Do you read to your children every night? If you have multiple children, do you read to EACH of them every night?
Let me guess, if you are at all like me the answer is “no, . . .not every night, but don’t tell anybody. They will think I am a bad parent.” We are told how important reading bedtime stories for kids is for our children's language development from the time we first find out we are going to become a mother. Have you ever stared in awe and astonishment as you listened to another mom talk about how they never miss a night reading to their children.
Let’s be real. Making sure homework is completed, kids are fed, and bathed usually takes up the last of my energy reserves for the day. And, shhh, don’t tell anyone, but sometimes not all three of those things get done every single night. On really “good” days, I have the energy and patience to read to my children.
I believe quality beats quantity in all aspects of our mothering EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
So choosing bedtime stories for kids that teach moral lessons and strong ethics is what I call “pulling double duty.” It is a very smart choice. Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, was a very smart cat indeed– 100% guaranteed! He realized how timeless moral lessons and strong ethics can be mixed with rhythmic, silly, prose to engage readers and make big impressions on young minds.
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So what are some of these moral lessons and strong ethics?
- Be Yourself—Happy Birthday to You, 1959
- Never Stop Learning; no matter how much you think you know, you never know everything— On Beyond Zebra, 1955
- Strive to Keep Your Life Balanced—Oh the Place’s You’ll Go, 1990
- Help Make the World a Better Place—Lorax, 1971
- Face Your Fears—What Was I Scared Of (part of The Sneetches and Other Stories), 1961
- Racism and Prejudice is Wrong; don't judge on outward appearances, and superficial observations—The Sneetches and Other Stories, 1961
- Treat All Life with Dignity—Horton Hear’s a Who,1954
- Life is Not Fair; “bang-ups and hang-ups will happen to you”; things won't always go your way, but you can't let that stop you from continuing on your life's journey— Oh the Places You’ll Go, 1990
- Appreciation and Gratitude—Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?1973
- Keep Your Curiosity and Creativity Alive–Oh The Things You Can Think, 1975
- Keep an Open Mind—I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, 1978
- Being Stubborn Get’s You Nowhere—TheZaxs (part of The Sneetches and Other Stories), 1961
These are some of my favorite bedtime stories for kids from Dr. Seuss that I regularly use, as well as some quick explanations of each story.
This is a timeless tale about life. Both encouraging and truthfully blunt, this book was given to me as a college graduation present from the Master teacher I had my semester of student teaching. It has become a forever favorite of mine to give as graduation presents.
-You have the ability and opportunity to choose your path in life and make great things happen.
–There are bang-ups and hang-ups” that will happen no matter which path you choose. When you encounter a monkey wrench in your plans, you have two options. You can let yourself slip into a slump and get stuck waiting for something to happen that will change your circumstances, or you can “escape and find bright places where boom bands are playing.” You are responsible for your own happiness and have to push through the tough times in life to find happiness.
-Sometimes you will find yourself alone–”whether you like it or not, alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.” You have to bravely encounter lonely and scary times– “face up to your problems whatever they are.”
-You will come across lots of different people and choices as you go through life. You have to “step with care and great tact and remember that life’s a great balancing act.” Think before you act, and use good judgment when making choices, being aware of shady characters or circumstances that you encounter.
Fav quote: “KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!” “Your mountain is waiting. So. . .get on your way!”
I know I shouldn’t admit this since I am an English teacher by trade, but I saw the movie of “Horton Hears a Who” before I ever read the actual book!
Surprisingly, I found the movie told the story and conveyed the lessons more effectively.
-Elephants have extremely superior hearing, right? I love how the story uses Horton’s hearing ability as a parallel for having an open heart and being able to “see” something so important that most people simply overlook. He sees there is a problem to be solved and people to help even though the others around him are oblivious and simply too caught up in their own lives to stop and consider what is going on around them.
-Sometimes we find ourselves in a position to help others when they can’t help themselves. Be aware so that you notice when you can make an impact someone’s life. Others may discourage you from trying to help the disadvantaged because they believe the marginalized are not worth anyone's time and effort.
-Horton keeps the faith and searches through nine thousand and five clovers until he is “more dead than alive.” The three millionth flower is where he finds the Whos on the top of a speck of a clover. Since elephants have extremely good hearing, Horton could hear them. Horton's great hearing represents how we should be “in tune” with the social injustices that go on in our world.
-Have the courage to help change the world. The kangaroo represents those in the world that turn a blind eye to the injustices and just keep living in their own happy bubble taking for granted the things they have and not worrying about the many others struggling to survive.
One of my favorite lessons that I ever taught as a middle school English teacher, was about racism and prejudice. I used The Sneetches and Other Stories. The kids thought I was joking at first when I pulled out the Dr. Seuss book. By the end of the unit, they were all in love with Dr. Seuss. Especially for kids who dread English class and reading and see it as anything BUT fun, Dr. Seuss’ rhythmic and silly prose gives them a positive experience and instills a love of reading.
-Do not be prejudice against anyone. We should not judge or marginalize others because of differences such as the color of our skin or the stars on our bellies.
-Often times people are not willing to change until it hits them in their pocket books. Sylvester McMonkey McBean came to teach the Sneetches a lesson. “They kept paying money. They kept running through / Until neither the Plain nor Star-Bellies knew / Whether this one was that one… or that one was this one or what one was who.” When the Sneetches had no more money and were all mixed up, they were left to accept each other for who they are and not the value gained from having a star upon their belly.
I first came across this story that is contained in the book, The Sneetches and Other Stories, when I was planning my lesson on prejudice with the Sneetches story. My first thought was how odd this story is, and how as a young child this would have scared my out of my pants . . .pun intended.
Years later, my very own child fell in love with this story and wanted me to read it over and over. She was 5 at the time and I was floored that this did not give her nightmares. I was reticent to read it to her at bedtime and would often start the story only to stop in the middle of it because I felt like it was getting too dark and dreary. When I finally read it to the end, I was pleasantly surprised about the “moral” of the story.
Had my child not begged me to finish the story, I would have never read through to the end. So my five-year-old child actually helped me learn the lessons about not hiding from our fears, but to face them head-on. Ha!
-Face your fears. When you allow yourself to embrace your fear, you may learn it is really nothing of which to be afraid.
-Do not let yourself be frozen in fear of what “might” happen. Using Dale Carnegie's strategy from “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living:” Face it, accept it, expect the worse and hope for the best.
Developing your child’s moral conscience is one of the major undertakings we have as parents. It is not a simple task and requires a lifetime of effort constantly looking for teachable moments and living out the lessons we are trying to teach. Even when we put our hearts and souls into raising our children to be happy, healthy, and self-sufficient contributing members of society, they won’t always make the decision we want them to.
That is ok. We are not perfect and we should not expect them to be. But if you have worked to instill good morals and ethics and build a strong foundation, then they will learn from their mistakes and continue to grow and become better versions of themselves.
So thank you, Dr. Seuss! You have created so many wonderful stories and books that we can use that are enjoyable for our child to listen to and enjoyable for us to read.
Sorry, Aesop, but my kids and I just are feeling ya’.