Saturday, June 27, 2015

When They Say, "Do I Have To?"

Famous words from my 7 year old lately.

Followed up by, "I promise we can do it LATER..."

Yeah, sure. Right after we've spent 2 hours at the pool, played at a friend's, and had countless pick up baseball games in the front yard...and we're exhausted.

Instead of responding with, "No. Right now!" (Which is what I want to say...), I inquire about the main character, and add that I am super curious about what is happening in his/her life.

We are currently reading Magic Bone: Be Careful What You Wish For  by Nancy Krulik. We've enjoyed the first chapter, where, because the dog is the narrator, people are referred to as "two-legs" and vases as "a strange drinking glass that they really don't drink from, but instead put flowers in." We've talked about the humor in how the dog's perspective. He's even entertained ideas on how our own dog must view and refer to things in our house.

He was resistant to any more than ONE chapter. But here's what he doesn't know. I'm fine with the one chapter, but, because of all the discussing and pointing out I am doing along the way, I am getting the mileage in depth while he still thinks we are keeping it "short."

Today, he gave me the "later" line again for Chapter Two, but instead of a power struggle, I opted to say, "Really? I am so curious about Sparky finding the bone today! Remember? Yesterday after he broke the vase, what did his two leg do?" He was drawn into the conversation -- and took the bait. "Oh yeah," he said, "he got kicked out into the yard!"

After a few more minutes of bantering, I grabbed the book and sort of skimmed through the pages..."Here!" I said, "I think it happens!"

In that simple conversation, I connected the prior information (a crucial step for the brain to bring up those neural pathways) and gave a sliver of a preview on today to whet his appetite.

And he slipped into a chair beside me, and we read. Of course he needed a glass of water, and was distracted when his brother walked in the kitchen, but I just attended to the interruptions by saying, "Ok, but man! I can't wait to see when he finds that bone!"

It kept him coming back. Simple redirection, focused on the book. It doesn't work every time, but I will say it works WAY better than a fight or a mandate! And it puts them in the frame of mind that reading should be: a discovery, a journey, an adventure...not a task.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Something to try...

Pick up a children's book, preferably something you'd like your child to read. Read it. Slowly...with your child's eyes. With open eyes. Notice things.

Watch for the way the author structures the story. When and how are characters introduced? Hint: the first two chapters of the book are absolutely essential -- authors reveal very key traits -- oftentimes with what seem like tangental experiences.

Read the sentences, focusing on how the author crafted it. By crafting, I mean laboriously and carefully chose each precise word. To reach you, the reader.

As adult readers, oftentimes we take for granted how our brains can unpack and "get" things we read. We read quickly and smoothly...and it isn't until something really "jumps" at us that we stop and say, "Wow!"

But if you look at how each part is put together, it's pretty amazing.

As you notice and appreciate those things, you can point those out to your kids. It's noticing and savoring the nuances and the beauty of the work that takes it from being simply a story to a work of art.

Even the simplest of books can have profound themes, and we can marvel at how an author works.

Take Piggie and Gerald (Mo Willems) -- the way he designs even the predictable text and ties in the illustrations is BRILLIANT. He gets kids, and he absolutely knows his audience.

Cynthia Rylant's Mr.Putter and Tabby series is another. The humor mixed with the touching themes floors me every time. Even the earliest of readers can be exposed to deeper level thinking, while still reading an "easier" book.

I will warn you. It's addicting. As you begin to examine books and writing, you open up a whole new world for yourself as a reader. You'll do it with everything  you read. And it's amazing.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

There's Definitely Not Just One Way

I talk with parents all the time who ask, "What should I do? I don't know if what I am doing with them as a reader is right." My response: there's no right/wrong...every child's process is unique.

I have the perspective as a teacher to see so many different kinds of readers. Not one strategy fits all. It's a lot of trial and error.

That's definitely helped me as a parent, because all four of my boys are completely different readers as well.

Matt, my oldest, fell in love with reading hard and fast. He's still a great reader, oftentimes re-reading things just because. It's fun to have discussions about literature with a 15 year old! He's one who simply needs good books handed to him.

Ben, my "oldest" twin, is different. He's got the mechanics down: great fluency, accuracy, and comprehension. He enjoys talking about the subject matter of the book...but when it comes to sitting and reading...he's a clock watcher. Does that frustrate me? Yep. But I just keep trying. His personality is one where if effort is involved (baseball is an exception), he doesn't like to have to "practice." He likes things that come easy. So with him, my strategy is to be patient. Keep offering, keep discussing, weaving the books with those subjects into our talks. He's going to be one that is content driven. He'll find a passion someday, and want to devour everything there is to know about it. In the meantime, I am not putting rules on time/amount of books, etc...because I don't want reading to become something he does for me...or becomes a checklist. He's got the skills, he's just got to fall in love. And you don't fall in love with rules.

Sam, his twin, has challenges with stamina and focus. He also struggles with long term retrieval, so comprehension is tough. His brain can become like a messy closet where everything is in there, somewhere, but reaching in there to find what he needs takes time, and oftentime is just plain frustrating. He does love computers, however, and all things electronic. He is a fan of podcasts and the Kindle. With him, I need to do a lot of reading/listening to what he is so we can discuss. I need to work hard on vocabulary with him, and repetition is helpful. For him to organize and remember, I often have to help him connect the new reading he is doing with something he knows already, and have him actually verbally explain the connection. Over time, he's become a better reader. Over a LONG time...and he's much more apt to pick up informational text than anything fiction. Another avenue with him has been movies. If there is a book version, I will have him read the book first before we get to see the movie. Great motivation for him.

