Sunday, July 25, 2010

Leaving...on a jet plane...

Yep! Finally heading north, northwest to be exact. Should be an adventure of sorts, especially the plane ride itself -- a family of six takes a whole row on the plane, by the way...

I will still try and post daily. It is kind of my get away from the day, and there will be a computer somewhere nearby.

I finally saw "Julie and Julia" the other night - good thing I haven't had any meltdowns over what to blog about (then again, my thoughts don't depend on yeast working or an oven timer). I did relate to her goal of blogging every day, however.

Have a fabulous week...keep checking for updates, or take this opportunity to peruse older entries you haven't seen (I especially like the initial ones from Dec. - Feb.).

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Matt got a postcard today. From his last year's teacher.

Two sides of me reacted at once. One, as a mom, was so excited for him. He beamed, and then began immediately devouring what she wrote. And he wouldn't share it with anyone else.

That's cool.

On the other hand, man, do I feel like a schmuck. I haven't done that. I have emailed and written to students when they have written me, but I haven't ever sent postcards to them. Of course I could make myself feel ok by reminding myself that I have four kids keeping me busy, but...I really think maintaining relationships with students is important. This is a great idea.

I have wanted to get a hold of my class lists before school to write my future kids and get them revved for the start, but we usually don't get our lists until the last minute.

Ok, so where does my idea for you come in?

I was thinking mail. Letters.

My husband travels a lot, and I think I am going to make him do this. When he goes, he needs to drop them a postcard or two.

Let me tell you -- that is motivation to read. They LOVE letters and mail.

Now, if you are like me and don't travel (believe me, sometimes I think my life revolves in a 6 mile diameter) you can still do this.

Imagine your child's surprise when they get a letter from you -- even though you are home! Do you think they will toss it aside? Heck no -- they will tear into that envelope as fast as if you have been away for two weeks.

What do you have to say? Not much, and it doesn't have to be about reading or writing or even daily life. It could be questions too...and have them write you back.

Yes, I know snail mail is a pain...but there is a huge difference between an email and a DELIVERED LETTER. Think about it.

Just a thought. Excuse me, I have some stationery to attend to...and where are my stamps???

Friday, July 23, 2010

Destination is again the Motivation

We are heading out of town next week -- visiting family in Seattle. My boys are again scouring the internet for any sights and scenes that go on a "must do" list they are making.

It's great! They have learned about Pike's Place Market, the Ferry System, the Space Needle, the Aquarium, and even the surrounding lakes and islands.

It's cute...they drag Nick in to see the pictures and give him full blown much as a 2 year old will listen to.

But here's another interesting thing Matt has been reading up on. Flying. In an airplane. He's only flown a handful of times in his life, and frankly, he's freaked out. So instead of talking him through the facts (more chance of an accident on the road every day!) I had him read a bit about aircraft build and safety. It actually has calmed his nerves.

Go figure. Knowledge is power.

I like my new slogan in my room...READ LEARN GROW!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Getting Ready...

Today was another day setting up. Hopefully I am getting close to finishing the "classroom decor" part of setting up for school so I can wrap my head around what I really enjoy doing, planning!

I am meeting with my team tonight...looking forward to it.

Sorry I am idea-less for you today, but my brain is a little fried from the non-airconditioned classroom from 3-9...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Breathe...take a moment...ok.

Today has been a busy one. I had a friend's kids for most of the day, which was a blessing, because they all got along great and kept active. But then, I am an old lady, and six kids can wear you out. Going to the store solo as soon as hubby comes home and going to get a nice bottle of...well, relaxing juice.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you about last night. My boys have been on overdrive lately, and staying up WAY too late, TOO much. So I put my foot down. HARD. They were going to get in their beds at not one second past 8 clock. You know how that went over. Like a lead balloon.

I smoothed out the ruffled feathers by allowing them to read until one of two things occurred: they fell asleep, or I came in at 9 to make sure the books were shut. They still weren't happy, but placated.

It was FABULOUS!!! They all feel asleep before nine, and woke up this morning happy. HAPPY! I hadn't seen that in days...and they also told me about the things they had read and THANKED ME for making them go to bed.

