See this? It’s our bathroom. Why am I sharing a picture of our bathroom with you?
It’s not because I’m particularly proud of it. I mean, it’s nothing special, right? It’s a typical tiny Japanese bathroom, functional but not comfortable. And completely unheated, too, which means that when the temperature drops, it’s only human nature to flee to a warmer room as soon as possible (even unzipped).
But my kids, bless them, they actually linger here in this cold, uncomfortable little room. Why?
Look at the walls. (And watch for a free download below!)
Filling the cracks of busy lives
In Turn Your Kids into Eager Readers with this Fun, Simple Strategy, I detailed the idea of “serial stories,” where you post page after page of a running story on the walls of your bathroom over time—an advanced form of captive reading.
I won’t repeat the whole step-by-step procedure here—definitely see that earlier post for full details—but now that I’ve been using this strategy pretty continuously with my kids for well over a year, I’m happy to say that this idea has been a tremendous success. Not only has it filled the cracks of their busy lives with a significant amount of reading time in the minority language, thus nurturing their literacy development over hundreds of short sit-down sessions, the stories themselves have been great fun for us all.
So the sheets of paper you see on the walls of our bathroom (and the door as well, out of view) are what make them linger here. These pages make up the 31 parts to my latest story, which just concluded this week.
Grabbing the interest of silly kids
Before I describe the four serial stories I’ve written to date, I should probably back up and tell you that my strategic use of this cold, little bathroom to promote literacy development began five or six years ago, when my older child was around three. It started with a whiteboard (see Why You Must Put a Whiteboard in the Bathroom), on which I wrote simple words, sentences, and riddles; then progressed to my original versions of fairy tales and fables; and finally led to the serial stories I’ve been writing since the fall of 2012. (Over the past year, I’ve also posted poetry from books, as I discuss in How Rats in the Bathroom Can Boost a Child’s Bilingual Ability.)
Now, about my serial stories, I must warn you: this isn’t high-brow literature. It’s deliberately childish stuff, designed to grab the interest of two silly kids, ages 9 and 6, as they sit captively in the bathroom. (They were 8 and 5 when the first story appeared.) My aim here isn’t to enlighten, it’s to entertain—and keep them reading.
To achieve this, the stories I dash off (I’m literally just making them up as I type), are focused primarily on two things: 1) I usually make the main characters Lulu and Roy (along with other people and elements in their lives); and 2) I stuff the stories with wacky action that appeals to their young sensibility.
My serial stories to date
Here, then, are the serial stories I’ve written so far, with their length and approximate duration. (I generally post a new part every few days.)
Super Poop (8 parts, which means 8 pages; September~October 2012)
A talking poop with super powers (it was Roy’s poop) mistakes me for a “bad guy” because I tell my kids to clean up their things. Super Poop tries to flush me down the toilet, and the whole family jumps into action to save me (including our pet hermit crab). A fierce battle rages in the toilet bowl, and in the end, Super Poop is flushed.
Super Poop Returns (32 parts; October 2012~January 2013)
Super Poop returns from the sewer, with apologies and a treasure map. Roy, Lulu, and Super Poop head out into the rainy night to search for the treasure. They hike through a forest, up the side of a mountain—braving wild animal attacks—and reach the summit. There, they find the treasure chest…filled with chocolate eyeballs.
Bad Baby (20 parts; March~May 2013)
A baby, not yet born, sneaks out of his mother’s belly button during the night and makes a mess of the kitchen while getting into the cookie jar. The parents try to catch him in a shark net, but he jumps on the back of the family’s cat and rides away (without any diapers). Bad Baby causes more mischief in the neighborhood before the parents are finally able to track him down. (I wrote this story because my kids find babies very funny, especially naughty babies.)
Download the whole story for free! Use it with your kids or in any way you like! (Because my kids aren’t featured as characters in this one, I feel more comfortable sharing it than I do the others.)
America’s Got Talent (31 parts; July~November 2013)
Based on the popular American TV show (which we enjoy watching), my children and other family members appear as finalists and perform a series of nutty acts for the judges. Lulu dances while brushing her teeth (and does beautifully, despite swallowing her toothbrush), while Roy burps up, one by one, the whole line of Lego “Chima” mini-figures (“Chima” has become his obsession). The winners, naturally, are Lulu and Roy.
Try this at home!
I realize that the idea of serial stories demands some effort, but one page only takes 20 minutes or so to produce—that’s 20 minutes every few days. Couldn’t you find this relatively small amount of time for an approach that’s guaranteed to strengthen your children’s literacy development in the minority language and give all of you some special fun?
Again, for step-by-step guidance on creating your first serial story, just head to Turn Your Kids into Eager Readers with this Fun, Simple Strategy. Full details are found at that post, but if you have further questions, feel free to ask there or here via a comment.
Here are all my posts on the subject of “captive reading”…