YOUNG CHILDREN | VOL. 71 NO. 2
Jan Lacina, Michelle Bauml, and Elizabeth R. Taylor
During outdoor recess, a group of first grade girls becomes upset and complains to their teacher that the boys will not allow them to join a soccer game because “it’s a boy’s game.” Their teacher, Mrs. Oviedo, recognizes the dispute as an opportunity to teach her students about dealing with conflict among peers. She uses a read-aloud to engage the children in conversations about feelings of discouragement and confidence.
Mrs. Oviedo is a first grade bilingual teacher at an urban elementary school in Texas. She regularly uses children’s literature to help her students deal with conflict, anxiety, and teasing. Following the soccer incident, she asked the children, “Have you ever had an experience when somebody discouraged you from doing something?” The discussion prompted by Mrs. Oviedo’s question led to a read-aloud of Amazing Grace, a children’s book by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch (1991), in which a young African American girl named Grace is discouraged from playing Peter Pan in the school play because she is black. In small groups, the children created a character trait analysis for Grace by writing and drawing how the character looked physically on the outside and how she felt on the inside. Many teachers post a list in the classroom to remind children of common traits that describe a character’s personality and how she might feel, such as friendly, shy, humble, happy, sad, or nervous. Mrs. Oviedo encouraged the students to adopt Grace’s self-confidence and determination when faced with discouragement in their own lives. Today, at this school, boys and girls enjoy playing soccer together at recess.
Children need to learn coping skills to address setbacks and avoid long-term negative consequences.
The playground is one of many potential sources of conflict and stress for young children. Both inside and away from school, young children are susceptible to a multitude of stressful challenges, such as being teased or bullied, losing a loved one, transitioning to a new school or neighborhood, or as seen in the vignette above, being excluded. Children in urban contexts often face life stressors such as poverty, violence, and unsafe neighborhoods in addition to the potential stressors they may share with their middle-class peers. Researchers find that social conflict and life stress can have a negative impact on children’s development over time (Appleyard et al. 2005). However, interventions in the early years can help children develop resilience, which the American Psychological Association (APA) defines as “the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress” (2016).
In this article, we discuss the use of read-alouds as a way of promoting resilience among children ages 5 to 8. Developing the capacity for resilience is important for all children because setbacks and stress are part of everyday life, both within and outside the classroom. Children need to learn coping skills to address those setbacks in healthy and productive ways and avoid long-term negative consequences. Teachers can help children develop characteristics of resilience by reading aloud from high-quality children’s literature that depicts challenging life situations for the main characters. In these books, the main character demonstrates resilience in dealing with a challenge or conflict. The narratives provide structure for developmentally appropriate conversations about topics such as feelings, problem solving, and learning from mistakes. Teachers and families can use stories to positively guide children to be resilient when faced with conflict or hardship.
Children can be amazingly resilient and overcome difficult and challenging circumstances. Some children in urban settings may suffer from health problems or fall victim to physical and sexual abuse, or parental abandonment. Children who experience these situations are at increased risk for later substance abuse, incarceration, early sexual activity, and a host of other negative events and behaviors (Henderson 2013). Yet, a large number of children, despite these adverse circumstances, go on to live successful and fulfilling lives. These children are considered “resilient”—they have the capacity to bounce back from challenges, to withstand hardship, or to repair themselves (Wolin & Wolin 1993; Baum et al. 2009; Henderson 2013).
Children who are resilient are often born with a temperament and intelligence that predispose them to problem solve, develop interpersonal and meaningful relationships, meet developmental milestones, and be academically successful. Children’s resilience may be influenced by external factors, such as a relationship with at least one loving adult in their lives who mentors and encourages their development, positive role models, involvement in a church, participation in extracurricular activities, successful school experiences, and an empowering school environment (Werner & Smith 1992; Hurd, Zimmerman, & Xue 2009; Henderson 2013).
Resiliency is not a constant. Resilience, as well as vulnerability, will change over time (Karatsoreos & McEwen 2013). Resilience is also situation specific. Some individuals might successfully endure one particular type of adversity and overcome the associated hardships, whereas the same individuals may crumble under the weight of different adversities. In the face of difficult and traumatic experiences, a child may be able to cope academically but fail to use appropriate support systems and relationships. For example, Jalen, a Hurricane Katrina survivor who had to relocate to a large metropolitan area, had the intellectual capacity and focus to perform successfully in school; however, he had severe separation anxiety when he had to go on a field trip or stay at a friend’s house. The likelihood of resilience in the face of adversity increases when resiliency processes are strengthened (Cefai 2008; Henderson 2013).
