Lisa Ripperton

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Summer: a Time for Books That Spark Curiosity

by Lisa Ripperton
​June 6, 2019

With summer almost upon us and those long lazy days stretching out before us, now is a fine time to introduce your child to books that suggest investigations in the out of doors. Seed Babies and Little Wanderers, both by Margaret Warner Morley, do just that. Seed Babies focusing on the sprouting of seeds is just right to use at the beginning of summer when there is still time to plant seeds in the ground, while Little Wanderers is better suited for late summer when seeds are maturing and about to disperse.

​The start of Seed Babies

"Well, I never!"

Jack said that because all the beans he had planted were on top of the ground.

Jack was only six years old, and not very well acquainted with beans.

No wonder he was surprised to find them on top of the ground when he had tucked them so snugly out of sight in the brown earth only a few days before.

Jack looked at his beans and began to get red in the face.

He looked a little as if he were going to cry.

"When Ko comes I'll just punch him!" he said at last.

For who could have uncovered his beans but his brother Ko?

For Ko would rather tease than eat his dinner,—except when there was chocolate pudding for dessert.

Ko's real name was Nicholas, but it took too long to say that, so Jack called him Ko for short.

Jack picked up a bean to replant it, and what do you think had happened? Something had, for it did not look as it did when he first put it in the ground.

It had turned green to begin with. Jack had planted white beans.

He knew they were white all through, for he had bitten a good many in two to see how they looked inside. And now the coat on the outside, that stuck so tightly at first, had peeled half off, and the bean was green!

Something more had happened,—a little white stem had come out of the bean and gone into the ground.

Jack was so surprised at all this that he forgot he was angry at Ko, and when his brother came up only told him to look.

Ko tried to pick up a bean too, but it was fastened quite firmly in the ground.

"They're growing," said Ko.

"Did you pull them up?" asked Jack.

"No, indeed!" said Ko.

"They must have pulled themselves up," said Jack.

​The bean plant inserts itself into the conversation

​At this point in the narrative, the bean plant begins to talk! It shares some of its secrets, engaging Jack in discussion, and guiding him to further discoveries. 

​The conversation continues

​As their interest shifts to peas and other seeds, sometimes Jack and Ko talk among themselves, and other times the seedlings pipe up to explain some aspect of their growth. And at some points the plants refuse to answer any more questions, and suggest the boys figure out the answers on their own. Which, incidentally, they do.

​Allow time for pondering

If you are reading Seed Babies aloud with your children, we suggest that you don't rush through it. Rather, let them leisurely explore ideas in one chapter before offering another.

Time for them to wonder is important. If they ask you a question, you may want to provide an answer if you have one. But if you don't, or sometimes even if you do, we suggest you occasionally respond,  "I wonder" in answer to their questions. That may prompt them to share their thoughts immediately or go away and take time to think about it on their own or even conduct further observations.

​Have packets of seeds ready to plant

You may want to obtain in advance some packets of seeds of green beans, peas (such as sugar snaps), and pumpkins that are featured in Seed Babies, as well as a few that are not, but that germinate and mature quickly: sunflowers, radishes, and lettuce.  Choose a prime space for your child's garden, not a weedy patch of clay in a far away corner of the yard, as I was given as a child. Pots on a windowsill work too. Any place nearby where they can check on seeds regularly and report back what they see.

Plan to plant enough seeds so that some can be pulled up to examine what is happening underground without decimating the whole harvest. Since children are not great at waiting, it is a good idea to presoak the seeds to hasten germination. Once you have decided on the day to plant, put the seeds of beans, peas, pumpkins, and sunflowers in separate containers to soak just before bedtime to plant the following morning. Lettuce and radish seeds, however, do not need to be presoaked.

​Planting of fruit seeds

​Once you have established a place for planting of seeds, encourage children to plant seeds of fruit they eat: apples, pears, plums, peaches, and so on. The time to harvest for these is in terms of years, rather than weeks, but still an interesting experiment.

​Nut propagation

Seed Babies includes two interesting chapters on nuts. Successful propagation of nuts is trickier to do with children, because so many critters, including squirrels and blue jays, find the nuts tasty. Readers can consult Trees of Power (a book for adults) by my friend Akiva Silver of Twisted Tree Farm in Spencer, NY for reasons to grow chestnuts, hickories, and hazelnuts, along with detailed instructions on how to do so. 

