Thursday, June 26, 2008

What If My Kindergartener Has Already Heard All Of The Year 0 Books?

When we came across Ambleside Online, my oldest daughter was five and in kindergarten. Looking through the booklist for Year 0, though, I realized that we had already read the vast majority of those books. In fact, I had already read most of those books many times over to my then four-year-old daughter as well. In effect, we had repeated the Year 0 list (with a few exceptions) in the years before age five. There were plenty of good picture book selections from the "Advisory Favorites", but I wanted to use our kindergarten year to begin to move away from lots of illustrations and toward more literary text, as Miss Mason advises. More picture books didn't seem like the answer for us.

Since I've been online, I've heard from several other mothers that have come across the same problem. It's the year before school really begins, the children aren't technically "doing school", but the Ambleside Year 0 booklist has been read, and read, and read again. They need something more for their kindergarten reading. (I should stop a moment and say that A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter truly can never be worn out, and I continued to read them regularly, and the children have heard them from toddlerhood. I will very likely be continually reading either a Pooh or Potter book aloud more than fifteen years running by the time my youngest outgrows them, lol).

If it seems like this need for more Year 0 books might describe your family situation, too, I'd like to firstly encourage you to go back to the AO Year 0 list and really give it a very, very close read. I admit, whenever I got to the part about "a good collection including classic stories and folk tales including...", I sort of skimmed it and thought,"Yeah, yeah, we have plenty of classic little folk stories". But, within the last two years, I have come to realize the significance of the ebook links that accompany that line! The Joseph Jacobs stories are truly excellent versions! If you have "done Year 0", but you haven't read any of the Joseph Jacobs selections yet, please add those to your kindergarten list! :) Even if the stories are repeats, Jacobs undoubtedly will be more challenging and better written than those you have already read (unless they're by Amy Steedman or Andrew Lang). It is not at all a stretch to say that Jacob's folk tales plus a handful of other quality books are enough to make a strong Year 0 on their own. Also, nursery rhymes can be very lame in some versions. Editors have reworded them and sanitized them and modernized them, in short - butchered them - until they are often nothing like the classic versions. If you are unsure, I highly recommend taking the Advisory's recommendations for nursery rhyme books very seriously.

So, to make a long post short, lol, here is what we have done for Year 0 :)

Having not read truly well-written folk tales in preschool (many are intense and my preschoolers can't handle them), we chose to use Joseph Jacobs and Amy Steedman's fairy tales. Now, this part I hate to tell you, but I already owned an out of print collection that had lots of stories from both of these authors. Yeah, that helps a ton, doesn't it? ;) But, there are links on the Year 0 page for both authors! And there are still publications available for purchase!

My first choice for Jacobs is here. Personally, I would stay clear of the Everyman's Library books - the covers wear very poorly. The gold paint rubs off very easily and, after a short time, you can't read the title of the book on the spine.

As for Amy Steedman's Nursery Tales Told to the Children, you may try a used book search like or even Ebay. As I type this post, there is a hardcover of the Steedman book available at Alibris for $15 (shipped from the UK).

We also used For The Children's Hour, another book recommended toward the bottom of the AO Year 0 list that I had glanced over time and time again. I finally paid attention to it, ordered it, and loved it :) The stories are very short and perfect for a little read before rest/nap time. They are not as challenging or literary as the folk tales mentioned above, I'd say, but they are certainly more so than most modern children's books.

Yesterday's Classics sells a lovely collection of children's poems in three books. If you have already read the other AO recommendations for poetry and are looking for something new or, possibly, something an early reader can read independently, these books are good choices. They are entitled, A Child's Own Book of Verse, and there are three separate books. Here's a link to Book One :)

In addition to the poetry, folk tales, and For the Children's Hour, we always had a read aloud chapter book going. There are so many wonderful choices, but some of my favorites for kindergarten are...

Justin Morgan Had A Horse - Henry
The Story of Doctor Doolittle - Lofting
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis
The Magician's Nephew - Lewis
The Trumpet of the Swan - White
Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (some talk of massacre)
The Long Winter - Wilder
and Hitty: Her First Hundred Years - I forget the author!
Oh, and all of the D'Aulaire books are wonderful, too, if your child has an interest in history! But you may want to wait and save the ones used in Year One until then.

I've got to run to the grocery store now, but I hope this has helped a little bit. There really isn't a great deal of reading necessary at this age, it just needs to be challenging and full of high-minded ideas :) A half hour of a great book is worth hours of reading so-so ones!