Now tonight we are going to try it again. I can't promise it will happen every night, but I need to start getting them prepared. School is right around the corner, and we are also going to Seattle all next week. I am sure when we are with cousins we won't be heading to bed so early.

So not so much about reading today, but it will help with the overall attitudes! :)

I think after today, I might be the one who gets in bed at 8!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Write A Letter...

At the beginning of the year, I hand out a parent "handbook" which explains the ins and outs of my classroom and the year ahead. I also give them a brief letter which introduces myself and asks them to write me a letter that tells me about their child.

Yes, I know there is a deluge of paperwork that comes home the first day of school that has to be completed (remember I have to do it for four kids myself), but this is really the most important part for me.

I ask them to tell me what they enjoy about their child, their temperaments, what works and doesn't work with them. Mention strengths and a goal or two. Brothers and sisters, after school activities, anything interesting they may want me to know.

I love these letters, especially the part where they tell me what they enjoy about their little one. In reading them, the tone exudes the basic love they have for the person their child is becoming. That is priceless. So often we as teachers just talk in terms of behavior or academics...I love talking with parents about the unique and special treasure they have brought into this world.

It helps me know situations I otherwise might not know, and it saves us from trying to have a conference as I am dismissing class and the rest of the 20 are running in all directions. I always ask in my letter for them to contact me asap if they want to have a special beginning of the year time to chat.

Some teachers may not ask for this. They may have a parent questionaire for you to fill out. I think whether or not they have something for you, you should go ahead and write them a letter.


While you have the time, while you have brainpower...and while you don't know who the teacher is. I think that makes a difference. I know that teachers have reputations "We loved her" "She's strict," etc... Yet I want you to write the letter without the slant of what you want this or that specific teacher to know. Keep the letter about your child.

So write the letter now, focusing on your child. You can be specific to a subject area, or just general. Think about expectations you have for the year.

Here's an idea...hadn't thought of this until right now. Have your child write one too...they can just tell the teacher their favorite subjects, things they enjoy, things they hope to learn. I have the kids write me a letter the first day of school, but this would be way more fun and they would have more time to think about it. Plus, the first day of school they are always nervous (as am I) so it is harder to really get things down on paper.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More on Reading Identities

Another delving question I ask the kids to help them understand themselves as readers is: What book/books have been so memorable that you have read them more than once?

The answer to that question is eye opening.

First off, if a child responds that they haven't read a book more than once, I usually there one that you had someone read to you more than once? is there a book you loved hearing your teachers read more than once?

If they still don't have a title in mind, it tells me that they are a budding reader...they may either struggle or just have a low interest in reading so far (I say so far because that will change over the course of the year with me!!!) I usually challenge them by saying, "HEY! This is a great opportunity for you to find a book like that right here in MY class! I would LOVE it to be here!" It opens their eyes -- now they are actually looking for books they like enough to reread...which means they are trying to enjoy books!!!

Kids who have titles they remember reading more than once...I get to probe them more...How come? What about the book made it worth a reread? Was it funny, sad, did it relate to your life? If you have more than one book that you have reread, are there commonalities? Are they both Diary of a Wimpy Kid books? Did you laugh so hard at Junie that you just had to read it again???

Those are keys to knowing more about them, and also encouraging them to actively seek out new books that are worthy of being reread. I will also take the time for the kids to get together and share the book lists and tell each other why. Most of the time reader recommendations become "hot" to read.

So talk to your kids about books they have reread and will give you clues into what they enjoy and why they enjoy them!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Post 204!

I have been so busy remembering to blog daily that I haven't paid attention...I crossed 200 posts a few days ago! My friends ask, "How do you find something reading oriented to talk about every day?" My response, "How can I not have something reading oriented on my mind every day?"

But today is about me. My head has been spinning, my body on overload.

Preparing for school never gets easier. There are always new things to try, new arrangements...and this year I have a new school, new room, new's so exciting, but crazy too.

I sat down yesterday and started thinking specifically about how I want my Reading Notebooks to look this year. I let Nick watch videos nonstop for over an hour...felt guilty, but I need to have that time!

Reading Notebooks aren't simply a place to write down favorite parts or log minutes read. It is a whole philosophy...

