With Halloween here, my mind is on kids’ natural response to stories. We’ve (unfortunately) gotten good at forcing our kids to “respond” to books in certain ways:
- Having them take a test/quiz over a book, or otherwise answer questions
- Making them write a book report
- Making them do a particular kind of project over a book
Natural response is different. Here are a couple examples of a child’s natural response to a book:
This was on a recent visit to a children’s museum (The Amazeum), in her favorite play area, a log cabin and play farm. She and I just completed her first chapter book read-aloud, Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I had picked up a discard of the book and thought we’d give it a shot. She loved it! She has been so “into” it, wanting to pretend to be Mary (not Laura! She’s already a little sister and knows how that goes–ha!). One day a couple weeks ago, we were out on a walk near a wooded area, and she asked if we could pretend to be Ma and Mary (and baby Joseph was baby Carrie). She was having a natural response to the book by wanting to pretend to be the characters. We played the same thing at the museum and even roped in the little baby girl (whom we didn’t know) to play Laura.
I’m so fascinated by this natural, joyous response to story. Isn’t it amazing? No one suggested to her that she do this pretend play; it came out of a deep-rooted desire to be a part of a great story.
Here’s another example, appropriate for Halloween:
My oldest has always enjoyed dressing up as different characters. Since he has been reading Harry Potter this year (3rd grade), he decided he wanted to be The Boy Who Lived for Halloween. I loved the idea so much that I went all out and made his robe. It’s even reversible to a Quidditch robe (his idea). This is a joyous, natural response to a character and book series he loves! And you better believe he goes around whipping out his wand and pretending to actually BE Harry while wearing this.
It can be easy to miss these natural responses from our children, so I encourage you to open your eyes to ways they are trying to respond to stories and take joy in knowing it is a peek into their little minds and hearts! Other ways they might naturally respond are:
- writing stories in the same style or about the characters (even copying parts of a story they love is great!)
- drawing pictures or other artistic expression
- telling someone else about the story (so simple and yet so powerful!)
- pretend play with toys/stuffed animals and many other ways.
Once, after we finished the Boxcar Children and watched it on Netflix, my son created a Minecraft world of the Boxcar Children setting! I was blown away by it. When we allow children to tap into their natural responses, and don’t force them into an “unnatural” type of response (aka, one that we have chosen for them), we will be amazed at their creativity and genius. This doesn’t mean we can’t think of and suggest ways for them to respond; for instance, we can offer craft ideas they may enjoy related to a book. But giving them choice and being open to their ideas is key in helping them become lifelong, joyful readers.
Read on, families!