Sunday, May 30, 2010

It's Starting to Feel Like Summer...

At almost 100 degrees here, we are beginning to start our summer routine...the pool, cool parks, and late night outdoor barbequing.

We are making memories. Things the boys will remember (fondly) doing and ask to continue next summer.

Along with summer comes the annual pilgrimage of my classroom library. At many schools around the country, teachers take down their classrooms and "pack up," making room for top to bottom cleaning...

It isn't fun, except for my boys.

They think they have inheirited a whole new stash. The second I drove in the driveway from Houston, Matt was there, opening boxes. Not that he hasn't read and reread these books already...

How do I get my kids so eager to do this? Well, it starts early. The earlier you just surround them with books, the more apt they will be to gravitate towards them.

If you haven't been great about that and now you have an older child, IT IS NEVER TOO LATE.

I firmly believe if you state things in the positive, you will see positive results.

I am reading a new professional book (just got it in the mail yesterday) called "Notebook Connections" about how to use Reading Notebooks more effectively. I love it.

One part that stood out for me was a story she told about her first day with a new class of fourth graders. One little girl came straight up to her and said, "I've made it all the way through third grade without finishing a book. I bet I won't finish one in fourth either." To which she, the teacher replied, "I had the same experience until I was 21, and I know all the tricks of the trade. I think it's the saddest part of my life having missed out on books so long. I hope that doesn't happen to you."

Wow. Honesty. She didn't take the bait, she didn't challenge her back. Love that.

I am sure that girl walked away with her mind blown -- I am sure that wasn't the answer she expected. And she doesn't tell us what happens, but I am 99.9% sure that girl finished not only one, but many that year.

Think about how you are approaching your child with reading. Are you making positive goals with them or giving ultimatums? Are you partnering or directing?

I think that's worth an examination, because your child won't fight if there's nothing to fight against. Not that it is our fault if we have resistant readers. It is just that they have a struggle already, and it is easy for them to make it more about a power struggle with us than to use that energy to get better at reading.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Struggling Readers Need A Bond

Yesterday I went to see the class I had for four months in Houston. They looked older, beginning to sport those summer swim tans, and they had those same eager eyes.

Yes, I notice their eyes, and I made a point to look into each one. I told them each how much they meant to me, and how I cared so much about them and the journey they were on as readers.

I told them that if I was that little voice in the back of their minds that encouraged them to read, to write, to learn, I was incredibly honored and glad.

I could see the connection with many of them. A connection that wasn't there day one of Third Grade.

I firmly believe readers need to find a person in their lives that spur them on and fill them with inspiration.

Mine was Mrs. Grube and Eve Bunting...think about who inspired you. Who gave you this feeling that reading is important and have it, because now you are reading this in hopes of passing that passion on to your child.

Those are the people who set us on our path...but there are others all along the way who keep cheering for us, moving us along.

Thank you, my dear have made an impact on my life. Even though it seemed a short while, and I am not in your yearbook, I hope you remember - not me, but what I hope you can take with you forever...the inspiration to learn and read.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Going to Houston

Today I am going to go pick up the rest of my classroom in Houston...I had loaned it to the woman who took over for me.


I am very happy to get the opportunity to see those kids. I love them to was one of those classes where I had a great bond. They are special, and always will be.

I am going to have a very short time with them, unfortunately, so I am going to make sure I check in with each one, and give them a final "Mrs. Forrest boost" to continue their lifelong reading journeys.

It also is a closing. A moving on. And that is a very good thing too. I look forward to the new kids who will come into my life, the administrators who will encourage me to be a better person and teacher, the collegues who will grow alongside me.

I have such emotion running through me right now, it is hard to find words.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What to Do With those Teenagers and Reading

Well, in my personal household, this is uncharted waters. Matthew is playing around with the tween attitude, but we haven't hit full on girlfriends, texting, and, well, with boys, other unmentionables that they will not let me in on, I am sure.

I have taught many teenagers though. And my hat's off to Middle and High School teachers. I can do it, but I much prefer laying the groundwork for ya'll and dealing with tattling and whining.

When I did work with teens, I first searched the depths of my memory to think about what I experienced in my own 13-18 years of age. I have great memories : friends, cheerleading, boyfriends, good teachers/grades. But there were the downs too : friends, cheerleading, boyfriends, teachers/grades. Couple this with body changes...oh my gosh - how did I make it?

I thought about how low tech we were then too...the internet? Not on a cell phone. Texting? Not yet.

So today's kids have not only the challenges I faced to try and concentrate on school, but a WHOLE LOT MORE, and a WHOLE LOT FASTER AND SOONER.

I use a couple strategies to get them into reading and writing.

First off, I don't try to relate too much. I can't. They know it, and they smell fake. So keep it real with what you know.

I approached them slowly, like cats. I let them get used to me. I stood my ground. I asked them to do things, and didn't pander.

I got material they liked. I let curse words go when we were reading. I didn't censor. But we talked about it, and why authors would do that, and how that isn't necessarily what you hear from teachers.

Boy teens -- sports and humor. They tend to make fun of a lot of things, so sometimes you have to ignore that and keep pushing for the feelings. When something sad in a book happens, they brush it off and laugh. I would, individually, get them in response journals. Again, ignore the first writings...they will try to be surface and silly to bug you. Dig. Make them dig. Find those little boys inside that still have those feelings and remember what it's like to lose the championship game, or their dog dies.

Girls are a little easier - but they are flighty and chatty. Keep them interested by knowing what they talk about with their friends. Don't pry, just be aware.

