Sunday, August 28, 2011

Keep the Conversation Going

Yesterday my son Ben and I had a conversation that we have had several times already. Ben is not a huge fan of reading right now. When he was little, he loved reading, but as he has gotten older and sports, games, friends, and other things have captured his attention, he's happy to just do what's required in reading for school. And he ONLY wants to read nonfiction.

He is no different than many, many young men in my class. It seems that boys, more than girls, are often wired for nonfiction, and they have difficulty developing stamina with books. I am generalizing - I don't believe readers are any specific "type." I do not like to stereotype because I feel it limits my ability to see THEM where they are and where they can go.

ANYWAY, Ben and I were talking about finding a book for him to start reading this week. I suggested a few fiction books, to which he responded, "I don't see the point - they aren't real."

Perfect opportunity! How would I respond?

I began telling him about how I had read a book, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, with my class. I explained how I had started it on a recommendation from our school librarian. I gave him a basic summary about the book to pique his curiosity (it's about a young girl with Cerebral Palsy and her experiences through middle school). I told him that, because of that book, I had a greater understanding of a person that is extremely different from me. I added that I had a great deal of sympathy for the mom, who worked tirelessly as her daughter's biggest advocate, and that made me appreciate my situation with having four healthy boys.

We went further into discussing how books can open your eyes to situations outside your own "bubble" and make you a better person. 

He stopped a moment. "So I guess I can learn something from fiction," he stated. "Maybe if I gave it a chance and read it like I am learning about someone different from me I will like it better."

Again, this was not the first time I have talked to him about how books affect us...he just got it this time. And that's my point. Sometimes we feel like we talk until we are blue in the face about the same things, and it isn't sinking in. Well, sometimes they aren't sinking in. 

Sometimes it's timing, sometimes it's development, sometimes it's the way we are explaining. Just keep that in mind and keep saying it. 

It'll hit home once, and it'll all be worth it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Enlist a Team

This week my in-laws have been in town helping with my kids as I get through Staff meetings and prepping my room. They have a great time, and I know they are in great hands.

My mother in law was a teacher, so she has the same belief that reading is crucial. She's made sure the boys read every day. And guess what? They didn't fight her about it.

That got me thinking. So often our kids don't want to do the things we ask them to do, but when others ask them, it's no problem.

Brainstorm all the people in your kids' lives: teachers, coaches, relatives, friends...and get them to help encourage reading. A simple statement from them is sometimes all it takes. No elaborate reward system, no huge plan...if they respect that person, they will listen.

Don't try to do it all on your own...we are in this together!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

When the Going GetsTough

I had a little setback today. I had some stitches in my hip a few weeks ago, and today when I was running outdoors (at 5 am i.e. dark) I fell. On my hip. And popped the area again.

Accident. Bump in the road. Literally and figuratively.

All I needed today was to cry, to verbalize my frustration, my situation, my sadness.

I couldn't do anything to make my situation instantly go away. I am going to have to wait, to be patient, to take it step by step.

Those who know me personally know that I exercise - hard - daily. Bar hospitalization, I am moving in the gym or outdoors every morning.

So this is hard for me. It will take discipline to get back allow myself to heal.

How does this relate to our kids and reading?

Sometimes they may just need to cry. To tell you it's hard. To tell you they are sad, and they are frustrated. And you in turn, will have to help them learn to be patient, to take it step by step, and to help them grow.

I know a few months down the road this will be healed and I will look back and see my growth. Tell your child the same. It may not look too different day by day, BUT every day they do get better. Reading does get easier in some way, some how.

But give them those days to cry. They need it.

I also have to thank those who let me cry, verbalize and be sad today. I am glad you are my friends!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Remind Them We Are Nervous Too

In the next few days, your child is going to vacillate between two extremes of emotions - from excited to tenuous.  They will start thinking about the upcoming year and having questions. What will my teacher be like? Will she like me? Who will be in my class? Will they like me?

They will use prior experiences to already predict how their year will be.

Guess what? We don't outgrow those emotions and questions surrounding the first day of school. Teachers (ok I) have those same feelings and thoughts.

