toad books (also read one chapter at a time)

Shorter Beatrix Potter books like The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of the Two Bad Mice, and The Tale of Jamima Puddle Duck.


A Read-aloud Rule-of-Thumb

I’m no literary expert, but I propose that we feel good about reading aloud:

1 board book for a 1 year old,

2 board books for a 2 year old,

3 board books or short picture books for a 3 year old, and

4 picture books for a 4 year old.

That has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? It’s not a science, but it’s a reasonable goal for most kiddos.

And, of course, don’t forget how wonderful and meaningful it is to talk to your little one

We can nurture our children’s literacy by talking to them about the stuff of life from day to day. (I wrote a whole post about that – including 10 Literary Themes for Babies and all! You’ll want to catch it here.)

Teach Your Baby to Read: The Secrets to a Literary Education

LauraAll Posts, Babies, Books, Early Elementary Education, English Literature, Homeschooling, Kindergarten, Motherhood, Preschool

Tucked in your daily routine are the secrets to your child’s literary education.

You’ll want to know what these are because your child’s literacy depends more on his grasp of the stuff of life than on his ability to decipher short-vowel sounds. After all, you and I can understand literature not only because we can physically read, but also because we can think well about stories and literary themes.

Nurturing a true reader…

Though a child may decipher the words in a chapter book, he may not understand friendship, sacrifice, and redemption. Another child may struggle to sound out multi-syllabic words, but may grasp the stuff of life.

Which child will love reading and read well throughout life?

If I were a betting woman, I’d place my money on the second child because he has the makings of a true reader.

  • A true reader is a person who can identify heroes and villains, discern between good and evil, and think deeply about universal truths.
  • A true reader knows how to follow a story from its introduction to its climax to its ending.
  • He knows how to analyze an author’s choices, a character’s decisions, and a story’s message.
  • She is strengthened by every book she reads because she knows how to think well.

One of the most thrilling aspects of motherhood is helping our children develop these beautiful capabilities from birth. (If you’ve been bored by “the early years” of motherhood, this may ignite a fire in you! Catch a vision for engaging your child in goodness, truth, and beauty. It’s never too early – or too late- to begin.)

Teach your baby to read before he learns to read.

Mothers are humanity’s first Literature professors: we teach our children how to read as we nurture them through infancy on up.

Every little thing is material for conversations that will shape our child’s ability to read well. When we talk to our children, we label their world – “See that fireman? He is a hero who rescues people from fires even when he is afraid.”

We develop our child’s understanding of life, of good and evil, heroism, hope, friendship, and anticipation.

Our ongoing conversation with our children is at the heart of their literary education.

When we talk to our little ones about the stuff of life, we set them up to understand The Bible, to appreciate Black Beauty in grade school, and to grasp Hamlet in high school. We set them up to love reading, to grow from the books they read, and to live well.

To build a foundation for your child’s literacy, throw your heart and soul into 2 simple daily habits:

  1. Read aloud. Stories themselves will introduce your little one to countless life lessons. (I’m hoping to write a post about this next. For now, visit The Read-Aloud Revival‘s blog and podcast. You’ll love it.)
  2. Talk about literary themes. That’s right. Literary themes are for babies. Read on…

Don’t be intimidated by “literary themes”.

You may associate the term “literary themes” with an overbearing high school English teacher, but let me assure you: literary themes are simply the stuff of life.

Long before your English teacher assigned that 5-page paper about the literary themes in Moby Dick, you were surrounded by the concepts of defiance, duty, friendship, and death.  Like the constellations that make sense of outer space, literary themes help us to make sense of truths that are bigger than ourselves, like life and death, rebirth, social mobility, and prejudice.

Classic literature is classic literature because it deals with the stuff of life.

The best books are the best books because they help us to make sense of life.

The life-concepts that a book tackles are its literary themes.

Your baby + intentional conversations = a true reader.

As your child explores the world, you will have countless opportunities to put words around the things she is observing.

Every family relationship, every task, habit, storybook, holiday, and walk in the park is replete with truths that can be expressed in simple, child-friendly terms.

Look for ways that you can connect everyday observations and experiences to deeper things: a fireman is a hero, a flower is beautiful, a loss is painful.  A few simple sentences will do. A little bit here, a little bit there, and you will have introduced and exercised your child’s vital literary skills.

With a little practice and a lot of heart, you can do this.