Here's where I start. There is an ongoing section of the notebook called "Reading Identity" -- that's where I focused my thoughts yesterday. It is very normal for kids to come into my third grade classroom without a clue about themselves as readers. What do I mean? I mean, what are their preferences--their interests--their habits as readers?

Knowing those things unlocks the mystery behind why they love/hate reading and areas to grow. For example, I will ask them to list 10 things they are nuts about on a page, and then ask them to reflect on what that says about them as readers. I know -- kids that age are not very abstract, so I usually sit and conference with them and talk about what I see and then they add to it. But some kids have very deep understandings.

Here's Ben's list:
1. family
2. video games
3. space
4. TV
5. money
6. books
7. playing with friends
8. dogs
9. helping people
10. cub scouts

Looking at this list, it tells me volumes about Ben. He and I talked, and I told him that I knew exactly the right books for him and why. For example, because of number two and four, he would love graphic novels, especially choose your own adventure ones. He reminded me of the books Meanwhile, Wimpy Kid, and Club Penguin. The fact that he loves space, I recommended lots of nonfiction books, but also the Magic Tree House Midnight on the Moon and If you Were the First Kid on Mars. He loves books already, number 6, so we are a leg up. I recommended Math related books for his money interest...Kings Commissioners, Greedy Triangle, How much is a Million...and he reminded me he likes the workbooks at school too. I asked him to tell me what he's nuts about in terms of family. He said it was being together and going on trips and having fun. So I have a few books there...Henry and Mudge, Seven Silly Eaters, Harriet You'll Drive Me Wild! There are a great deal of family oriented picture books.

Overall, this tells me a few more things...he's not a huge fantasy buff, or mysteries. Those might be two areas I can grow him in. I could transition him from Space to fantasy pretty easily.

So that is simply one page in the Identity section...It is a great way to start with kids.

Something to note is when kids can't come up with a list. It can be one thing. It doesn't have to be 10. Use that one thing as a jumping off point.

I use this Identity section all year long. We revisit it every few months to see if we have changed or how we have stayed the same. It is facinating to watch the kids grow in their understanding of themselves as readers.

Knowing themselves means they stop needing others to tell them what they need to read. And isn't that what we want??

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Getting them Actively Involved by Questioning

My kids love to question. Ben especially. Why? How? Who? When? What If? And on and on...

Some of the questions have answers, some of them do not. Some of them have answers but I don't know them, and some can actually be proven and supported by evidence.

Kids forget to question before, during, and after they read. That is an extra step that is usually overlooked.

Questioning is an essential part of comprehension -- it involves predicting, confirming, wondering, synthesizing...

Here's what you can do to cultivate that. Have them ask a question before they read. It can be direct and concrete like: What is the name of the character's pet? or it can be more vague: Why did the character choose that action?

Then, as they read, see if their question is answered. If it is, ask them to show you exactly what paragraph/sentences/pages where they got their answers. TEACHERS LOVE IT WHEN KIDS PROVE THEIR ANSWERS WITH TEXT!!!! Then come up with another question.

Teach them these stems: I wonder...I was confused by...

Finishing those will always lead to questions.

And along the way, have them question...I have them write their questions on post its so they don't forget.

Finally, after they are done, have them question again. It may be they have the same one from the beginning and it isn't answered. Or maybe the reading took a turn and they have a completely different perspective and therefore a new question. Or maybe now they have a larger question.

Trust me. It will get them more active in their reading, and motivated to find answers.

You can do it with both fiction and nonfiction!

Friday, July 16, 2010

I am already picturing it...

My classroom is FAR from being ready, but I did get my books out of boxes and sorted into proper bins this week (I don't have enough bookshelves, however, which is problem I will try and resolve asap).

As I was sorting, I was imagining...I can already see the kids eagerly searching for the next story...

I can see the sports minded, picking out Mike Lupica, Matt Christopher, and Sport Shorts.

Fantasy lovers will go the range from fairy magic to Seekers to Lightning Thief.

After this summer's release of Ramona and Beezus, I expect to see a resurgence of Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Junie Jones.

But there were the rarer known titles that I can't wait to recommend...the humorous "guy" stuff that will get that too-cool-for-books boy hooked. The 12 Birthdays book that will interest the tween girl.