Tell them this for me:

Your teacher will absolutely love you. He/She will try and get to know you, challenge you, help you, appreciate you, and won't give up on you. He/She will cry with you when you make yourself vulnerable, wipe your tears, and bear through the tough times. He/She will laugh with you, cheer for your every effort, and brag on your every success. Your teacher will treat you with kindness, compassion, and respect. He/She knows you are coming into a new situation and will try and make you comfortable. Don't take boundaries as a way to keep you from doing things, but rather, a way to steer your energies in a positive direction. He/She will make mistakes from time to time, but be gentle -- it may be hard for them to admit they are wrong. He/She will never stop trying to help you become a better person...and remember that you, as part of their lives, are making them a better person too.

Remind them teachers are people too...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Knowing the Reader

In all my preparations for this coming year, I always keep in mind that, as much as I know what 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders USUALLY read, I don't KNOW my kids this year yet.

I love the first few days of school for that reason. I get to sit with new friends and get to know them. I get to hear what they like, don't like, where they feel they excel and struggle...

and then I go to work finding books that match.

Yes, I probably know more children's books than the average person, but there are tons out there, and I couldn't possibly know them all.

So where do I turn?

Local bookstores have book buyers whose job is to find great books, read them, and review them. I love independent bookstores (sorry Barnes and Noble!) -- they have great selection, and it isn't just the "bestsellers." What's popular isn't the only good thing written out there.

My favorite bookstore (I worked there one summer and never made a penny - my whole paycheck went to buying books) in Pasadena was Vromans. It was awesome walking into the children's section and having ANYONE - they weren't just cashiers - be able to converse and recommend books.

Now I have Austin's own BookPeople - very similar. You walk in there and just want to hang out and read.

But if you don't have those kind of bookstores, Amazon has reviews by readers - that can be very helpful.

Another option - I ask other kids. Many times they have latched onto a series I had yet to discover.

First step - listen to the child - help them discover what they are passionate about (many times they don't know yet). Find out what makes them tick, lose track of time, focus undisturbed.

Then you can take that knowledge and find the books that get them reading.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Cried...Again

Last night I finished The Art of Racing in the Rain. And I bawled.

My kids noticed the tears.

"What mom? Are you ok?" They looked puzzled, until they realized I was holding the Kindle. Then they got it.

"Oh...the book, right?" I nodded, still processing the thoughts and feelings stirred up.

I was able to explain how it was sad, but it ended really positively. I told them there were some deaths in the story, but in each case, it wasn't scary and the characters were at peace about it. I told them I cried BECAUSE of the way it was handled so positively.

Matt asked if he could read it. I explained that there were two versions and I wanted him to read the one written for young readers (it adapts the more "explicit" parts to be age appropriate).

I think about how my kids (and students) get used to mom (Mrs. Forrest) crying at books, or getting angry, or gasping...they get used to emotion. It's a lesson for them, actually. As I have said over and over, letting books affect you -- get under your skin -- that's real reading.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Add technology to the equation

No, not the Kindle or the Nook. I am talking about a blog! By your child, for children.

One of my sons, Sam, is a computer nut with a capital N -- and you could underline, bold, and italicize it.

He's one of those readers who likes to do just what's required, but he will talk a blue streak about it...if it is on the computer. I have had him email me daily with "updates" about his reading. Just to keep him reading, actually.

It's working too. He loves to email all the details. I have started to respond to him with suggestions on how to summarize, questions I may have about the characters, and positive suggestions about how to edit and punctuate his emails to me.

He enjoyed the emailing so much, he's started to include both sets of grandparents, who live in California and Washington. It's nice, because it's actually a way that he is bonding with them individually. Being a child of four isn't always the easiest, especially when it comes to alone time with others.

It may be the incentive they need, and there are lots of benefits!

Friday, August 12, 2011

What I am Going to Miss Most

Ok, besides having a leisurely coffee (my commuter mug is at the ready for Monday) in the morning, I am going to miss having time to read for me.

When school starts up, "me time" goes out the window. Juggling full time work, four boys and their activities, and a husband who travels...well, I am not as apt to pick up a book or the Kindle, obviously.

Don't get me wrong. I do read. A lot. But it is more useful reading -- professional books, newspaper, websites, and of course children's books -- but not novels.

But maybe that's ok. Maybe it makes me appreciate the summers and the opportunity to read for "me" all the more.

Remember, readers go through phases, and have to adjust based on need. Try as I may, it just doesn't work for me to read a novel during the school year. And I am at peace with that. I am not going to beat myself up about it.

