Interview: Inspiration from Mom – A Conversation with Dawn Morris

If you asked me, I’d say that I’ve been reading Moms Inspire Learning for at least a year. That’s not possible, because Dawn didn’t publish her first post until February 2009.  One of the (many) things I love about Dawn’s approach is its mom-to-mom feel. Hers are practical ideas that have no single nor right answer. She shares her own experiences as a reader and someone raising readers … she’s been in the trenches!

Dawn MorrisHave you ever stopped to read her tagline? Simple Resources and Strategies to Inspire Lifelong Learning, Reading, and Leading. Not just books, not just education, but applying them to life.  I am struck by all that it means every time I read it. Dawn is part educator (she has a masters in childhood education), part cheerleader (she’s a mom!), and part bookworm (it’s the CPA in her, I’m sure).  She’s also a darned good photographer. Have you seen her Friday Fun images? Gorgeous. A couple months ago, I approached Dawn about doing an interview. Now that our worlds have settled down a bit (read: the kids are back in school), we had a chance to make it happen.

RT: I’m very interested in learning more about your decision to teach Strawberry Girl and GreenGuy to read when they were five. How did you know they were ready?
Dawn: I’m not a literacy specialist, but I read with my children constantly, which I believe to be the single most important factor in reading readiness. A teacher can tell immediately whether a child has been read to or not.  Learning to read comes a lot more naturally if a love of reading has been modeled for you. Between home and nursery school, they each learned their letter sounds. The preschools were not too heavy on the academic skills, though. They would learn one letter sound a week, and then do art projects relating to words which started with those sounds. There were no worksheets, and they made it a fun process.

So many people seem to think that learning is all about drilling information into children’s heads. I found that my children learned best through creative play, art projects, and reading a lot of picture books! Here are just a few of the skills that are enhanced by simply reading aloud picture books regularly:

retelling a story
vocabulary building
sequencing events
reading with enthusiasm
distinguishing between fantasy and reality
critical thinking
problem solving
creative thinking

RT: As you were helping them learn, were there any particular “pieces” that were particularly challenging for them? If so, how did you help them through it?
Dawn: Like all children who are learning to read, they were challenged by words which contained letters that didn’t sound like they should. Some of them just didn’t make sense, and they just had to remember them. It was hard to find early readers that matched their reading level. There will always be words that do not sound like they should, and some books seem to have too many of them. If a word couldn’t be figured out, I would ask them to identify the beginning and ending sounds of the word, and to look at the related picture to figure it out. If they started to get frustrated, I would say it for them and then point out the strange letter sound for future reference. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is move on.

If a parent has anxiety about a child’s progress, a child can often sense it. It’s important to remember that learning to read is a gradual process, and that every child goes at his or her own pace. If you try to be as encouraging as possible, and continue to read aloud books for enjoyment only, your child will have a much easier time.

RT: In a recent post you mentioned that your daughter, whom you call Strawberry Girl on the blog, was going to write reviews this summer but that she’s now writing a novel of her own. Can you tell us more about her motivation? Was it because she is looking for a story that she hasn’t seen anywhere yet?
Dawn: When my daughter was in second grade, her teacher asked for permission to read an excerpt from a story she wrote to her graduate school class. She was impressed with the fact that the characters created their own language. It was then that I realized her potential as a writer, but I didn’t know if anything would ever come of it. My daughter has always had a tremendous amount of focus, even when she was a toddler. She used to be able to sit and draw or look at books for very long periods of time. I can remember sitting and reading picture books with her for three straight hours one night, while my husband was working late!

So, I wasn’t surprised when my daughter’s response to your question about motivation was that she reads a lot, and has come to appreciate the “voice” of certain authors. She says that some adult YA authors create characters who speak and act just like a teenager would. In discovering how her favorite authors create a unique “voice,” she was able to find her own. There’s one specific author whose writing and characters really speak to StrawberryGirl, and motivated her to write a book of her own. I find this author’s books all over my house! She rereads them because they help her to get through some of the trials and tribulations of simply being a teenager. Believe it or not, I haven’t mentioned this particular author on my blog yet, but I can feel a post coming soon…

The YA book StrawberryGirl  wrote this summer was actually her second book; and even if neither of them ever gets published, I see a bright future for her as a writer. She’s already looking into colleges with strong writing programs, and I really hope she stays with it.

RT: If you were going to give the gift of a personal library to a new parent, and wanted to select 10 books (2 for each year up to age 5) what books would you pick?
Wow. What a great idea for a gift! It’s a very difficult question for me since I have so many favorites, but I’ll pick the ones that mean the most to me. Here we go …

Infant to 1: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (board book) and Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children (board book)

1 to 2:   Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. (board book) and Jamberry by Bruce Degen (board book)
2 to 3: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig
3 to 4: The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni and Frederick and His Friends: Four Favorite Fables by Leo Lionni
4 to 5:  Ish by Peter H. Reynolds and Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Some alternates I might use, depending on who I was giving the books to, would be The Red Book by Barbara Lehman (a wordless book for ages 4 and up); The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle (ages 2 to 5); or Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton (Birth – age 4)

RT: Since starting Moms Inspire Learning, what is the thing that has been the most rewarding for you?
Dawn: That’s a simple one. It’s definitely the people I “meet.” Whether it’s someone who makes a thoughtful comment on my blog, a parent who emails me with a specific question, another book or parent blogger, or even an author, the connections I’ve made have been the ultimate reward.