Using children’s literature to scaffold resilience
As teachers of young children, we have the opportunity to not only meet children’s academic and social needs, but also to strengthen their emotional needs by providing them with skills for developing resilience. Reading and discussing children’s literature is one strategy to accomplish this goal.
Reading aloud gained a new emphasis as good literary practice beginning in the 1980s with the publication of Becoming a Nation of Readers (Anderson et al. 1985), which suggested that American schools were failing and set reform efforts in the area of reading instruction. Thirty years later, reading aloud to children is considered an integral part of early literacy development (Lane & Wright 2007). Read-alouds are an effective strategy for teachers and parents to promote early literacy development, such as listening comprehension skills, syntactic development, word recognition, and vocabulary (Lane & Wright 2007). Reading high-quality children’s literature builds children’s vocabulary knowledge, increases their interest in books, and serves as an excellent model as they learn to read and write (Gioroir et al. 2015).
Though valuable, sharing texts such as the award-winning books included in “Books That Help Build Resiliency” goes beyond promoting literacy. These texts reflect the diversity of urban families, and enable children to better connect with characters who may have similar life experiences. Books like these can serve as a refuge for children as they learn from others’ challenges and become better able to make sense of their own situations (MacGillivray, Ardell, & Curwen 2010). Books expose urban children to deep, well-developed characters and relationships (Lacina 2014).
By experiencing rich, often complex, well-developed plots and characters, children are better positioned to deal with the conflict in their own lives.
Some urban families have limited evening or daytime hours to read aloud or to learn strategies for read-alouds; therefore, it is important to create spaces in school for children to read and talk about the realities of their lives (MacGillivray, Ardell, & Curwen 2010).
Books That Help Build Resiliency in Children Ages 5 to 8
Tap Tap Boom Boom
By Elizabeth Bluemle, illus. by G. Brian Karas, 2014
“It’s a mad dash for shelter as rain sweeps into an urban neighborhood. Where to go? The subway! It’s the perfect place to wait out the wind and weather. Strangers share smiles and umbrellas and take delight in the experience of a city thunderstorm.” (From the dust jacket)
Otto the Book Bear
(Otto: El Oso de Libro)
By Katie Cleminson, 2012
Otto lives in a book in a house, but when no one is looking he comes to life. He reads his favorite stories and practices his writing, until he is left behind and must set out in search of a new home.
Fred Stays With Me
By Nancy Coffelt, illus. by Tricia Tusa, 2007
A child describes how she lives sometimes with her mother and sometimes with her father, but her dog is her constant companion.
The Money We’ll Save
By Brock Cole, 2011
In nineteenth-century New York City, when Pa brings home a young turkey in hopes of saving money on their Christmas dinner, his family faces all sorts of trouble and expense in their tiny apartment.
By Laura Vaccaro Seeger, 2013
A little bull discovers that he has been a big bully.
The Matchbox Diary
(El Diario de las Cajas de Fósforos)
By Paul Fleischman, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline, 2013
Follow a girl’s perusal of her great-grandfather’s collection of matchboxes holding mementos that document his journey from Italy to a new country.
By Mary Hoffman, illus. by Caroline Binch, 1991
Although a classmate tells Grace that she cannot play Peter Pan in the school play because she is black, Grace discovers that she can do anything she sets her mind to.
By Margaret H. Mason, illus. by Floyd Cooper, 2010
An African American man tells his grandson about a time when, despite all the wonderful things his hands could do, they could not touch bread at the Wonder Bread factory. Based on stories of bakery union workers, the book includes historical notes.
By Tony Medina, illus. by R. Gregory Christie, 2001
In this uplifting story told in verse, a young boy living in the inner city projects tells about his hopes, fears, and dreams.
Oliver Finds His Way
By Phyllis Root, illus. by Christopher Denise, 2002
Oliver the bear becomes lost when he chases a leaf to the edge of the woods, but then he comes up with an idea to find his way back home.
Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend
By Karen Stanton, 2014
Although Henry enjoys the time he spends at his mother’s apartment and his father’s house, his dog Pomegranate gets confused about which place is home.
My Name Is Sangoel
By Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illus. by Catherine Stock, 2009
As a refugee from Sudan, Sangoel is frustrated that no one in the United States can pronounce his name correctly until he finds a clever way to solve the problem.