And there were my favorite transition books. There are so many incoming third graders that still need those. I have plenty of the A to Z, the entire Magic Tree House, etc...but then there are the Cork and Fuzz books. The Sit and Down Boy books. The ones that have such interesting characters and new writing styles.

I would love to sit down in quiet (I have had to take the boys with me the past few days -- that's not quiet) and write some of these lesser known titles down to share with you. Maybe I can sneak over there Sunday. I wish they were at the top of my head right now, but I have literally just sorted over 3,500 titles, so it is a bit of a blur.

Anyway, suffice it to say I am already picturing those little smiles, the joy they will find, in the books in our room!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Surround Yourself in Support

I realize we are in the midst of summer vacation, and reading/school may not be the top of your priorities right now.

Believe me, with four boys, the main goal is to keep them entertained, moving, and not fighting. And hopefully, in that endeavor, I am keeping them growing in some way educationally.

I know school feels far away. But it won't be long.

Try to reflect now on what the teachers said during the year. Where does your child need to grow?

I know too, that doing this solo is really difficult. Find other parents who can keep you accountable, who you can plan with, and who you enjoy.

My buddy in Houston, Lorrie, and I did that every summer, and I miss her this summer. Our kids meshed well, and we were able to squeeze educational time/trips/etc. into our days. It made it so much easier.

So find a support system...and keep it strong!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reading Aloud vs. Reading Alone

Now that my kids are older (well 75% of them), I forget how important it is to continue to read aloud to them. They are happy to read silently in their own spots. From time to time, they will read aloud to me.

But I need to balance doing all three types.

Reading aloud models fluency and accuracy to kids, and frees them up to simply try and use their comprehension muscles. Many kids really enjoy this style, especially those who struggle with decoding and fluency. It is a fabulous way to introduce new vocabulary to them, and they are exposed to text that is usually above their independent level.

When you read aloud, have them describe the pictures they are making in their heads. Have them draw them if you have time. It is a great way to make sure they are moving with the story.

For some kids, this is tough. They are not auditory learners, so this takes a lot of concentration for them. Again, they need it too. Play around with having them only listen as well as looking along with you.

Having children read aloud to you is also very important. That gives them practice with their fluency and expression, and you will easily be able to monitor that. Take time to stop them periodically to talk about what is happening in the story. They may be working so hard to read the words that they are losing comprehension.

And finally, have them read alone, silently. They need to learn to spend time quietly and independently in this endeavor. I know that many of them DON'T like this. But it is a learned skill that builds over time. Practice with give them stamina.

Don't let them con you out of one of the three aspects...having them do all three regularly will give balance.

Even if it is your toddler. If they are not reading words yet, they can tell you what is happening in the pictures as their reading aloud to you. They love hearing books read aloud, and have them spend time reading alone too. My favorite thing to see in the morning is Nicholas, sitting amid a pile of books in his room when I come to get him up. He naturally gets out of bed and gravitates towards reading when he wakes up. I love that.

So keep it in balance!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Have My Work Cut Out for Me

Oh my. Yesterday I started unpacking the boxes of books stacked in my classroom. Can I sum it up in one word? OVERWHELMING.

I am so happy to have the "problem" of so many books. I just need to find a way to organize them and need to buy more bins and get more shelves to house all of them.

It is just time consuming, and I think I need to go, SANS kids.

My brain is starting to churn school ideas/school mode...get ready...that only means more ideas are on their way!

Monday, July 12, 2010

An Essential School Supply

I know. You don't want to think about it yet. But I am.

In years past, I have made my kids in my classes personalized "book bags" that were fabric with a drawstring. I am not a good sewer (ask my husband - he'll tell you I can't sew a button on a shirt to save my life), but I love these bags, so I make them.

One year, a mom offered to make them, and that was a Godsend.

Why do I like them so much? Because the kids do. Suddenly books go from being thrown or crammed carelessly in the backpack to a treasure that is to be protected.

I get so sad when I see books hurt -- and it's usually not happening on purpose, it's just that those backpacks are stuffed to the brim!