May you have a wonderful kindergarten year :)


I want to mention, too, that we did not include the B'rer Rabbit stories in our reading. I read the book and considered it from several different points of view, but, ultimately, decided that it tended to glorify deception, mischief, and mean-spiritedness. In my little ole opinion, most five-year-old children lack the discernment to handle Briar Rabbit and his antics in a morally sound way without lots of guidance. I don't mind giving guidance, but we decided the book was unnecessary.


Update: A few weeks after I posted this, an "unofficial" AO Year 0.5 Booklist was uploaded to the files section of the AO/HEO Booklists Yahoo Group. This list was compiled by moms on the AOYear0 Yahoo Group, not by the AO Advisory. It's a helpful list, though :) Click HERE for a link to the group! Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reading Chapter Books to the Little Guys

For the record, this post is not intended to convey Charlotte Mason's views on reading to young children - these are my views ;) If the child has plenty of time to play (especially outdoors), though, I see no reason why this post would conflict with Miss Mason's ideas for children six years old and younger. So, that said...

Have you started reading chapter books aloud to your young children? By "chapter book", I mean a real, honest-to-goodness work of fictional literature. Not a reader. Not a picture book. A chapter book :) I have no way of knowing how influential reading difficult books aloud has been with my children, but I can at least say that reading great books aloud to them early on certainly hasn't hurt ;)

We begin reading chapter books aloud to the children somewhere between age three and three and a half. At first, the readings are very short (especially when the book has no illustrations to speak of). Gradually, we build up until we're able to finish a chapter of average length in one sitting. Books with longer chapters may be spread out even more. Sometimes we stop and talk about what I'm reading. Sometimes I ask chatty questions to help them follow along. Sometimes we just read. There's no schedule to our readings and no laid out plan. We just read the book here and there until we finish it. Right now, for instance, I'm reading Mr. Popper's Penguins to Punkin. We've been reading it for about 6 weeks now, only about twice a week. At this rate, it will be a while before we finish it, but that's okay :) Even at only 3 and 1/2 and even with days between chapters, she is able to remember where we left off and will offer guesses about what might happen next. Her mind is working on this book :)

I have no proof, but I imagine that reading chapter books like this does quite a lot to prepare a child for the sort of books used in formal Charlotte Mason lessons. More than that, though, it helps the child develop a real interest in reading challenging books... one of our primary goals for their education. In case you're wondering, the difficult vocabulary doesn't seem to put the children off - it intrigues them. Complicated story lines thrill them. I'm continually amazed at how my really young children become enthralled with books most children don't meet until they are much older. I say "meet" because the children really develop a relationship with a book read like this over a long period of time. The Little House in the Big Woods becomes one of the most exciting parts of the day and is remembered with fondness months after the last page is read :) I have wonderful memories of snuggling all together reading The Long Winter on a February afternoon while snow fell softly outside. Quality chapter books add a whole new dimension to the world of reading with your children... even your young children! I highly recommend giving it a shot :)

Below are a few good choices for beginning chapter books with preschool children. None of them are required reading for Ambleside Online, although a few do show up on the free reading lists. I hope they are a blessing to your family! Enjoy reading with your little guys :)

Mr. Popper's Penguins - Atwater
Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder
Farmer Boy - Wilder
Capyboppy - Peet (rather short and silly, but fun)
Stuart Little - White
Ginger Pye - Estes (I love this author!)
Pinky Pye - Estes
Misty of Chincoteague - Henry (read this when my oldest two were 3 and 4 and 1/2)
The Cricket in Times Square - Selden
The Boxcar Children - Warner (we've only read the first one)

I'm sure there are many others!

Psssst. Lindafay at Higher Up and Further In (great blog!!) has a terrific post about reading aloud to children. It's called "How Is Your Read Aloud Voice?" and you can check it out here. Enjoy! :)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Encouraging Your Child With Narrations - Keeping Things Light

Before SweetP and I began narrations in the early months of 2007, she seemed a little tense about the idea. Not really stressed, and I wouldn't call it "anxious" - just a bit tense. After her first two or three narrations, though, I started to get concerned. It seemed like she felt pressured to remember every tiny detail or to perform for me. Something didn't feel right. I have since come across other mothers who have had the same experiences when beginning narrations with their children. Some older mothers gave advice (which I gladly took!) and, low and behold, everything worked out fine in the end ;) If you're about to begin narrations with your own little one or if the idea of narrations is a little stressful right now, it's my hope that this post can help you head off any feelings of pressure that can creep in :)