Teens love their phones...and texting...but you are the parent. I know, I don't know yet the battles that I will wage. But I do know that I have boys now who love to read, so I am hoping that, although they probably won't want to read as much, they will when they are older. I just have to keep channelling them down that road.

I can't say enough about the content. It matters. If it is poorly written, they will not read it. They want current. They need it.

Look at the graphic novels out there.

But please, please read what your teens are reading. There is so much good out there, but there is just as much out there that you need to monitor.

Kindles are another idea. I don't personally like to read with them, but if your teen is addicted to technology, that might motivate them.

My respects to all parents of teens...I will be calling YOU in about 3 years...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Buy into the Gimmicks from Time to Time...

My boys' school (and soon to be mine! yea) is having their final book fair this week. You know the procedure, and if you have pre-school age children, here's a head's up:

Scholastic (usually) brings in a truckload of mobile metal bookshelves at two points in the year and takes over the library. Teachers take kids through the fair prior to it actually opening for "book browsing." This means kids take pencils and paper and make "Wish Lists" of all the books and prices that they REALLY, REALLY, and I mean REALLY want.

Then in the days following, you can send money with your darling to pick out the books they wrote down.

Having been on the other side of the dealings, I have seen kids bring in over $50 and blow it all on the posters and knick knacks they have available. Normally, as a teacher, I check with the wish list and try to keep them to that (for the parent's sake -- I think I might faint if my kids brought home pointers shaped like hands rather than the books -- Lord knows what they would be used for!)

Normally, because I have taught at the same school as my kids, I am there to shop with them. This year, however, I am not, so it was a different story.

Of course the wish lists didn't come out of the backpacks until 5 minutes before we were to walk out the door, the first morning of the bookfair. Caught off guard, I told them they would need to wait until the next day and we'd talk about what I would give them to spend vs. how much I would allow them to spend of their own allowances.

OH MY GOSH -- you would have thought I had cut off their right thumbs! Crying, begging, whining...and my frustration with this all wreaking havoc on my morning.

I stood firm, however (yea me). Until later that morning, when my mind returned to the scene.

I thought about why they were so upset. Part of it was the whole delayed gratification, yes, but some of it was just the opportunity to SHOP by themselves. I had forgotten what a big deal it is in their minds, and how the immediacy of getting to shop TODAY was topping their thoughts.

SO -- I went to school. It was my day to volunteer anyway, so it worked out well.

I stopped in their classrooms and gave them each a few dollars and asked them to tell me what they were going to buy. I told them I thought it would be a great idea for me to start letting them shop.

Matt picked out a great new Mike Lupica book about baseball (wonderful author, by the way).

Ben and Sam were a little different in their choices...Ben wanted a Phineas and Ferb joke book, and Sam wanted a Club Penguin book.

Would those be my top choices? No, but guess what they did in the car, at the haircut place, down the aisles at Target yesterday afternoon -- THEY READ THOSE BOOKS.

Let it be a big deal. Let them do the buying. And yes, gimmicky is good, when it gets them to read.

(Ben even shared some pretty good jokes with me!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gold Mine!

So yesterday a friend of mine took me to a treasure trove - Goodwill Bookstores -- look them up online. They are small, but they have great deals, and the books are in good shape...I got 75 books for 99 cents a piece! Can't beat that!

My friend, a former teacher, was looking for books for her son, who is preschool age, and her daughter, who is going into first grade but reads on a third grade level (yes, she's my fabulous Weds. reader). She did a great job of honing in on her son's interests - dinosaurs and non fiction. She mentioned that he was different than her daughter in that her daughter would pick up books for fun, yet he, not so much. I reassured her that this is typical boy/girl in my experience. Also the type of books. His were more nonfiction/experience he could relate to books, hers, more girly and fantasy.

As she picked out some books, a nonfiction on snakes caught my eye and I browsed through it. I stopped at one page to mention something to her that I have done year after year with my kids in the classroom.

What it was was a drawn illustration of a snake's mouth hinged open wide, and around it were arrows with words describing and naming the parts.

Younger kids stop and look at the pictures. They are still someone reading through the pictures, so they gather a lot of information from them. But as readers get older and words are their primary focus in reading, something changes. They stop looking as closely. They skip graphs and charts. They don't read captions.

Take the third grade Social Studies book, for instance. It is filled with graphics and pictures to help support understanding, because a lot of the history we learn can't be experienced. They have to learn second hand.

I always tell my kids when they open up the textbooks to LOOK AT THE PICTURES FIRST. Read the captions, look at the picture - question yourself -- What is this telling me? How will this be part of what I am reading? What details do I see that I know? What am I wondering?

There is tons of support in the graphics, but kids often skip over them, and become confused when reading because much of the time, textbook vocabulary does not match their level of reading. It is often above, and organized so differently than fiction books.

I tell kids they have nonfiction "muscles" in their heads that we need to build. Those muscles think differently - they know how the information is organized in columns, they tell you to look at the paragraphs and sections and to put them together to fit the whole Chapter heading.

Trust me, there are a lot of confused kids out there with textbooks simply because they have not been taught how to read that particular text structure.

So start with your preschooler or young reader. Pick up a nonfiction text and when you come to a page like the snake, stop. I would say, "Hey, look there. I didn't know that is where the venom comes out. But now that I look at the picture and the words next to the arrows, I get it! Wow! Pictures are SO important! Let's look where the story is telling us about the venom and see if it matches what I just learned from the picture!"

Work like that will pay off -- for years -- remember, what do they read in college? Textbooks.

Monday, May 24, 2010


So yesterday I got an email from Barnes and Noble (you will get bombarded when you become a member, but it does have some good savings!) to preorder the last "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book, to be released in November.