I know some teachers have used ziploc bags, but I find those aren't big enough for picture books, and not as special.

There is something magical to having a separate bag just for your books. It makes them special.

This year, I am going to the nearest sports store to get my boys those drawstring bags you see swimmers use. They aren't completely waterproof, but they will keep the books protected. And I won't have to sew them.

Think about it for your own kids. You can personalize it with paint pens...believe me, they will start taking great care of those books!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I Can't Help It...

Whenever I am around elementary age kids, I have to engage them in conversation...I am always the one asking what the latest trends are, what their favorites are, how they have been spending their time. Why? Oh, I don't know. I don't on purpose do it to pry...but I do get a lot of great information. I think it is due to the fact that I spend nine months of the year, 7 hours a day, with kids. And I enjoy it. I enjoy them.

Today at the pool I met some young men who may darken my door this fall. And I had a blast talking with them. We talked about their latest video game adventures, Schlitterbahan (ohh, I mashed that spelling), and of course I brought it around to what they had been reading.

I know it is different when you are talking to your own kids. And it depends on their ages.

Those of you with 7-9 year olds...this is the time!!!! Don't lose these years. I find that this age is when they are at their most energetic, yet timid. They are changing from "babies" to young adults. And they LOVE conversation.

Just sit back and talk once in a while...enjoy!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Check out your Kid's Room

No, you are not searching for things...just take inventory of what they have at hand. Is it a television set? Is there a bookshelf with books? Do you have action figures and train sets or the Wii?

Think about it. Whatever is right there and available is what they will gravitate towards. I think of it like my refrigerator and pantry. I need to make sure the majority of the items are "healthy foods" and they are located at eye level -- the "junk" or extras that I should eat rarely should be harder to reach.

Same with kids and their activities. If there are bikes, balls, books, puzzles and games available, they will be more apt to use them.

On the other hand, if electronics are the easiest to get to, that's what they will do.

I am so glad we have no plug in items in the kids' rooms (aside from their lamps and clocks). If they want to use the Wii, or their Ipods, or the TV, they have to come into one of our two family rooms -- where I can see what's going on and monitor the time.

The one wild card is the computer. They have the tendency to sneak into the corner office and "play." I have to keep an eye on that. Maybe I should consider moving the computer to the kitchen desk. That's not a bad idea.

So take inventory. Make good choices. Your kids may be pretty upset if you move their TV from their rooms, but it will be better for them in the end.

That's my two cents for today.

Friday, July 9, 2010

If I had my wish...

I got some great feedback yesterday -- one idea that I particularly liked was one where I can be the one who deciphers the "educationese" that teachers throw out.

Just like any profession, education has buzzwords that come into play and suddenly parents are saying "Huh?" What is "Balanced Literacy" or "4 Blocks" -- what exactly is my teacher telling me about my child's learning?

So I will try and do more of that, especially as school starts up. You will be headed to your "Back to School" night where the teacher will be explaining what is in store for the year...I will try to give you a heads up on the latest so you will feel well informed.

Funny memory for me, actually. I remember when I started my first year. I threw out "phonemic awareness," "whole language," and "phonics" around like I knew exactly what I was talking about. Little did I know that it would take me the next 17 years to continue to broaden my understanding and philosophy about how to teach...

Just remember that there are always "new" things coming down the pike, and they are all called something different. Don't be alarmed. Comment here, and I will help.

For today, however, I thought about what I would say to you from a teacher point of view. I posed this question to myself: If there was one thing I could tell my parents of my future students for this year...what would it be?

That is a super hard question, by the way.

I think I would say to provide opportunities for your child to read daily, and to talk with them about how reading is simply part of life, not an assignment for school.

Now, I am not saying you will change your child's perspective on that, but you will have laid the groundwork for me.

One of my challenges at the beginning of the year is to teach them that their learning is what they do for themselves...learning is not assignments ("How long does it have to be?" "How do you want it Mrs. Forrest?") done for me.

Most parenting advice I read tells me not to "command" or "demand" or put my child on the only makes them dig their heels deeper. (I will admit, there are times with four boys, where there is commanding occurring).

So coax...just drop the casual conversations, ask them what they think about what they have been reading. Be curious -- "I just wondered what you were thinking..." goes farther than "Tell me what you read."