​A different kind of "seed baby"

A final section in Seed Babies introduces eggs of a variety of animals, including bees, frogs, toads, and birds. These are more things for your child to watch for in late spring and early summer!

​Little Wanderers

​Children enthusiastic about planting of seeds at the beginning of summer may also be excited later in the season to see new seeds set. Little Wanderers, written in a narrative style, rather than in the conversational mode of Seed Babies, serves as a guide for how different plants disperse their seeds. Children may like to keep a list of what plants they observe dispersing their seeds: when it happens and how they do it. Like Seed Babies, Little Wanderers is a book that can be read slowly over time, even over years if need be.

Educate yourself

Do your own observations along with your children. What do you notice? If you have questions, see what you can figure out on your own over time. Don't rush straight to Google for answers to your questions. Build your capacity for observation too!

Handbook of Nature Study is an indispensable guide

​For further information about both seeds and eggs, consult the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, especially the sections on Wildflowers, Cultivated Plants, Trees, and Frogs and Toads. Since the Handbook of Nature Study is a tome weighing several pounds, you may not want to take it out in the field with you. You may prefer our ebook edition of Handbook of Nature Study, broken up into 13 parts for ease of access from your digital device. 


​Take advantage of the long summer days and a freer schedule to spend more time in the out of doors exploring and observing, making new discoveries and building on old ones. In the process you may be instilling a habit that brings lifelong satisfaction.

Share your experience

​What are you planning to do this summer to extend and enrich your time out of doors? Will you be visiting a locale new to you or returning to one long familiar? Will you be taking up a new study or pursuing an old one? We would love to hear!

Purchase Books at Amazon

Seed Babies
by Margaret Warner Morley

Little Wanderers
 by Margaret Warner Morley

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​Get access to the ebook editions of ​Seed Babies and ​Little Wanderers by purchasing the Yesterday's Classics Ebook Treasury, Volume 1

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Every Word Counts

by Lisa Ripperton
​May 30, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I happened on a copy of Every Word Counts at the local Friends of the Library book sale. I was much taken with the story of the authors, Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez, who as elementary school reading specialists regularly encountered kindergarten and first grade students who had not been exposed to "enough words in their first years of life and thus lack the basic language building blocks necessary to learn how to read."  Once they learned of Risley and Hart's research showing that future academic success is contingent on the number of words heard per hour before the age of two, they set out to write the book Every Word Counts to persuade parents to bathe their children in words from their earliest days, and to present them with a well-laid out path for doing so. 

Parents, they say, have it in their power to give their baby the gift of words. And they can do that, not just by reading to him, but by engaging in conversation with him, hour after hour and day after day.

Wonder why you should read to your baby?

Here are ten benefits the authors list for reading aloud to your baby from day one:

  1. 1
    ​ Read-alouds promote listening skills.
  2. 2
     ​Read-alouds increase the number of vocabulary words babies hear.
  3. 3
     ​Read-alouds develop attention span and memory.
  4. 4
     ​Read-alouds help babies learn uncommon words.
  5. 5
     ​Read-alouds help babies learn to understand the meanings of words.
  6. 6
     ​Read-alouds help babies learn concepts about print.
  7. 7
     ​Read-alouds help babies learn how to get information from illustrations.
  8. 8
     ​Read-alouds promote bonding and calmness for both baby and parent.
  9. 9
     Read-alouds stimulate the imagination and all the senses.
  10. 10
     ​Read-alouds instill the love of books and learning.

​Still not sure that babies are ready for books?

For those who think children below the age of two are not interested in books, the authors demonstrate otherwise, both in pictures and in words. Throughout the book there are dozens of illustrations depicting fathers and mothers reading to their ​offspring with the children obviously engaged. Other illustrations show young children interacting with books on their own, deeply absorbed in the experience. In videotaping one read aloud session with a mother reading several books in succession, the authors noted afterward in reviewing the videotape that the 14-week-old baby was attentive for the entire 25 minutes, an attention span much longer than their kindergartners and first graders who had never been read to.

Setting the stage for reading aloud to an infant

​The authors make a number of helpful suggestions for getting started with reading aloud to an infant, including casting aside the notion that books must be read from start to finish, with no omissions and no interruptions!