"NOVEMBER???!!!" my boys chimed in unison, in a not so happy way.

Yes, but I saved 32% off the cover price ordering it now. And...I made them wait. It builds excitement, it builds desire.

I also preordered a few Mo Willems' new books, coming out at various times. There are two "Gerald and Piggie" books (if you don't know how much I love those, and for great ideas on how to use them with your reader, check out earlier posts), and the last "Knuffle Bunny" book as well.

My boys can't wait. I can't wait.

Think about it. When we anticipate and look forward to things, we dive right into it when it arrives. Kids and birthdays, kids and Christmas, heck -- kids and Summer Vacation!

So order yours today and build their excitement. When it arrives, I make it even more special because the address label is "The Forrest Boys" not me. Getting a package - well, you know, you have kids...they LOVE getting mail.

Take a look at Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble -- man, I should be getting a cut of the profits with this advertising! :)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Summer Book Programs

I am sure many of you have already investigated and enrolled in a myriad of summer camps, but make sure you check out what's offered at local bookstores and libraries.

Borders, for instance, has a program where if kids read 9 books, they get a 10th book free. I haven't read the fine print, so I am not sure if you have to buy those first 9 at the store, but I have a sneaking suspicion that's the case. Cest la vie, I'd do it anyway, and my boys get a free one.

It's worth it to get them reading, teach them to achieve a goal, and use time wisely.

Another find is the Goodwill Bookstore. I am going with a friend of mine tomorrow. They sell books for 1 dollar a title, supposedly. I will get back to you on that.

So there is an idea for today. Sorry so short, but I am whooped from my kids' baseball tournament was a long, tension filled week. I am proud to say they all played hard and all have improved tremendously. Thanks to their coaches for all the hard work and time! Go Rockies! Go Pirates!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Try Things Out

One thing I have learned through my classroom is that kids need modeling...they need someone to show them how to do things, and then guide them through the process until they are independent. Once they are on their own, I notice something else...they start to discover their own passions, likes and dislikes.

We as parents need to remember that.

My boys are constant reminders of this.

Sometimes they even become good at things they didn't have any idea they might like. Sometimes they get good at things, yet they don't really enjoy it. Sometimes it is a struggle, and they work through it and find the grit to excel. Sometimes they find it isn't their thing.

We need to remember our kids are KIDS. They don't have all the knowledge, experience, successes and yes, mistakes we do. They are also independent beings from us.

What we love, what we THINK they will love, what we want them to love, may not be their thing.

One of the biggest parenting lessons to learn, I think.

So what do we do and what does that have to do with reading? We need to let go of our own expectations and provide things/subject matter/genres of reading for them to try.

I am not a big Fantasy fan, but I will step outside my box and read them for kids in my classroom...they might discover that is their thing. Who am I to push/expose them only to my own likings?

If you think of it that way, we may be limiting our kids, something we definitely don't want to do.

Take a step back, as a parent, a reader, a the world of reading to them to the depth and broad spectrum that's out there.

I guarantee if you do it in reading, you will do it with sports, where they go to college, and yes, who they bring into your family.

Let's let our kids enjoy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Remember Who Has Helped Your Child

I got some bittersweet news from a former collegue yesterday. She is hanging up her teaching hat.

Now, this isn't Earth shattering news, as many teachers do this after they have kids, get married, etc. Been there -- I completely understand and agree it is very important to put your own family first.

But I do consider it a HUGE loss when I see amazing teachers take time off.

So here's what I want you to remember. If your child has an especially amazing teacher, appreciate them while they are still working. Teachers like those are few and far between, and when they have made a difference in your child's life, they would love to hear about it from you.

So Cynthia, good luck in your new ventures, but know that the education world will miss you -- thanks for making the impact you have on so many kids' lives...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Some Information You Need to Know from Your Child's Teacher

Luckily, as a teacher, I know what I need to ask at different points in the year from my kids' teachers, and I know what they mean. For most parents, however, teacher information is a bunch of educational jargon that, as long as the words "on or above grade level" come out, have little importance.

But they do.

Here's how to be informed.

You should find out your child's reading level -- that could be a number of different things. They may have a grade level equivalent - say, 2.5 (second grade fifth month). That is straightforward. But there are other numbers...depending on the testing format they are using. They may give you a number or a letter. What you need to do is ask for a table, or listing, that explains where that is, and most importantly, ask them to show you a few books that would be good examples of that level. It is essential you find out something else too. Ask if this is their independent or instructional level. There is a huge difference.

Independent levels, simply, is where they can manage the book on their own. They may have a few mistakes, but they are fine to themselves.

Instructional levels, however, are those books where they are capable, yet they need is where teachers start working with kids. This kind of book offers a little challenge above where they are (sometimes called I + 1 -- independent level +1). Those are the books you want to be reading with them (not to them).

Don't stop asking there. Get specific. Your teacher should be able to tell you how they came to that reading level, based on their fluency (pacing/how quickly and smoothly they read), accuracy (did they say the right words/decoding), and comprehension (based on questions, how do they understand what they are reading). If you have younger kids, they will also do some things called phonics and phonemic awareness. You will want to know which letters they still need to master, and what phonemes they need too. They will have a list of those for you.

Find out what area your child was strong...capitalize on that, and where they were weaker...strengthen that.


I can help. I can offer some suggestions on how to improve fluency, accuracy, comprehension, and the phonetic basis of reading. But you need to be armed with the right information, and it needs to be clear to you what type of material (text) to use. This goes from the very youngest child to the high schooler in your home.