I don't think I am unusual -- most teachers would probably say the same thing -- so go ahead, try and find something (book, magazine, cookbook, instruction manual, internet article) for them to read!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Need Feedback

I have been at this a while now, and I am making some decisions about the format and venue as I approach working full time again.

One thought is to keep it going this way -- to the general -- and just sharing what I have been discovering and how I work with kids.

Another is to make it more specific to parents...a reference area for ideas and strategies.

I have also been asked to send my information to the local Austin Statesman, in hopes they would highlight it in some way to our local readers.

But I don't know what you have liked, how I can change for the better, how I can grow what we have already.

I am never at a loss for things to say about reading -- and will have much more as I re-enter the classroom. But I do want to make this user friendly and HELPFUL.

Let me know by direct email or comments here! :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

So...the Search is on...

I am on two fold search right now, and I thought maybe today I would tell you how I am approaching it.

I have Matt in mind for my first search -- looking for those "boy" books with subject matter that he can grapple with.

And Allyson and Olivia, two former students from Houston -- with them, it is a combo "girly" and "sports minded."

So where do I begin?

First, I look at what my favorite authors have put out lately, or maybe older titles I have forgotten about.

Gary Paulsen, Jerry Spinnelli, Louis Sachar, Andrew Clements, Mike Lupica, Matt name a few for Matt. I know they all write well, which is at the top of my priorities in selecting books.

Sharon Creech, Eve Bunting, Eileen Spinnelli, Barbara Park, Kate DeCamillo, Katherine Paterson, Beverly Cleary...for the twins. They also all write well, and many of them have deeper level themes running through their books.

I just came up with two thoughts for the girls...Stargirl and its sequel by Jerry Spinnelli, and the Ramona Series by Beverly Cleary. Stargirl has a good plot and deals with boy/girl crush in a very innoculous way...a good intro for tweens. I thought of the Ramona series because the movie is coming out and that may be motivation to read the books beforehand (I might add the star of the Ramona book looks dead-on like Riley, a classmate of theirs).

Matt's search is going to take me more thought. I need to find the balance for him. He loves funny, and may abandon the book if it is too deep or dramatic without some comic relief. Then again, I may be underestimating him. He is a sensitive soul, and would try to identify and sympathize with a tough situation.

So that's how I do it. Just start scratching the surface of what I know, digging deeper until I find what clicks.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sometimes Even I Have to Force Them...

Yep, today was one of those days. They had finished their new books, so they were having to select from the "old" ones (poor things, such a small selection -- haha).

They were dragging their feet. Literally.

I was going to steal that time while they were reading to get the house clean, but they were not having any part of it unless I was plopped down next to them, ready to discuss.

What was I to do? My agenda was obviously not going to happen. Do you ever feel that way? I am sure that's a silly question.

Soo....I sat down. Yes, the dust bunnies were bugging me in the back of my mind at first, but once we got started, I was glad I sat down.

Matt and Sam got in a discussion about their different How to Train Your Dragon books. Sam is on a later one in the series. Matt figured out some key things about what was going to happen to the dragon in his book, an earlier one, based on what Sam was telling him. I thought that was cool.

Ben has been scouring a new Science book he got that is full of experiments to do at home. We have done a few (the rocket with vinegar and baking soda was pretty cool), but I told him to pick a few more and make a list of supplies he will need so we can start saving or get them at the store. He's really excited, and he got the neighbor boys into it too.

Just remember, it may not be easy to sit down and do it, but once you do, you feel great, and the kids do too.

And yes, I still need to clean my house...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Navigating Those Growing Up Years

I have been watching Matthew at various functions we have been going to and when he has friends's facinating, watching him morph depending on the people he's around.

Which makes me quake, actually.

I know, we have raised our kids to make the best choices and hang around the "right" people...we have told them to be themselves and to put themselves in situations that will make them better...

But we have to let go and let them make those decisions.

Matthew is a sensitive, loving kid. He has a sweet innocence and dotes on his little brothers...which I love about him. He is going to make an AWESOME dad some day.