  1. 1
    ​Newborns need a quiet reading environment.
  2. 2
    ​Newborns are comforted by the sound of your voice.
  3. 3
    ​Hold and cuddle your baby when you read.
  4. 4
    ​When choosing a book, allow your baby to be your guide.
  5. 5
    ​Start reading at any page.
  6. 6
    ​You don't have to read all the words in the book.
  7. 7
    ​Repeated readings are good for baby's language development.
  8. 8
    ​Use "parentese" when reading and talking to your baby.

What is "parentese," you might ask?

​Parentese is a time-honored way of speaking to infants​ that involves speaking more slowly, articulating clearly, using shorter sentences and longer pauses, often in a melodious tone with variation in loudness and pitch. It differs from baby talk in that in "parentese" all words are pronounced correctly.

​Introducing the stages of ​baby read-alouds

​The authors divide the ages from birth to twenty-four months into six stages based on developmental milestones. Each stage gets its own chapter, with all chapters following a similar pattern. As you might expect, each chapter includes the types of books appropriate for each stage and a list of recommended selections. Although the section on recommended books comes last in the individual chapters, I ​include two titles for each stage here by way of introducing the various stages.

​The Six Stages

​STAGE ONE: The Listener 
                       (Birth to Two Months)

​STAGE TWO: The ​Observer  
​                       (​Two to ​Four Months)

​STAGE THREE: The ​Cooer  
​                           (​Four to ​Eight Months)

​STAGE FOUR: The ​Babbler  
​                         (​Eight to Twelve Months)

​STAGE FIVE: The ​Word Maker  
​                       (​Twelve to ​Eighteen Months)

​STAGE ​SIX: The ​Phrase Maker
​                     (​Eighteen to Twenty-Four Months)

​Specific suggestions on how to proceed

What distinguishes Every Word Counts from other ​titles about books for young children is that for each of the ten or more books recommended for each stage, there are helpful tips for using the books, including what to talk about.

And for one of the recommended titles in each stage there is a transcription of an actual read aloud session. You can see in the sample Stage 3 session below all  the words the mother spoke. The ones she reads from the book are in italics, the language she improvises is in plain text. The reactions and gestures of both the child and the parent are included in parentheses.

On the top of the left-hand page you can read a bit about how the mother prepared for the read aloud experience. On the bottom of the right-hand page are four things to notice in this read-aloud demonstration. Believe it or not, the list of things to notice continues on the following page with 11 more items!

The six sample read aloud sessions, one for each stage, with points to notice immediately following, seem to me to be the most valuable part of Every Word Counts, modeling for parents, who may not be familiar with babies, exactly how to conduct a read aloud session.

Other information in each of the stage chapters

Each stage chapter begins with a lengthy descriptive snapshot of a child in that stage. Then follows a catalog of expected developmental milestones: their listening abilities, their ways of vocalizing, their visual capacities, as well as their ability to move in various ways.

Practical matters come next, with step by step instructions for getting baby ready for the read-aloud session, interacting with him during the reading, and handling the inevitable challenges that arise during the course of the reading. Since babies change so rapidly, the parent's role does too! But the step by step instructions for each stage will help to prepare you.

​Frequently asked questions

​A whole chapter is devoted to frequently asked questions. Discussion of challenges that arise while reading aloud continues. Some examples of reading aloud with special needs children are offered. But the greater part of the chapter is devoted to two topics: how to handle TV and other screen media, and what to do if more than one language is spoken in the home. With this last topic, all sorts of situations are considered: what to do when parents speak different languages, what to do when the language used at home is different from the language used at school, what to do when the caregiver speaks a different language than the one used in the home, and so on. The answers the authors provide are grounded in research, and seem both sensible and practical.

The Takeaway

Jim Trelease, author of the million-copy bestseller The Read-Aloud Handbook, says of Every Word Counts: "If I were in charge of American parents, my first law would be that all new parents had to read (or listen) to this book. It's not only soundly researched, but also filled with practical strategies that any parent can use."

I concur wholeheartedly. In fact, I am going to make it a practice to give it as a shower gift to all expectant parents in my neighborhood, along with a basket of read-alouds recommended for the early months.

​How about you?

​Will you join me in putting a copy of Every Word Counts into the hands of as many prospective parents as possible? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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