No matter what strategies I offer, they have to have the right level of material so they can find success.

Go to school. Make an appt. with the teacher. Don't wait for the report card to come. Find out what you need to know to help your child.

You won't regret spending that extra bit of time with the teacher finding out. Trust me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's Getting Harder

So this morning my boys DRAGGED out of bed. June 2nd couldn't get here any sooner in their minds, not to mention mine.

If your house is like mine, there are some extracurricular variables that are getting in the way of our regular routine.

The boys are in the final tournament in baseball, so they have had a lot more pressure, and a lot more late nights (Nick is included in all this, by the way) -- they are really tired, physically.

But no matter how I try to get them to "rest," there is always swimming they want to do, errands that need to be run...

Oh, and there is homework too.

The kids are tired. Ready for their "rat race" to end for a few weeks.

But last night, I caught them, at 10pm, gathered around the nightlight in their room, reading.

How is it, when given the choice, my kids read? They see it as a break. A chance to forget about what is going on day to day. It makes them laugh, it relates to them, it gives them new knowledge and information.

And why do they have that outlook? Because Scott and I have it too. We began from very young, laughing and learning with them.

So despite the hectic pace and the "I am so ready to be done" part, pick up a book. Find a funny one, or even a magazine -- relax, take a deep breath, and read for enjoyment, read for a moment of peace.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pushing to the Finish Line

I feel it. It's 10 days to go and done for another year.

Your kids know it, they've started to clean out the desks, homework is's almost summer.

But, as much as I said yesterday that kids need a break, DON'T BAG IT COMPLETELY. Even though it seems so easy to let today go...and then tomorrow...

I have said time and time again...SCHEDULE IT.

Most people have to do that. Humans love routine, and none more than those under 5 feet. The predictability is what they crave and need.

Don't stop going to the library. Visit the bookstore (especially now that many school libraries are requiring kids to turn in all books for the year).

Make reading one of the top priorities every day. If you keep it in the routine now, it will be easier to continue. If you stop now, it will be hard to start up again, with all the new schedule summer brings.

I will start telling you what the boys and I are reading and how we have struggled to fit it in, or how we have made strides...


Monday, May 17, 2010

Cutting Kids Some Slack

I just joined a new gym this weekend, and for those of you who know about Lifetime Fitness, you know this is not just a place to could almost spend your whole day there.

So I am pumped to get a new level of fitness, try some new things (rock climbing), and get remotivated.

But there too, I also need to keep in mind that when I am pushing my body to new limits, I need to give it enough fuel, rest, and recovery (I am not good at this).

So it is with reading. Our kids work hard. Sometimes it is sweat and tears. So cut them some slack. Give them a day off once in a while, where they don't have to pick up their books.

I gave that day to my boys yesterday. Today they are refreshed and ready to take it up again.

Remember, our stamina and reading fitness level is not the same as theirs. I remember a time when Scott and I went cycling together. He is an elite bike rider - he glides like it's no big deal. I, on the other hand, am not. I could kick tail up any mountain you put in front of me, but I am not fast - speed is not my thing. But anyway, Scott and I had this idea that we could take a ride together.

Not a great idea.

He was good to go at first, I could keep up pretty well, but then I wanted to slow the pace. It was too easy for him, so he took off like it was no big deal.

I forgot to mention we were in Mammoth on the highway.

I plugged along, cursing the fact I couldn't keep up, frustrated that I thought I could. Our kids feel that way in reading sometimes.

So slow down. Pace with them, bring them along. And when they've worked really hard for a few weeks (or days - you know your child's stamina), give them a day of rest.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What You Can Do to Spice Up Reading

Yesterday I talked about making it a goal to read during the summer.

Here's the bonus of summer: YOU HAVE TIME. My biggest complaint during the school year is that I don't feel I have the time to spend doing the "extras" that I want to with my boys.

For example, with Nick - he's two, and absorbing new things like a sponge. This is the summer where I want to focus on reading fun, and how words are a part of the world.

One way to do that is to cook with them. It is fun to try new foods, to create lists, to read new recipes...and Nick learns that asparagus starts with A, is green, and is a vegetable.

I win a few ways with this. It makes the boys venture out of the chicken/peas/corn world to try new foods. And yes, I do have cupcake day, and pancake day (we make them in various shapes and designs)...but it's all about being together, having fun and yes, making messes at times.

But I also stick a book in...Matt will read "Green Eggs and Ham" to Nick and we will make it. I will read "Pancakes, Pancakes" by Eric Carle...all you need to do is search amazon or go to the library and do a search for a particular food.

The older boys obviously do it for their brother, but they are learning skills too. Planning, reading, listing ingredients, helping me shop...

Matt's been reading a lot of baseball books. This summer he also wants to work on eating better - he is my stocky `10 year old. I know he is beginning to have to learn to make his own food choices. This summer is all about learning that athletes fuel their bodies, and that eating right helps them perform well. I am going to capitalize on that and have him read some articles on athletes and how they eat. (I am not going to have him drinking protein shakes and powerbars - it's good fruits and veggies!)

So think about ways you can stretch your reading a book and draw what it made you think about...learn about the topic...try the topic (say it's horses - go horseback riding).

Remember, you have time this summer. Spend it together, and make books a springboard to fabulous activities.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gearing up for Summer Reading

I was on my new school campus yesterday, and you could feel it...the summer buzz. Teachers are talking next year room assignments and clean up, kids are starting to sport tans as they begin swim lessons.

And you, as a parent, are scrambling to find ways to keep your kids busy for close to 10 weeks.