But he's not "cool." He doesn't have the older brother or sister -- he's forging his own way. I will also admit he's a follower. He will try out different phrases (my favorite, "I have to take a leak.") and gestures (Waltzed up to the refrigerator, grabbed the milk and drank straight from the carton -- he did that ONCE, by the way) to show his blooming independence.

Here's the thing. He imitates what he sees, and lots of times what he's seen neatly wrapped up in 30 minutes on "Drake and Josh" is not how it works in real life. We've had bumps in the road with friends, a bully, and responsibility issues already. Luckily for me, Matt will talk to me about it, but I don't know how much longer that will happen.

Rather than sitting back and fretting, I am going to try something. I am going to be on a mission to find books that deal with characters growing up and the issues around that. I will strategically "plant" them for him to read.

I don't know if it will be looking for needles in a haystack, but I am going to try. And I will read them, because I want them to show him ways that kids have handled things, good/bad/better decisions...I know there are lots of girl books with the theme of "mean girls" and how to handle it, so I am sure there is material for boys too.

When I talk to parents, this is a common thread of to help tweens and teens make wise choices in a world where they are exposed to such a gamut -- technology has brought everything to their computer screens. How do we keep our kids safe? Happy? Somewhat innocent in a fast paced world?

We know that studies show friends are a bigger influence on kids' behavior during this time than what can we do?

I am going to turn to the written word...the world of characters and situations I can know about.

Hopefully after reading, Matt will have learned some different ways "kids" have made the journey through these formative (and hard) years -- and will be able to think about those as he makes his own.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Capitalize on all the Sports...

Lately it seems our TV has been on nonstop sports...Wimbleton, World Cup, Tour de's perfect fodder for motivation for your kids.

How so? Well, my kids have been asking about specific athletes and how they got to where they are. What do I tell them?

To go read their biographies.

And I am pleased to say there are lots of current athlete biographies, too. It lead Ben to want to know more about the Tour de France itself, and France...perfect segway. So he has deepened and widened his understanding.

Think about how many countries your kids could look up when reading about the World Cup...I wish I had read more about countries outside North America. I probably would have been spurred on to actually visit them (now it is a little daunting to travel -- our family takes a whole row on an airplane, so I will need to wait a while to get to those places).

Happy Fourth everyone...maybe take today to read up on our Independence too! :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Excited to Share More for Your Young Reader

My boys sat down during theire reading time, armed with their new books...and ended up surpassing the "time limit" and each finishing their books!!!!

I shared with you the book Ben was reading, but let me tell you about the other two. Matt read the first "Alvin Ho" book, which I believe was a Texas Bluebonnet or Horned Toad Tale in recent years. For those of you out of Texas, those are two "recommended" book lists the kids get at the beginning of the year. Those are intermediate level, and there is a primary equivalent.

He really liked it -- it was a simpler plot based on a character, Alvin, who has a great deal of everyday fears, yet is creative and uses his imagination extensively.

Ben read another book, "Mammoth Academy" by Neal Layton. It is HYSTERICAL. It's about these mammoths who discover "mysterious tracks with only two feet" -- meaning humans. It has a great deal of humor and there are illustrations that will make them giggle too. He flew through it, and as soon as he was done, he asked to go buy the sequel.

In fact, Matt did the same thing. Both authors were smart. At the end of both of the books, there were short excerpts previewing the next book in the enticement of sorts. And it worked.

Ben loved the fact that his book was like his big brother's book -- they both had "previews" at the end.

Oh, and I wanted to tell you that I did "Elephant elephant" with my sons and it WORKED PERFECTLY. I love how it got them to think.

We first read the book and then brainstormed some opposites. Empty/full, open/closed, light/dark...and then each of us chose an object (Sam - dragon, Ben - refrigerator, Me - flower) to illustrate in two of the was great to see their creativity.

Then I wrote a sentence with them (we used Sam's book character): Danny Dragonbreath walked to the store. Then we changed it four ways - mad, happy, raining, hot. It was funny because after we rewrote the sentences, Ben said "Hey mom, we used opposites in our sentences too!" I hadn't planned on that, but it just went that way! Love it when lessons do that!