My Name is Yoon
By Helen Recorvits, illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska, 2003
Disliking the way her name looks written in English, Korean-born Yoon, or “shining wisdom,” tries out different names (“Cat,” “Bird,” and “Cupcake,”) to feel more comfortable in her new school and new country.
Note: Summaries were obtained from the Library of Congress unless otherwise noted.
A Sample Read-Aloud for Resilience
Focus on prior knowledge
Teacher: Today we are going to read Deshawn Days by Tony Medina. Deshawn tells about his life in the city in poems.
Teacher: Look at the cover of the book. What does the cover tell us about what life is like in the city for Deshawn?
Teacher: Deshawn shows us the fun he has with his friends and family, and also what life is like in his neighborhood. He refers to his neighborhood as “the ’hood.” What do you think he means by “’hood”?
Teacher: Now, let’s look at the poem, “What Is Life Like in the ’hood?” As I read the text, think about what you know about Deshawn.
Teacher: [Reads the first two stanzas.] ”What is life like in the ’hood?/You don’t just hear music/you hear sirens too/cop cars and ambulances/screaming all the time/real loud at you.”
Teacher: How would you feel about the noises and experiences Deshawn describes?
Teacher: [Reads the next two stanzas.] “What is life like in the ’hood?/People walking everywhere/broken bottles in the stairs/crooked spray paint letter on benches and building.”
Teacher: What sort of feelings do you have about what DeShawn sees and hears? What questions do you have for Deshawn?
End of poem reflection
Our prior knowledge helps us make meaning of what we are reading. Everything we read and learn helps us better understand how to make good decisions. Someone who does not live in the city might not know what to do when they hear loud noises. It may make them scared or angry. What is important about this poem is that Deshawn’s life is full of noise sometimes, but he knows that the noise will not last forever. He cherishes the happy times when his mother brings him hot chocolate as he watches his favorite cartoons. What are times in your life that you want to cherish, just like Deshawn?
There are many methods for implementing a read-aloud; we recommend that teachers model an interactive read-aloud using award-winning children’s literature to build resilience. Rosenblatt’s (1978) reader response theory provides a framework for approaching read-alouds. Reader response theory suggests that a child’s background knowledge and interaction with the text guides his interpretation of the text, and thus, each child’s response to a text has legitimacy. When teachers prepare for a read-aloud guided by reader response theory, they recognize what their students bring with them to the read-aloud and empower children to understand that their contributions of knowledge and experience are important.
Fisher and colleagues suggest four components for an effective interactive read-aloud (Fisher et al. 2004). First, begin by carefully choosing a text. Select books that reflect a consideration of the background interests and the developmental level of the children you teach. Beyond these books, consider including a variety of genres—exposing children to fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
Second, use only books that you have read and studied, carefully selecting books that model resiliency. It is important to read a text before reading it aloud to children to ensure that the topic is appropriate and that the book demonstrates healthy ways to develop resilience. Be sure to teach vocabulary within the context of the story, which is especially important for English language learners (Gioroir et al. 2015). For example, tie the vocabulary from the story to a word study for the week, learning the meaning of the word and the context in which children can use the word. If you are required to give weekly spelling tests, connect the words in the text to the spelling test.
Third, when you conduct the read-aloud, be sure that you provide a clear purpose and build a connection to students’ prior background knowledge and experiences.
Lastly, be sure to allow children the opportunity to talk about what they’ve read, practicing and developing their language (Gioroir et al. 2015) and problem solving skills. In “A Sample Read-Aloud” we guide you through the suggested components for interactive read-alouds, using a text from “Books That Help Build Resiliency in Children Ages 5 to 8, (page 19).”
Children need to be exposed to good literature, and they need to have daily experiences with fluent, oral reading. Children need opportunities to talk about the text and vocabulary and, just as importantly, to talk about their lives and how to resolve challenges in their lives. Reading can be a safe haven, especially for children living in urban environments, and a way to better understand themselves and develop a positive identity. Resilience is a skill that will last them throughout their lives. When teachers support students in reading and reflecting on characters who face strife and hardship yet find positive ways to make it through difficult situations, they are helping prepare them for life. For all children, life is full of conflict and challenges, but by providing children with the tools for building resilience, such as strategies for solving a problem, teachers prepare them for success inside and outside the classroom.
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