1) To help SweetP relax a little, I narrated once or twice for her first! It helped her so much to see that she did not need to remember every single word. My dear little firstborn, detail oriented child had thought I was expecting her to memorize the passage and repeat it back to me. Oh, dear. Once she understood that this was not the case (and saw that I didn't remember everything either) she relaxed :)

2) I also explained that narrations were not meant to "test" her. I thought it was strange that I needed to explain this. Having never been schooled in a PS setting and never really even exposed to the idea of testing, I thought she'd be free from this anxiety. Looking back, it's possible that I was regarding the narrations as a test of how well I was getting the idea of narrations, and my own performance mindset came through somehow. At any rate, I explained that narration was actually one of our tools for learning, not a test. I told her that when she tells the story back to me it helps her mind gather the story in and keep it. She liked that idea :)

3) Lastly, I relaxed. With SweetP being my oldest, narration was new to us both! An older CM mom pointed out that an overly "official" mood to beginning lessons could really hamper a child. I'm sorry to say, I think this might have been me. It wasn't that I was terribly stressed or that SweetP was crying or anything that dramatic. It was all very subtle and it took a little digging to get at the heart of why something felt wrong. I very much wanted narrations to go well, and SweetP picked up on the fact that I was trying to get something "right". When I relaxed, approached the story more like any book we read aloud together, and then asked her in a chatty way to tell me about it, the mood lifted significantly. Now, our reading was really about enjoying the story and learning - not about narrations :)

Even with some slight tension in the very beginning, SweetP quickly took off with narrating and has not had issues with it since. Her younger sister, Shug, is now just beginning and I am able to side step the subtle pitfalls that were there the last time I began with a little one. They are good principles for us all to remember, really. Relax, trust, encourage, and step back enough to let the children learn.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

"Practice" Narration with The History of Tom Thumb

We are now in the process of getting ready for the new school year. SweetP will be using Ambleside Online's Year 2 and Shug will be getting started in Year 1. Last year, it worked well to give SweetP a little "practice" with narration before diving in to the AO booklist. This week, I'm doing the same thing with Shug. We have had great success with Joseph Jacob's "The History of Tom Thumb" for this narration practice, and, since it's completely available to the public, I thought I'd offer it here for anyone interested in doing the same :) I've indicated the places where I have generally stopped for a narration and I have also included some ideas for narration prompts. Of course, you can word things differently if you'd like :) The purpose was just to give an example of how a request for a narration might be worded. I took the prompts from Miss Mason's exams as my examples.

I have this post typed in a Word document. If you are interested in receiving a copy of that printable file, please email me at with "Tom Thumb" in the subject line. Thanks!

Also, you might like to have the link to an etext of this entire Jacobs book, English Fairy Tales. Here's the link :) Enjoy!

The History of Tom Thumb
by Joseph Jacobs
( narration prompts provided by

[Reading 1] "In the days of the great Prince Arthur, there lived a mighty magician, called Merlin, the most learned and skilful enchanter the world has ever seen.
This famous magician, who could take any form he pleased, was travelling about as a poor beggar, and being very tired, he stopped at the cottage of a ploughman to rest himself, and asked for some food.
The countryman bade him welcome, and his wife, who was a very good- hearted woman, soon brought him some milk in a wooden bowl, and some coarse brown bread on a platter.
Merlin was much pleased with the kindness of the ploughman and his wife; but he could not help noticing that though everything was neat and comfortable in the cottage, they seemed both to be very unhappy. He therefore asked them why they were so melancholy, and learned that they were miserable because they had no children. [stop]

Tell the story of Merlin and the poor couple.

[Reading 2] The poor woman said, with tears in her eyes: “I should be the happiest creature in the world if I had a son; although he was no bigger than my husband’s thumb, I would be satisfied.”

Merlin was so much amused with the idea of a boy no bigger than a man’s thumb, that he determined to grant the poor woman’s wish. Accordingly, in a short time after, the ploughman’s wife had a son, who, wonderful to relate! was not a bit bigger than his father’s thumb.

The queen of the fairies, wishing to see the little fellow, came in at the window while the mother was sitting up in the bed admiring him. The queen kissed the child, and, giving it the name of Tom Thumb, sent for some of the fairies, who dressed her little godson according to her orders:

“An oak-leaf hat he had for his crown;
His shirt of web by spiders spun;
With jacket wove of thistle’s down;
His trowsers were of feathers done.
His stockings, of apple-rind, they tie
With eyelash from his mother’s eye
His shoes were made of mouse’s skin,
Tann’d with the downy hair within.” [stop]

Tell about how Tom Thumb looked.