To be able to communicate with people who are halfway around the world is a truly amazing thing. You’re not that far, Terry, but you’re certainly one of the people I’m talking about! Your support and encouragement mean so much to me, and the passion you bring to the world of children’s literature is truly an inspiration.

RT: As we’ve gotten to know each other through email. we have chatted (maybe vented would be better?) about the ups and downs of blogging. What would you say is the thing that has been most frustrating for you?
I have the same issue that most people have these days: there are only so many hours in the day, and I can’t get to everything I would like to. I spend a significant amount of time planning and writing my posts; and the effort I put into my content often leaves me very little time to get the word out about my blog, or to read and comment on other ones. Right now, I’m actually trying to find a way to spend less time blogging so I can spend more time reaching out to others. It’s not easy, though, when you are surrounded by picture books (from the library) just waiting to be written about!

RT: Do you have a post that really makes you proud?
I would have to say that it’s the post which includes my very first picture book recommendation. It encompasses so much of what my blog is about, and what I believe in. It’s called A Children’s Book and a Song to Inspire Moms to Change the World. It took a lot for me to start my blog and put my ideas out there for all to see. I had seen a lot as an accountant, a parent, and as a teacher that I didn’t agree with. Instead of using a blog as a platform to complain, however, I decided to use it to share my knowledge and hopefully inspire people along the way. In the end, it was actually a picture book and a song that inspired me to go ahead and share my thoughts and ideas with the world. The book was Miss Rumphius and the song was Say, by John Mayer.

RT: When I first found your blog, one of the things that stuck with me is your interest in broadening a child’s world with cross-cultural books. Is that theme more important today than when we grew up?
It just so happens that I’m sitting here answering your question on September 11th, and I just read your review of the wonderful picture book, 14 Cows for America. That picture book is a perfect example of how we are all interconnected, and how our similarities are so much more important that our differences could ever be. I wouldn’t say that cultural awareness is more important than it was when we were growing up, but I think that in the years since 2001, we’ve come to realize what it really means to be part of a global community. Our neighborhoods have become increasingly diverse, and the world seems a lot smaller as a result.

As a graduate student, I was always so happy to find children’s books which integrated literacy with culture and art. I find more of them every day, and they always put a smile on my face. Culture adds so much color to our lives, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our books.

RT: Inherent in learning about other cultures are the ideas of acceptance and diversity. Do you have suggestions on ways we can engage kids without drowning them in books with “very important lessons”?
If you start reading aloud picture books with children from a very young age, you are already helping them to see the world through many different lenses. Different book characters see the world in different ways, even if they share the same culture.

Children’s books can be bridges to meaningful conversations with your child. That’s why it’s so important to share books on a regular basis, even after children start to read independently. I like to think of book selections as a garden of reading. Just as there are so many shapes, sizes, and colors of fruits and vegetables to choose from, there’s also a wide variety of children’s books. There are so many genres to choose from; and we should encourage our children to try them, just as we encourage them to try different fruits and vegetables.

Your child will not like every book, and certainly not ones that try to “drown” them in learning, but that’s okay. Their choices should matter. The more options they have, the more likely they are to find books that will challenge how they think about themselves and the world. I’d like to share a recipe with you, which can be modified for independent readers.

Read Aloud Recipe for Garden of Reading

A splash of enthusiasm
1 cozy spot, inside or outside
At least 1/2 hour per day
Many different types of books (fables, fairy tales, historical fiction, =
nonfiction, etc…)
A gallon of enthusiasm
1 world map or globe (somewhere not too far away…)
1 open mind (for each reader)
Unlimited book to self connections
Unlimited book to book connections
Unlimited book to world connections
A sky full of enthusiasm
1 lamp or flashlight (or even a tent, if you want to add some mystery)
Art, writing, and even cooking supplies for extended activities (if desired)
A world of enthusiasm

How do we use our garden of reading as a bridge to meaningful discussions about diversity and acceptance? It’s not always easy to find children’s books which address these themes in subtle and engaging ways, but they’re out there. In seeking them out, you are not only building bridges for your child, but you’re opening doors and windows as well.

I could go on about this topic forever. I’d better stop now! Just remember one thing: the most beautiful gardens and bridges take a lot of time, effort, and planning to build. There’s one thing you must have in order to be successful, and that’s the main ingredient of my recipe:

Sit back and enjoy reading with your child! It’s a rewarding journey, and one you won’t forget.

RT: What a great recipe. Thanks for stopping by, Dawn. I always enjoy  chatting … and walk away with something new to think about.

10 responses to “Interview: Inspiration from Mom – A Conversation with Dawn Morris

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Interview: Inspiration from Mom – A Conversation with Dawn Morris | Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub Blog --
  2. You certainly have a way with words, Terry. I was flattered that you even considered me for an interview, but now that I’ve read your introduction, I have no words…and that doesn’t happen very often!

    I can’t thank you enough for your very kind words. It’s an honor and a pleasure to know you; and now that I’ve interviewed you as well, I have even more respect for you. It’s not just the fact that you share your passion for children’s literature with the world that inspires me, but that who you are as an individual shines through in all that you do. You are an inspiration to many.

  3. Pingback: Terry Doherty
  4. Pingback: Dawn Little
  5. Pingback: Diane Duff
  6. Lots of great points here, but my favourite is right near the start – play! And creative play at that. I know it’s simplistic, but I believe we all tend to stick to things that are fun, so we need to build fun into what we teach.

Comments are closed.