They were awesome brainstorming together. We talked about how we could hint at the rain without saying it was raining. They said he could carry an umbrella, wear a slicker, and splash through the puddles. I LOVE MY BOYS!!!!! I told them that we were inferring that it was raining, and the reader would have to figure it out, just like we sometimes have to do that in books. They got it. I asked them to watch for times like that in their books and show me next time.

We also killed about an hour playing with words and drawing the pictures...perfect on a rainy day!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Great Books ~ Love the Possibilities!

We did forge the rain soaked streets of Austin to BookPeople yesterday...and came away with a few gems!

First off, Sam selected a book called "Dragonbreath" by Ursula Vernon. It is a combination graphic novel (comic style) and chapter book, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well written it was. It will expose your mid second/third grade reader (or really good first grade reader) to some new and unusual ways of saying things. By that I mean some earlier readers are very simplistic (i.e. Magic Tree House, etc.) and it bores readers. This is interesting, and the character, a dragon, is both humorous and relates to kids. I have enjoyed the first two chapters immensely.

Secondly, I wanted to highlight a book I picked up for myself. It is called "Elephant elephant - A Book of Opposites" by Pittau and Gervais. It is a picture book, and is simply an elephant on each page, drawn differently to illustrate the adjective it has below it. For example, the elephant becomes feathered, and curvy, and furry...short, tall...even solid and liquid. IT IS GENIUS!

Here's how I am going to use it several ways in my classroom. First, I will use it to broaden their exposure and understanding of adjectives. They will create their own "elephant book" using adjectives we brainstorm and find on a "hunt" through our books.

Next I will take it another step. We will write a sentence together - Rachel walked to the store. Then I will have them change the sentence a bunch of ways...make Rachel sad...Rachel slowly made her way to the store, head hung low. Now make the setting rainy -- Clutching her umbrella tightly, Rachel splashed through the puddles on her way to the store. See? It makes them change perspective, and think of ways to describe things differently.


Because kids tend to see things as black and white. I want them to see the possibilities that are out there. It will stretch them in their writing, but it will also make them think "outside the box." That is a good skill to have when you are reading. What could the character do? Why? Why did the author write that sentence that way? What are they trying to convey to me as a reader?

It is amazing how much can come out of a short, what appears as simple, picture book.

Happy Friday - be safe if you are travelling for the Fourth!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Halfway there!

Looking at the calendar...guess what? We have about 5 more weeks ~ well, some of you have more because you got out later...

Now is the time to re-evaluate goals and see what you want to do the next half.

I need to do this with my boys in a big time way. They were great at the beginning, but as the summer has gone on, the time spent with electronics has seemed to sneak in and grow. My inlaws have been here and I have been more lax about the "schedule." I think that is perfectly normal.

Take yesterday. I got home from the gym at 7 ish and Ben was on the couch, Scott in the armchair - both with a stomach bug. Best laid plans go aside...and you do what is necessary. I apologize for not blogging - I probably needed to to clear my own head, but I didn't get to it.

Here's what I am suggesting. Sit down today and think about all you need to get done, and how you can pace yourself. I know that the boys will need dentist and doctor appointments for Fall sports, they need to get backpacks and lunch boxes, and a few new clothes (I love the pants when they are at their ankles). We also had some day trips planned - since we are still learning Austin - and I need to fit those in.

I hate procrastinating - but I do it, and then when I am crunched for time at the end of the summer I wonder why and how I got to this point.

Now that is planning YOU can do...but THEY need to sit down and look at their goals and set a plan for themselves in reading.

Matt needs to finish his last two books. Ben needs to find a new fiction series. Sam needs to read more chapter books, less "one sitting" books. Here's the thing...I am not going to tell them they have to do that. I am going to let them read their goals (since we wrote them at the beginning of the summer) and remind themselves what they need to do. There will be a huge difference in their motivation if it comes from their own words, not you reminding them -- they will take that as nagging, and will drag their heals.

After we sit down and plan, I am going to take them to BookPeople. That way, they will be focused on their goal rather than picking about 10 things they just "want."

And, because it is raining, we are going to come home, turn off the electronics, and read.

On another note, THANK YOU to all of you who have referred my blog to others. I get really excited when people meet me and then talk about how they have heard about me through this arena!