[Reading 3] Tom never grew any larger than his father’s thumb, which was only of ordinary size; but as he got older he became very cunning and full of tricks. When he was old enough to play with the boys, and had lost all his own cherry-stones, he used to creep into the bags of his playfellows, fill his pockets, and, getting out without their noticing him, would again join in the game.
One day, however, as he was coming out of a bag of cherry-stones, where he had been stealing as usual, the boy to whom it belonged chanced to see him. “Ah, ah! my little Tommy,” said the boy, “so I have caught you stealing my cherry-stones at last, and you shall be rewarded for your thievish tricks.” On saying this, he drew the string tight round his neck, and gave the bag such a hearty shake, that poor little Tom’s legs, thighs, and body were sadly bruised. He roared out with pain, and begged to be let out, promising never to steal again. [stop]

Tell the story of Tom Thumb and the cherry stones.

[Reading 4] A short time afterwards his mother was making a batter-pudding, and Tom, being very anxious to see how it was made, climbed up to the edge of the bowl; but his foot slipped, and he plumped over head and ears into the batter, without his mother noticing him, who stirred him into the pudding-bag, and put him in the pot to boil.

The batter filled Tom’s mouth, and prevented him from crying; but, on feeling the hot water, he kicked and struggled so much in the pot, that his mother thought that the pudding was bewitched, and, pulling it out of the pot, she threw it outside the door. A poor tinker, who was passing by, lifted up the pudding, and, putting it into his budget, he then walked off. As Tom had now got his mouth cleared of the batter, he then began to cry aloud, which so frightened the tinker that he flung down the pudding and ran away. The pudding being broke to pieces by the fall, Tom crept out covered all over with the batter, and walked home. His mother, who was very sorry to see her darling in such a woeful state, put him into a teacup, and soon washed off the batter; after which she kissed him, and laid him in bed. [stop]

Tell of Tom Thumb and the pudding.

[Reading 5] Soon after the adventure of the pudding, Tom’s mother went to milk her cow in the meadow, and she took him along with her. As the wind was very high, for fear of being blown away, she tied him to a thistle with a piece of fine thread. The cow soon observed Tom’s oak-leaf hat, and liking the appearance of it, took poor Tom and the thistle at one mouthful. While the cow was chewing the thistle Tom was afraid of her great teeth, which threatened to crush him in pieces, and he roared out as loud as he could: “Mother, mother!”
“Where are you, Tommy, my dear Tommy?” said his mother.
“Here, mother,” replied he, “in the red cow’s mouth.”

His mother began to cry and wring her hands; but the cow, surprised at the odd noise in her throat, opened her mouth and let Tom drop out. Fortunately his mother caught him in her apron as he was falling to the ground, or he would have been dreadfully hurt. She then put Tom in her bosom and ran home with him. [stop]

Tell about Tom and the cow.

[Reading 6] Tom’s father made him a whip of a barley straw to drive the cattle with, and having one day gone into the fields, he slipped a foot and rolled into the furrow. A raven, which was flying over, picked him up, and flew with him over the sea, and there dropped him.

A large fish swallowed Tom the moment he fell into the sea, which was soon after caught, and bought for the table of King Arthur. When they opened the fish in order to cook it, every one was astonished at finding such a little boy, and Tom was quite delighted at being free again. They carried him to the king, who made Tom his dwarf, and he soon grew a great favourite at court; for by his tricks and gambols he not only amused the king and queen, but also all the Knights of the Round Table. [stop]

Tell what happened when Tom went to drive the cattle.

[Reading 7] It is said that when the king rode out on horseback, he often took Tom along with him, and if a shower came on, he used to creep into his majesty’s waistcoat-pocket, where he slept till the rain was over.
King Arthur one day asked Tom about his parents, wishing to know if they were as small as he was, and whether they were well off. Tom told the king that his father and mother were as tall as anybody about the court, but in rather poor circumstances. On hearing this, the king carried Tom to his treasury, the place where he kept all his money, and told him to take as much money as he could carry home to his parents, which made the poor little fellow caper with joy. Tom went immediately to procure a purse, which was made of a water-bubble, and then returned to the treasury, where be received a silver threepenny- piece to put into it.
Our little hero had some difficulty in lifting the burden upon his back; but he at last succeeded in getting it placed to his mind, and set forward on his journey. However, without meeting with any accident, and after resting himself more than a hundred times by the way, in two days and two nights he reached his father’s house in safety.

