How to Teach Children to Read the World

As a first time parent, you are mostly worried about your baby sleeping and eating. When the Egypt Revolution began just 3 weeks after my daughter was born in Cairo, I was trying to get her to sleep to the sound of gunshots. As I was reading aloud, there were military tanks roaring down my street. It was not the parenting experience I had imagined in my head during all those months of pregnancy.

Like many of you, I read parenting books about brain development, sleeping strategies, etc. However, not one of the parenting books did it give any advice about what to do with an infant during a civil war and a government being overthrown. No parenting books teach about escaping civil wars with infants. Read more Click To Tweet

All over Cairo, grocery stores were running out of food and water, the ATMs were empty, and the internet and phone lines were shut down. The country was crumbling before my very eyes, and I had no choice but to evacuate. So 3 1/2 weeks after my C-section, I flew by myself over 7,000 miles home to California with a 3 week old with an emergency passport.

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The massive characters are seared with scars.”- Khalil Gibran

Over the next couple of years, I did not talk about our evacuation at all, and when I did, I wasn’t able to talk without crying. I thought I would never get over the trauma. It was only when I connected reading to my experience in Cairo that the healing began.

I started reading books myself and to my daughter about overcoming obstacles and turning a negative experience into good. I needed to apply the transformative power of storytelling to myself. When I began to read, it changed me as a person, and a parent.

When I began to read, it changed me as a person, and a parent. Click To Tweet

How to Teach Children to Read the World

Now, 6 years later, I often share my storywith people, but most importantly with my daughter. I talk about what it was like to keep her safe in a situation where there was very real danger. Every time my daughter and I read a book about Egypt, I take the opportunity for a teachable moment to share what I learned and how I have grown since we were forced to leave Cairo.

My second daughter was born a few months ago and now the teaching has come full circle.  I watched my daughter read The Tiny Traveler: Egypt: A Book of Shapes to her baby sister, and start telling the story of “when I lived in Egypt…” She is able to read the words on the page and model good reading fluency.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]On the other hand, she talks about empathy for refugees who have to leave their families behind. She repeats what I have said about resiliency despite hard circumstances. [/perfectpullquote]

And to think I never wanted to talk about leaving Egypt. It blows me away to hear those stories retold from a child’s perspective. It also reminds me that I continue to underestimate what children are capable of understanding.

Photo Credit: Bethany Edwards


Also read:  Top Strategies for Reading Aloud

As a professional educator, I have taught many children how to read. However, since becoming a parent, reading to learn has become even more valuable to me as teaching how to read. I want to give them reading strategies for becoming academically successful in school.  Although, teaching them to read without teaching them how to read the world, I have only done my job halfway.

Take a minute to think about all of the books on your bookshelf right now at home. These books are full of stories and adventures that your kids LOVE.  Each time you read this column, I want you to find new books your kids will love.

I want to give you books that help children learn how to rhyme and sound out words. Simultaneously, I want to highlight learning about geography, multiculturalism, social justice, religion, race, and more.  We need to model that WHAT we read is just as crucial as HOW to read.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Since becoming a parent, reading to learn has become even more valuable to me as teaching how to read.[/perfectpullquote]

Teaching literacy while simultaneously teaching empathy, resiliency, hope, and imagination is going to be my top priority.  I believe if you want to raise global citizens who are tolerant and empathetic, you start from birth.

The time to teach children about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, human rights is now, not “later”.   I am hoping you will join me in teaching those difficult concepts and topics early and often to create a multicultural approach to the world by using books.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.- Helen Keller

So below, I have listed a few favorite books for how to teach children to read the world.  I hope that find a few new titles that resonate with your family as well as give a new perspective about the world around us.

Teach Resiliency

“Try again, fail again. Fail better.” – Albert Einstein

We’re All Wonders 

Made by Raffi 

Antoinette (Gaston and Friends) 

Teaching Hope

“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson

Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery

Also read:  My Messy Journey Toward Woke

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

Grace for President

Teaching Global Citizenship 

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.” – Helen Keller

The Invisible Boy

Maddi’s Fridge

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference (CitizenKid)

Teaching Community

“So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family, that it remains the measure of our stability because it measures our sense of loyalty.” – Haniel Long

Quinito’s Neighborhood/El Vecindario de Quinito

The Lemon Tree

It Takes a Village: Picture Book Edition by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Teach Imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” – Albert Einstein

The Paper Dolls

Rainy Day Magic

The Most Magnificent Thing

Teach Empathy

Empathy works so well because it does not require a solution. It requires only understanding.     – John Medina

One Green Apple

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Jane Addams Award Book (Awards))

Let’s Talk About Race

Teach Social Justice 

I truly believe the only way that we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds, but our hearts and our souls. – Malala Yousafzai

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey (Arabic and English Edition)

Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History

The Hate U Give

The views and opinions expressed by columnists are their own and may or may not represent those of or its team. 

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