Ten Literary Themes for You and Your Baby

I gathered 10 literary themes that probably pop up in your child’s life on a regular basis. Skim the list and start talking about them today. (Of course, you don’t have to use the phrase “literary themes” until your child is in middle school. Remember, this is just the stuff of life. Maybe this isn’t your style, but keep in mind that these concepts will make you a more authentic and thoughtful person. On its best day, that’s what reading is all about.)

  1. The circle of life: 

Every day, we walk by the same rose bush. We notice that each flower endures a season of preparation as a bud, has its day of beauty, and endures a season of aging, decay, and death.  We notice that on the same day that yesterday’s flower is fading, yesterday’s bud is entering its own day of beauty.

2. The beauty of simplicity: 

When we clean up a chaotic playroom and enjoy one simple toy together in the middle of a clean carpet, I sigh with relief about the peace that comes with simplicity. I may say, “Isn’t it so nice to play with one thing at a time? Simplicity is so good for us.”

3. Darkness and light:

Every Halloween, we talk about the difference between darkness and light: we observe the physical, literal difference of a candle in a dark room, as well as the metaphoric difference between good and evil. We overcome the holiday’s emphasis on fear and death by blessing our neighbors with kindness.

4. Love and sacrifice: 

We often talk about the cost of loving one another. We need to be quiet when the baby is napping. We need to share our snacks with our friends. We need to work hard to set the table so that our family can eat together. Each act of love requires a sacrifice.

5. Man vs. Nature:

When the toddler faces a frightening thunderstorm, a dog, or a bumblebee, we talk about nature’s power. We admit that we are afraid because sometimes nature is more powerful than we are. What can we do to overcome its fearsome power? What can we do to stay safe and make wise choices? What songs can we sing to remind ourselves that God is more powerful than nature, that He loves us and cares for us?

6. Necessity of Work:

How do Mommy and Daddy provide for our family? Why does Mommy love to write? Why does Daddy mow the lawn? Why do I have to pick up my toys? Because God created us to work, and we must work in order to survive, to build a home, and to love one another well.

7. Wisdom of experience:

Let’s say our toddler was balancing on a small wagon until the wheels began to roll. She fell down with a thud. After comforting the little daredevil, I may say, “Look what you learned from that! Now you know to be more careful. You gained wisdom from that experience.”

8. Heroism:

Whenever possible, I talk about people who do brave and difficult things even when they are frightened or tired. Who protects and defends other people? These are real life heroes. “Look at Daddy protecting his baby from the rain even though his back is getting wet!” “Look at Mommy emptying the mouse trap even though she is grossed out.”  These daily occasions demonstrate the heroic qualities of self-sacrifice and courage.

9. Redemption:

When I am impatient or when the toddler throws a fit, we experience redemption after the tension has cleared away. When we are all patched-up, playing happily together again, I may say, “Thank you God, for redeeming my impatience. Isn’t God so good to make things better?”

10. Good vs. Evil:

This one’s a weighty concept, eh? Yet, the youngest member of society knows the difference between being treated kindly vs. being treated poorly. Though I would never say, “That kid who snatched your toy is evil,” I may say, “Grabbing toys is unkind. We feel much better when we respect one another. God wants us to respect each other because it is good.”

You get the idea!

Of course, our daily interactions aren’t as staged as my examples seem, but you get the idea. (And you probably have some great ideas spinning around in your head about how you may do this… differently… better! I’d love to know.)

The point is, after much use, these themes are in my blood and I look for ways to talk about them regularly with each of our children. I’m beginning to see some beautiful effects from conversations with our 12, 9, and 5 year old readers. I feel very good about their depth of understanding and their relationships with books. It motivates me to keep talking about literary themes with them – and not to grow lazy in my daily interactions with our baby and 3-year old.

Feel free to print these 10 Literary Themes as a cheat sheet to get you started. Post a copy on the fridge, by the changing table, or in the stroller cup-holder.

Give it a try and don’t give up even if it feels weird. Trust that you’ll grow over time and that your investment will nurture your child significantly.

10 Literary Themes for You and Your Child

  • Servings: 10
  • Print

Conversation is at the heart of literary education.

  • The Circle of Life
  • The Beauty of Simplicity
  • Darkness and Light
  • Love and Sacrifice
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Necessity of Work
  • Wisdom of experience
  • Heroism
  • Redemption
  • Good vs. Evil

Need more literary themes? Check out this ginormous list of possibilities. It’ll keep you busy.

I hope that this enriches your conversations with your child.

Daily nurture your little reader well before she learns that “when two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking.” (Keep in mind that when you teach her that little jingle, she may want to discuss the literary theme of “the power of silence”. Consider yourself warned.)

Happy talking. Happy reading.