Maybe you have enrolled them in a number of camps, or drama lessons, or even tutoring.

Just remember to stick to it in reading. Make it a commitment. Either a regular time every day (that works best for me) or a list of the books you want to read by the end of a certain time. I hesitate to say by the end of the summer, because if you are like me, you will have every intention of getting it done by pacing and reading a little at a time, but you will suddenly get to August and realize you still need to get started.

How do you squeeze it in?

Have books in the car...for trips, for shuttling..."steal" those moments.

Instead of the TV on at breakfast, put their books next to their cereal...I know they aren't getting up and rushing off, so that's perfect to start the day.

Take books in Ziplocs to the pool. When they have to take a break, have them read. Look at all the adults!

Buy them some kid magazines -- I always load up on magazine reading in the summer because it's light and fun, rather than saddling myself with a heavy novel.

Any way you do it, DO IT! Please don't let even one day go by without handing them a book and excitedly saying, "Let's find out what happens today!!"

Keep pumping the positive, and stay committed. The summer will fly by, and they will have reading to show for it!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Another Year Older!

So, in honor of making it another year today, I am going to take the day off...after I cancel my stolen credit card and find the missing partner to two of my boys' pairs of tennis shoes (it's been a not so fab morning getting off to school).

Happy 42 to me...can't believe I have made it this far...what a wonderful, blessed life I have. I am thankful for each and every day, each and every person in my life!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New Books!

So after finding a needle in the haystack (these warehouse sales are often in really obscure locations), I entered the room (it was a much smaller location than I am accustomed to) and thought, "hmm...where do I begin?"

The easiest? Start from the left and move through each of the bins. At first, I grabbed titles I knew I didn't have. Then, after three armloads, I began thinking about particular students and their needs.

I don't have a classroom right now, so I began thinking about R in my former class -- struggles with fluency and vocabulary, plus is a boy with low reading motivation/high sports motivation. I picked a few levelled sports books -- some nonfiction, some fiction with a sports theme. Next, I thought about A, an excellent reader...a girl, gobbling up everything in sight, needing a challenge, yet needs material appropriate for an 8 year old. I got 12 Birthdays, another novel by the same author as 11 Birthdays, and a few other titles based on the authors who wrote them.

As I picked a book, I had a child in mind, and ran it through my guidelines/questions.

Would I pick it up?
Do I know the author?
What is the subject matter?
What structure - how big is the font, how are the chapters broken down, how long?
I read the blurb of course...believable/relatable characters and storyline?
Was I curious?
Was I confused?
Did I want to keep reading or put it down? Why?
I read a few would I talk about it with a reader? What did I think?

That's what you do. Put it through the paces YOURSELF AS A READER. Chances are, if you like it, they will too.

The other thing I have found is that if I can find a connection or a way to enjoy it, I can SUGGEST that to my readers. I can show the excitement, and they will, because we all are human and want to get in on what others are enjoying.

Take last night at the ballfield. The younger siblings of our team were all scattered in and around the bleachers. We have all ages. Nick is the youngest at 2, and the oldest is probably 6. One of the kids had just bought a paperback book from his school book fair and had brought it with him. I caught sight of it and said, "Hey buddy! Can I read your new book? It looks so interesting? I just LOVE dinosaurs (an exaggeration) and it looks funny because it has UNDERWEAR in the title!"

He sat down, a bit hesitantly, but I began gushing. "Wow! Look at this endpage! It has all types of underwear! Which is your favorite?" He looked at me funny. "I like the cow print ones," I added. "They are silly."

He smiled and pointed to a pair of blue ones. "I like those - they are like armor." I praised him for his choice, especially because the book involved move.

So I began reading (animatedly, of course) and it was like a magnet...soon I had all the siblings sitting around me, rapt.

Excitement for books is contagious...try it.

Oh, and as for those Scholastic books...I got 70 of them for under 200 bucks...pretty good deal.

I had laid them out on the office floor to inventory, and when my boys came home, I told them to go take a peak. You would have thought it was Christmas all over again. "YEA - mom, did you get this for ME?" "AWESOME!" "I don't know what to read first!"

I wish that for all kids...keep reading here and I will keep the ideas coming!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Going Shopping (for books, that is)!!!!!!!

Today Scholastic is having the huge warehouse sale in San my "fast pass" in hand and my coupons too...will update you on the great deals I found later!!! SOOOO excited!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mo Willems' New Release!

The latest Mo Willems' book has hit the shelves, and I must admit, I am behind in buying this is the Cat the Cat series.

With four boys, I must humbly admit it is hard to keep up with what they all need, not to mention expensive.

But I really want to get these books for Nicholas. I know they are perfect for beginning readers, and has that humor component true to all of Mo's books.

I own the first two, although I loaned them out and don't know where they are...I hope they will turn up because those are the personally autographed ones to my boys that I got at BookPeople a few months ago.

Anyhow, I am going to get my hands on the newest one Time to Sleep, Sheep the looks like a great one for bedtime for the little ones like Nick. He is at that point where he is starting to explode with new words, and I want to start associating the written words with what he is saying orally. The controlled vocabulary in these books is perfect for him. It will only be a matter of a few readings and I know he will have it memorized and will be "reading" along with me. I love that.

If you have a little one, go get it today!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Last 5 Minutes

Brain research has shown that whatever we expose our minds to the last five minutes or so before going to bed will imprint long and deep.

I mention this because I had a friend of mine do some spelling review with her son this way, and the next day he only missed one of his spelling words as opposed to quite a few.

I want you to think about what your kids are doing the last few minutes before bed.