Think of your kids too...what is their current phase? Do they have time? Do they have energy? Sometimes there are things we can readjust (TV time) but sometimes there just isn't (three hour football practice + homework + sleep). Find a genre/type of reading that fits the phase.

Maybe you need to meet with the teacher and ask for help - maybe it isn't 20 minutes every night, but a cumulative 80 minutes over the week - which gives some flexibility with a busy schedule.

Sometimes it is just making sure there's a time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

For the Animal Lovers

I am about halfway through a book for all those who love animals, especially dogs. It's called The Art of Racing in the Rain. I am reading the adult release, but there is another version, suitable for younger readers. It does deal with life, love, and death, but through the eyes and mind of Enzo, a dog.

I am really enjoying it, but it's strange for me in that (SPOILER ALERT) one of the main characters deals with a brain tumor, something I have personally experienced and lived through. There were times in the book that my eyes flooded with tears because I COULD RELATE. It was real for me.

Having that common experience will definitely make this book more memorable for me than others. Knowing that, I keep that in mind with my students and my kids. Sometimes relating to book content is validating, captivating, and makes it a better read, however, sometimes it may be too painful, too close for comfort too.

Think about your child's resistance to books carefully. Maybe they don't relate, or maybe they relate too much to read it right now.

I don't think I would have wanted to read this book a few months, or even a few years after my surgery...I needed time for healing. It still touches me and stirs my soul, but I can look at it with the perspective of a memory.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I took note of this comment...

My eldest son is starting middle school this year. This week, he has been attending a three day orientation.

Unlike me, he is not scared (or he's not letting on). He's so excited. Everything is better, brighter, "cooler," and more to his liking. I am so glad.

Today they took a tour of another part of campus. His first comment: "MOM! The library is so awesome! I can't wait!" No mention of the cafeteria, the classrooms...even the locker rooms.

Yes, he's the reader. He's got it in his bones now. He won't shake it...even with the pressures of being a teenager. That comment tells me volumes.

It also reminds me that elementary is CRUCIAL in forming attitudes about reading. Making the library the neatest place on campus...

I have decided to think of some way to celebrate our class Library Day. Each class has a designated time/day to go...we need to make it up there with Field trips. I'll think of something, don't worry. But if you have ideas...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Two Weeks From Tomorrow...

It's back to school for kids in Texas. It's also time to start getting back into the routine, if you haven't already. I told my boys that this is the week we crack down and get our sleep cycles back to normal, start getting all our supplies ready to go, and take screen time from summer mode to school mode.

Matt finished his summer reading list for Middle School, and the twins each finished their latest book...but I am going to start getting them to log their daily reading. They are going to be asked to do it during school, so why not get started?

No, I am not unrealistic...I know all of this is going to be met with resistance -- a lot -- but I know that after the first week, they will know it is expected, and they will get it done.

Step one...make a chart with each of them for the reading. Sit and talk about when and where they will do their reading.

Step two - don't waiver. Make it happen, without yelling. Sit down with them, and make it a fun part of the day, not a task. Mix it up - some independent days, some together days - I am going to have the boys take turns reading to Nick.

Step three - the sleep schedule. This is actually tougher for us. Four boys is like a permanent sleepover. They like to sleep together (despite rooms of their own), thus there is talk. Getting them to quiet down is a feat in itself. That's where the reading is going to help. Having them to read right before bed isn't something I have pushed them to do - Matt and Nick are diehards, but the twins would rather be active right until lights out.

So I have my work cut out for me. I will let you know how it goes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Finished it in One Day

It isn't often that I have a whole day without kids to shuttle, errands to run, work to get done...

But today it was hot, Nick is at preschool, and the boys are playing with friends - I had a day to do whatever I wanted.

I started a book this morning on the bike trainer (love the Kindle for this - sweatproof!) and finished it just now. It's called The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. It was a GREAT read. It's a young adult book - but it tackles one of the most difficult of subjects, the Holocaust.

I was on the edge of my seat. The narrator, Bruno, is a 9 year old. The story unfolds through his naive eyes...that's all I want to say.

I highly recommend it for kids - probably mature Third Grade and up. I know a few kids in my class that would enjoy it.  I will say, however, that an adult will want to discuss it along the way to help them understand the facts behind it, if the reader isn't familiar with what happened.

It's hard to write about it without giving it away. It's a tremendous book about Fences...those real from that horrific time, and those imaginary that continue to this day.