Tom had travelled forty-eight hours with a huge silver-piece on his back, and was almost tired to death, when his mother ran out to meet him, and carried him into the house. But he soon returned to Court. [stop]

Tell the story of Tom and the silver-piece.

[Reading 8] As Tom’s clothes had suffered much in the batter-pudding, and the inside of the fish, his majesty ordered him a new suit of clothes, and to be mounted as a knight on a mouse.
Of Butterfly’s wings his shirt was made,
His boots of chicken’s hide;
And by a nimble fairy blade,
Well learned in the tailoring trade,
His clothing was supplied.
A needle dangled by his side;
A dapper mouse he used to ride,
Thus strutted Tom in stately pride!

It was certainly very diverting to see Tom in this dress and mounted on the mouse, as he rode out a-hunting with the king and nobility, who were all ready to expire with laughter at Tom and his fine prancing charger.
The king was so charmed with his address that he ordered a little chair to be made, in order that Tom might sit upon his table, and also a palace of gold, a span high, with a door an inch wide, to live in. He also gave him a coach, drawn by six small mice. [stop]

Tell of how the king dressed Tom Thumb.

[Reading 9] The queen was so enraged at the honours conferred on Sir Thomas that she resolved to ruin him, and told the king that the little knight had been saucy to her.

The king sent for Tom in great haste, but being fully aware of the danger of royal anger, he crept into an empty snail-shell, where he lay for a long time until he was almost starved with hunger; but at last he ventured to peep out, and seeing a fine large butterfly on the ground, near the place of his concealment, he got close to it and jumping astride on it, was carried up into the air. The butterfly flew with him from tree to tree and from field to field, and at last returned to the court, where the king and nobility all strove to catch him; but at last poor Tom fell from his seat into a watering-pot, in which he was almost drowned.

When the queen saw him she was in a rage, and said he should be beheaded; and he was again put into a mouse trap until the time of his execution.
However a cat, observing something alive in the trap, patted it about till the wires broke, and set Thomas at liberty. [stop]

Tell what happened when Tom fled from the king and queen.

[Reading 10] The king received Tom again into favour, which he did not live to enjoy, for a large spider one day attacked him; and although he drew his sword and fought well, yet the spider’s poisonous breath at last overcame him.
He fell dead on the ground where he stood, And the spider suck’d every drop of his blood.
King Arthur and his whole court were so sorry at the loss of their little favourite that they went into mourning and raised a fine white marble monument over his grave with the following epitaph:
Here lies Tom Thumb, King Arthur’s knight,
Who died by a spider’s cruel bite.
He was well known in Arthur’s court,
Where he afforded gallant sport;
He rode at tilt and tournament,
And on a mouse a-hunting went.
Alive he filled the court with mirth;
His death to sorrow soon gave birth.
Wipe, wipe your eyes, and shake your head
And cry,–Alas! Tom Thumb is dead!" [stop]

Tell about the end of Tom Thumb’s life.


I thought it might be helpful to include this recent reply to a reader's email :)

"Actually, for these 'practice' narrations each reading is done on a separate day. So, it takes 10 days to get through the story and you're only spending about 5 minutes total each day. I know that sounds nutso, but the idea is to make it easier on the child by giving him just a very short passage to narrate and a very short lesson. AO Advisory member Wendi Capehart has recommended using Aesop's Fables for this purpose, too. Each of those stories are only a paragraph or so long - perfect for beginning narrations. There's nothing to stop you from doing two consecutive readings in one day, though. You could finish on a M-F time frame that way. *I wouldn't go more than two narrations in one sitting at first, though.* Remember, this is to introduce the idea of narrations and to give the child a little practice before lessons begin in earnest. My girls have done well with one per day and we've finished the story in two weeks.

When we get to the AO schedule, though, things are different. We wouldn't break a reading up into so many days or such short lessons. At that point, we would try to make any lesson about 20 minutes long. Depending on the book, that might mean we read the week's reading all in one sitting or (like the Blue Fairy Book, which has stories that are sometimes longer) we have to spread the reading out over two days in order to keep the lessons short. Some of this also depends on how verbose your little narrator tends to be ;) Lessons can get long when children enjoy narrating. We've learned to stop SweetP if she goes too long, lol.

These practice narrations are not exactly the way you would do them once lessons begin. They are meant to be a sort of mini version just to give a little experience :)"

I hope this is a blessing to someone! :)