Next year, I am going to implement a little review book, where the kids have 5 things to quickly read over as a review from the day right before they hit the pillow. I will have them write in the book as we pack up for the day, as a "what we did today" and then they will read them that night.

What does this have to do with reading? Everything. The training of the brain. Firing those neurons -- keeping the mind fit.

I would challenge you to try it too. Instead of the TV clicking off right before you doze, try making a list of something you want to remember. The next morning, I bet you wake remembering what it was you wrote. Don't make it a stressful "I must remember to do this..." list, make it more of a mind/word game.

Trust me. It works.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Remember That Once Will Not Do It

I talked about how Sam and I had a time of it with reading homework the night before. Well, the problems weren't completely solved in one go around, because I had another time of it last night.

I didn't expect that there would never be any more butting heads, but it is frustrating as a parent when you feel like you are fighting the same battles every day getting them to read, right?

We needed to finish the last few chapters in the Arthur book, and then we needed to create five index cards with information - Characters, Setting, Beginning, Middle, and End. Each of these cards would have the writing on one side, an illustration on the other. They will be finally hung from a hanger to create a moblile of sorts.

Sam was funny. As soon as we sat down, it was, "Mom, can you read a page, I read a page?" Rather than starting out that way, I said, "Hey, you did such a great job yesterday reading so clearly, why don't you start out and see how far we get?"

He gave me a face, but started reading. About 10 minutes in, he asked me to read. I read a page, and then a funny thing happened...he read his page, but got so into the story that he forgot to give me my turn -- he read until the end.

And what did I do? I smiled and listened.

When he had finished, I pointed out to him that he forgot. He laughed. I went on to praise him for how he got it done.

Remember...the battle may be the same, or feel the same, but it isn't. It will become shorter bursts of resistance. The intensity will decrease in their tantrums...Don't give up.

Sam did it. So can your child.

Friday, May 7, 2010

It's All in How You Approach Them

Ok, so yesterday I had two different experiences that tie into what I want to talk about. I have learned (and been constantly humbled by the fact) that kids are like cats...when they want to be petted, they let you...when they don't...well, it takes a lot of coaxing to get them to let you get near them.

Here's how that relates to reading. Kids (especially those who struggle) will put up defenses to "prove" to you they don't need you to help if you don't approach them in the right way. Now, there is not just one way, but here's what is essential -- THEY NEED TO TRUST YOU AND KNOW YOU THINK THEY ARE CAPABLE. They like to feel successful - we all do - and they don't like to show weakness (who does?).

So here's my examples. The first was working in a third grade collegue's (yea! I can say that!) classroom. I haven't spent much time in the classroom itself (I have been working with kids in the library most of the time), so the kids don't know me that well. Yesterday, when I was working with them I had little to no relationship with them. I sensed the questioning - who is she? what is she doing? will she like my work? will she criticize me? -- So I approached them like cats. First off, I offered a compliment. I appreciated something I saw. Even if it was the daydreamer I was getting back on task, I commented how I liked they were working at their seats. If they gave me a funny look, I simply introduced myself and told them I was just there to help them however they may need me. You could literally see them breathe sighs of relief.

I spent most of my time with a newcomer to our country. He has made incredible strides this year -- thanks to a lot of hard work. Yesterday, he was struggling with a writing project for Mother's Day. I could sense his hesitancy when I first came over. Then I asked him if I could sit down next to him. He said yes. I complimented him on having done so much hard work. He smiled. I asked if he would mind sharing some of what he wrote with me. I told him I was a mom of 4 boys, and I hoped they would be writing as wonderful things about me as he did with his mom. I had a connection. I made myself vulnerable and told myself something about myself. We moved slowly, and I was careful not to point out every place where he needed correction. That would have been too overwhelming. I picked things that were essential to having it make sense to his mom. He was awesome. I had him correcting things with a smile, and each time, I made sure to praise how he helped make the change.

Something we worked on was spelling. I know that many kids struggle in this area if they are strugglers in reading. I used a strategy called "what looks right?" I wrote the misspelled word a couple of ways including the right way and asked him to pick out the correct one. Most of the time he found it. And I immediately said, "See! I knew you were a great speller! It takes a good speller to pick out the right one...if you see it, that's awesome!" Big smile!!!!

So remember, approach is everything.

Now...the harder experience. My son Sam. Oh yes, my son Sam.

He has a project due Monday with a chapter book, Arthur and the Cereal Crunch Contest. He forgot it at school Tuesday and Weds. nights, so he was behind in his reading. We had planned to pace it two chapters per night, but...

He brought it last night, but at the end of two chapters, he was ready to stop reading to me. "Oh no," I reminded him, "you have to read a lot more tonight to catch up!"

The brake lights went on, hard and fast. He began squirming and whining. I knew this was going to be a showdown.

Before it got worse, I got over and knelt down next to him. I put my hands on his knees and whispered, "Sam, I know you are disappointed to have to do more, but that's what it is going to take." He protested again, telling me that Ben was done, why couldn't he? It wasn't FAIR (ever hear that one????).

So I tried another approach, ignoring the "fair" comment and counting to ten under my breath (don't think that I don't get worked up in situations like this! I wanted to yell - just do it!). I told him, "Hey, I am reading this with you by you reading to me, and I am really into it! I want to know what Arthur does next! Here he is, trying to put a band together, having nightmares, and you are going to stop reading??? Help me - I want to know what happens!"

That worked for another chapter, then he was "done" again..."No, one more chapter," I responded. Another tantrum began brewing.