John Boyne has also written another book that I have downloaded already, Noah Barleywater Runs Away.  Guess I will get started right away!

Remember that, once your reader has found a treasure, it will be that much easier to get them into the next. They will ask immediately if the author has written any others...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shopping and Saving

Today I "saved" money when I shopped the shelves of Half Price Books. So happy to get so many titles, and less than full price!

Stocking up and having good books available is one KEY to getting kids to read. Having them organized and attractively put into bins and on shelves is huge in their interest levels.

Just think about yourself when you are looking for a book. In a bookstore, you look for attractive displays, genres grouped together, and recommendations from bookstore workers.

So it is in my classroom. Making them available and enticing...and plentiful!

Thank you, my dear husband, for understanding - remember, I am not a shoe/accessory person...I hate malls - so it's all good!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reading Connects Us to Each Other

This morning I wept as I was reading the Austin Statesman. It was an article about a woman who began a bakery in memorium to her daughter, who had passed away from leukemia at the age of 5 eight years ago. The story was about Paying it Forward, giving rather than receiving...her bakery donates their meals/goods to families who have hospitalized members, and others with needs. She does it because it was her daughters' example - even at the youngest of age, who lived that life, despite her state. She'd give stuffed animals she herself had been given to others who she saw in the hospital who didn't have as much - just to make them smile.

Anyway, that story and another about a running group whose leader (who has won countless marathons) escaped a torturous time in Burundi, Africa and now runs/works to provide clean water for his native country through charity runs got me thinking.

If I hadn't picked up the paper and read it - I WOULDN'T KNOW.

I wouldn't be the same person, affected by other's lives outside of my very, very small daily world.

Reading those made me want to help, to be be aware, to appreciate.

Reading...made me better.

That's what we need to tell our kids. It brings the world to us...connects us - even skype can't do that if we don't know about it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Your Reader and Starting School

The book/gift idea was a hit with my students' parents - I am so excited to see how it goes the first day of school!

I was thinking about the start of school and how kids absolutely BEAM when they come home that first day. They love their teacher, everything is new, the work hasn't set in yet...

it's a great time to have them shed old negative personas and put on new ones. What do I mean? Well, many kids (and adults) have "labels" of themselves as readers - they believe they are a good/bad reader, and that shapes their attitudes every time they pick up a book (or are asked to)

I want kids to come in and feel like THIS IS THE YEAR. Yep, this is the year I believe I am a good reader and I will look at reading time as an opportunity, not a task.

How do we get them there? Focus on the positive. When they cry and whine about having to read at home, praise them for having an opinion, but rather than being negative about reading, let's find a book that enables you to have an opinion of the character and what they are doing.

If you set a timer for five minutes and they only made it one, praise them for the one. "You did it! See, you are a good reader. What was your favorite part in what you read?" Get them to talk, and reset the clock the next time for five, and see if it is even 20 seconds longer.

The other key to the beginning of the year is a new teacher. With every new year, there is hope in each student that they will truly be valued and cherished and this person will help them every step to overcome things that are tough.

I spend a lot of time the first weeks establishing those bonds and making sure that hope grows - one thing I make a point to do the first day of school is to collect a sample of writing from the kids and that night, I read them, taking a highlighter and highlighting my favorite sentence in the piece. I write a post it note explaining why I love that sentence. That's it. No corrections, no other comments. Just a positive. I return them the next day, and guess what? They all want to write the next day, and not only that, but they know their teacher not only believes in, but likes what they do.

Is it hard to find a positive? No, because I am not looking at just the writing, I am looking at an opportunity to compliment the child. Same thing applies to reading. Compliments first...focus on the needs later, after they trust.


Monday, August 1, 2011

A Twist on a New School Supply

A suggestion today...

Why not make a stop at the bookstore while you are out buying school supplies, new tennis shoes, and any other "beginning of the school year" items?

Frame it as yet another essential part of going back to school. Tell them that you know the first days will be full of new and exciting things, and a book will be a great item to take with them.

Or better yet, wrap a book and stick it in their backpacks as a surprise when they get to school...write a note to say you are thinking of them and wanted them to have a book as a way to tell them you are proud of them starting a new grade...that book will be a treasure, and a link to home if they are scared.

I think I may have to email my parents to see if they want to do it! Thoughts?