This is where I want to lose it, take away his DS, ground him - you know...but that isn't going to help, I knew that. I would just be feeding the resistance.

Another slant. "Ok Sam, let's do this. I am still very interested, but I realize you are tired. How about you read a page and I read a page?" He was on board.

Here's where I got tricky. After a few pages, I started saying, "Keep going. I like hearing how you read it" or "Wow! That was amazing how you read that so smoothly! Keep it up." And what did he do??? He kept reading.

We did make it to Chapter 8 (they aren't very long chapters, by the way) and accomplished the goal. I celebrated his success by telling him exactly how he had made it through. And we talked about the struggle too. I pointed out that it was hard, but I wasn't trying to "make" him do anything...I was helping him achieve what he needed to do.

Switch up how they percieve the task.

I can't promise it will stop the tantrums and the resistance, but it sure will help!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Funny how those Flyers Work

Yesterday in the paper San Antonio ran a circular advertising all the vacation things to do there. Well, Ben picked that up and promptly began begging to go to Sea World, the Alamo, Riverwalk...

And then he got Sam and Matt started. Soon it was a barrage of "Can we??? Please???"

Scott being out of town :( I had to think fast.

So I put them to work, making an itinerary of all the things we would do and when. I told them they had to read up on the places to make sure they were able to take young kids (Nick) and find out the cost. They also needed to find out one fact about each place that they could share with us.

Oh my gosh, they were glued to the computer as soon as we came back from baseball, and their lists of "to do" are a mile long...of course we will not do it all, but this was real reading folks!

Try it...give them a reason to read...really, authentically read...they will do it!

And no, this was not an subsidized ad for San Antonio -- I wish!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Some Great Ways to Get Books

So yesterday I went a little computer - shopping happy and bought some things (ok, a lot of things). I thought I might share...

I love ebay for books. You can get a mess of them for a good price, and they are shipped to your door...but be selective. If you look in "mixed lot" -- they have a bunch of different titles -- you will have some hits and some misses. That's ok. It is a great way to build a library at home.

The other thing I will be doing in the next few weeks is spending money at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale...GREAT DEALS! But be is a huge warehouse with TONS of aisles. You may be a little overwhelmed. Go on Scholastic's website and search for the sales.

Another idea is your child's school book fair. There are usually a couple during the year. Our last one is in a few weeks, and I have told my boys they have 20 bucks each to spend -- ON BOOKS. You have to watch that - they love to buy the trinkets and posters -- I remember doing that as a kid. But I really want them to focus on getting some books for the summer.

Oh, and my school has a really neat thing going on this summer. Every Friday, they are open from 9 -1 for kids to come and check out books. Siblings are welcome too. I just have to sign them up so the librarian has an approximate count of how many kids plan to come at one point or another. Isn't that great? All the other schools I have taught at close down completely during the summer...I think this is FABULOUS.

So there are some ways to get books outside of going to a bookstore or Amazon...oh, I better go up my max bet on a set of 158 books I bid on...someone's outbid me by 50 cents!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

OOH - I Went to BookPeople - Here's some interesting reading!

Yesterday I went downtown to the district office to sign my official contract -- woo hoo! It just so happens to be right across the street from Whole Foods and Bookpeople - two of my faves - so I had to make a day of it, of course.

It is amazing how I can lose track of time in a bookstore. I began with the chapter books...I picked up a few of Gary Paulsen's (see earlier posts on him) that were signed by him when he was here in Austin. I know that it makes the book seem more special that way, and sure enough, the second Matt opened it when he came home he exclaimed, "Wow! That is so cool mom! They are really signed by him!" And then he immediately ran off to begin reading.

He ran off with Lawn Boy and Lawn Boy Returns. I also picked up another with a girl character - unusual for Paulsen, as he points out in the forward - Molly McGuinty has a Really Good Day. I started it last night. It is well written, and off beat. It would be a good read for 3-5th grade girls.

I also picked up another book, sort of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid vein, but much more to read...Justin Case: School, Drool, and other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail. It looks really good, and again, if you can't get your boy to step up to the next level after "Diary" -- this would be a great transition book.

For girls again: Front Page Face-off by Jo Wittemore. I have not read it, nor am I familiar with the author, but this is how I selected it: It was a signed copy, which means BookPeople has brought her for an author signing (a good indication) and I read the back of the book and a few pages to get a feel for the writing. As I was reading, I put myself in the mind of a fifth grade girl I know, C, who is on the fence about reading, primarily because she hasn't found a ton of material that she loves. She did fall into 11 Birthdays, but I want to keep her going, so I was looking with her in mind.

Oh, and for her as well, there is a facinating book called Fairest of All by Serena's the backstory for the Wicked Queen in Snow White's fairy tale...the first half explains her demise (she was originally good) and the second half shows how that all plays out through the fairy tale. Well written - I like the slant on it.

Finally, I got some easier readers -- very cute series by Lucy Nolan called Down Girl and Sit. It is about the adventures of two dogs, aptly named "Down girl" and "Sit." Ben picked them up last night and was laughing hard. It has Manageable short chapters and supportive is told from the dog's point of view, which will add fun, but will need some explaining at first. I like them because they are a step above the "Henry and Mudge" level, yet not as long as "Judy Moody" -- great transition books for kids in first and second grade to harder chapter books.

So there you have it...I could also run down all the great fresh foods I picked up at Whole Foods after that, but that would just make you drool on your keyboard...not the best thing.

Go buy some of these -- get your kids to give some feedback!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Kids Who Abandon Books

Very common at the beginning of every abandoners. They pick up a book, take it to their reading spot for a few minutes, and then decide to take it back and get another one, only to continue the cycle the duration of reading time. Or maybe it is a child who is really gung ho on a book at first, yet never gets through it and finishes it (this too can become a habit).

How do you work with these kids?

I have found a number of things work, but it depends on WHY they are abandoning...First off, they may not have a clue on how to select a book -- that's when I do the most work on finding "just right books" (see earlier blogs) or how to look at a book and really decide if it is something I am interested in. Sometimes these kids don't know themselves as readers, or haven't really ever thought about their own interests. That happens between second and third grade. We need to stop them for a few minutes and teach them how to reflect - to think about what they like to do, what they don't like to do, and then how to take those interests into selecting books.

I will usually pull about 10 books from my library and sit with each child. We will talk about why and why not -- do they like the subject? how does the reading feel?

Here's the trick, however. You need to keep them accountable. Set a small goal. I usually tell them to give the book a chance the whole reading time (20-30 minutes) that day, and then we would talk more. That's the key. Talking with them more. After they spent time with the book, how do they like it? How does the subject grab them? Where are they struggling? Talking with them will make them think about how they are a reader. They will start identifying why it was hard to focus, what they liked or didn't like. That's important. If you continually tell them what is wrong, they will never get that internal feeling/knowledge. That's what carries on for years.

Now if they are picking just right books and it is an attention thing, I ask them to first evaluate why they are off it the reading spot? is it time? We will change location, use a timer, inset breaks if need be. During the breaks I would have them sketch their book character or scene, and then get back into it. Some kids need that timer...they don't know how long they have and it is either overwhelming or they just keep focusing on the clock. When they know the timer will go off, they can relax and focus on the book.

Some kids, like my boys occasionally, will start books with a fury, and then not finish. That's often a stamina thing. Tell them to hang tight. When they seem to be losing steam, talk with them mid chapter. Get them through it by putting it on yourself. For example, I always tell kids to keep reading and keep me up to date on what x character is doing. "I am so interested to find out what happens to them - you must keep reading so I can find out!" I say enthusiastically. Then I follow up. That day. I ask them. Then then next I check in again..."How's that character?" I bubble...They see how I am in suspense, and it shows them how they can be too.

Sometimes kids abandon, and that's just the way it is. I do it. You do it. But here's the deal. Often, kids will return to those books later and finish them. My boys picked up some books they got for Christmas this weekend. They had started them, but it didn't rock their world, so they sat on the shelf. I cajoled once or twice to get them to read and finish, to no avail.

But lo and behold, without my prompting, they resurfaced on Saturday. They were reading them in the car on the way to school this morning, and when we reached the car line, Ben told Sam sternly, "Stop reading! We have to get out of the car now!" Funny boys.

So abandoning can be a problem, and it can become a habit. We need to stretch them, to hold them accountable in a supportive they can make it to the finish line.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Model For Your Reader

No, no one needs to waste away to 100 lbs. and start walking the runway...haha.

What I thought about today was all the different ways my boys see and hear reading modelled in their lives.

Every Sunday, after pancakes are made, Scott and I sit down and read the paper. It is something we enjoy, and the boys see that. They pick up the comic sections once in a while -- but Matt is usually the only one who really gets it...he's starting to like my friend Stephan's strip "Pearls Before Swine" (which has a great deal of sarcasm, so there is a lot of inferential thinking to do -- thanks Stephan!)

Anyway, there are many times they see us pick up books, manuals, lists, magazines, and newspapers...there are also times we actually model by reading portions of different material so they can hear how they are read.

Back to the know, as a good reader, that you have to make the voices in your head, and how often the words need to be emphasized with either a tone or volume change. There are also times to pause...but the punctuation in comics is either omitted due to the speech bubbles, or the illustration signals how to inflect your voice. Kids sometimes don't get read it to them, and then have them echo it back. That's good fluency practice, it will help with how they understand it, not to mention it is something you can do together.

Remember...they mimic what they see and hear (sometimes I wish they didn't -- especially the "let's get out the door we're late" episodes).

If you want them to become good readers who enjoy it, try to spend time yourself doing it, and showing them how it's done.

Happy Birthday Scott! I am the luckiest woman in the world. I thank God every day for bringing you into the world 44 years ago today...xoxo

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Inspiration from our kids...

I am going to borrow a line from a feature on Raising Kids in today's Statesman: "Sometimes your kids can inspire you in ways you really never expected..."

It was written by a mom who completed a 5K with her 8 year old daughter. She began by saying how her child had goaded her into signing up, yet she figured her passion would wane. It didn't, and the day of the race, when mom felt like giving up due to a bout with broncitis, it was the sight of her daughter, smile on her face and wind whipping her blond braids back, that gave her the ability to finish.

Think about that. I did.

And that's what reading does. It offers us glimpses into other people's lives, connects us through the human experience, and gives us so much. Things to think about, validation in emotions, new learnings...

That's what we need to tell our kids. I did.

Thanks to what I read, I talked with my kids about how it made me think about the first time I saw raw grit on Matt's face -- without my pushing. I told Ben how he amazed me with the things he knew about Space, and how he dedicated himself to discovering more about his passion. And Sam, when he hits the baseball and gets to base...the joy of success.

I also told them how they inspire me through rough times too...Matt in Math in third grade (perseverence)...Ben with his new eye patch for his lazy eye (courage), and Sam's continued work in speech (dedication).

I told them how they inspire me.

So remember, talk to your kids about how what you read affects you...what it makes you think about and feel. They will begin to see that reading isn't merely words on the have breathed life into them, and they are a part of real life today.

Happy Saturday!