And Nick, my little guy, has begun his journey in reading, and been struggling in a different way. He tries to memorize the words rather than use his decoding skills. Well, as books become unpredictable entering 2nd, he's starting to get stuck. Upon further probing and talking with his teacher and our school reading specialists, I was on the money with him not having a firm grasp of the sounds of letters and how they work. Is this because he didn't get taught? NO! He has had wonderful phonics and phonemic awareness taught, but he's wired differently. He needs them taught to him differently. Same skills, different approach. So we have been working with teachers who have been trained to meet his needs -- I am learning some great new strategies to work with him, and therefore, kids who are like him in my classroom!

All this to say, your child is in their own process, and there is no one direction to get them to read. Embrace their different journeys and look for the different windows of opportunity for them to enjoy literature. Be positive, be patient, ask questions -- of them and of others -- in order to get ideas. I also wanted to let you know that I get it. It isn't always easy.

**Side note** I  specifically avoided using diagnosis with Sam and Nick in this post -- even though we have had both tested and they have them -- because they are not their label. My husband and I believe in our kids' potential, and that we should never compartmentalize or limit just because of something diagnosed.  I am not a proponent of just getting kids tested in every situation either. Readers will struggle, and often it just takes time. I saw these two struggling for a long period of the point where they were working so hard but becoming so frustrated with it just not clicking. I didn't want them to hate school.  Having this knowledge of what they struggle with absolutely helps in giving direction on what strategies work for them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Reading List -- Attempt #1

You know how those things you NEED to do often get pushed to the side? Well, a suggested summer reading list is one of those things that I have been meaning to do, but I just can't seem to get done.

For one thing, it's always hard to narrow down a list of books. Writers are coming out with so many great things!

So for today, I am going to list books that I have enjoyed and found connect with kids.

A word of caution: I like books that have depth. Characters who struggle. Situations that often take readers to uncomfortable places. 

Here's why: Life isn't easy.


We spend so much time trying to control our world, make everything fun, pleasurable...easy. Our kids are growing up with so much "fixable" life that they aren't prepared for the inevitable (and might I add the beautiful) part of our world: struggle and pain. I have said this before: books are a SAFE place for them to go. These encounters will offer them a multifaceted experience. I believe it's way better than the "everything comes together in 30 minutes" sitcoms they are watching on TV, not to mention the things they see on the news! They can travel a journey with a character, and learn how that particular human being (or animal in some cases) uses internal and external resources to be resilient, to fail, to grapple, to persevere. 

I loved the movie, "Inside Out." Spoiler alert!

The emotion, Joy, learns that Sadness is a necessity and actually makes room for her. In fact, allowing sadness to exist deepens the person who the main character becomes and creates facets of her that she would never have otherwise developed had struggle/challenge not come up. She would have remained "happy," but undeveloped and childlike.

If we just keep giving kids "happy books," they won't have the richness, and I believe, what draws them to reading: something that makes them think and FEEL.

Back to the list. These may make kids, and you, uncomfortable. Walk through them with the character, knowing that this isn't YOUR reality, but gives you opportunity to have empathy and awareness.

I am not advocating for you to hand your kids books that you think content is inappropriate for know best. Just don't be afraid if their character and things they encounter make them cry, or angry, or spur them on to think. That's investing in their books. They are connecting -- and that's what is going to keep them reading.

A few to start:

The Art of Racing in the Rain - Stein
Saving Lucas Biggs - de los Santos
Stay Where You Are and Then Leave - Boyne
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - Boyne
Reign Rain - Martin
A Crooked Kind of Perfect - Urban
Quinny and Hopper - Schanen
When My Name was Keoko - Park
A Long Walk to Water - Park
Mockingbird - Erskine
Mick Harte was Here - Park
Edward's Eyes - MacLaughlin
Stella By Starlight - Draper
Out of My Mind - Draper
Waiting for the Magic - MacLauglin
Love that Dog - Creech
Out of the Dust - Hesse
Nightingale's Nest - Loftin
Wish Girl - Loftin
Glory Be - Scattergood
Black Radishes - Meyer
A Girl Named Eva - Wolf
Sylvia and Aki
Firegirl  - Abbott
Endangered - Schnefer
How to Steal a Dog - Martin
The One and Only Ivan - Applegate
A Thousand Never- Evers - Shana Burg


That's just a start...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An itch that needed scratching...

A hiatus? Is that what this multiple-year absence of posts was? 

Well, if I am honest, I have been a bit busy with raising my four boys and teaching..and selfish with the free time I manage to find. 

This blog has been here...waiting, patiently, to figure out that I need to be back. I have spent my time doing other wonderful things, but...

I am discovering as I get older, that there are certain things about myself that just ARE. No matter what changes/challenges/experiences come my way, despite desires to learn new things, improve areas of weakness, there is always my passion for reading and writing  The written word, whether my own or others', is intricately woven into my being.

I can't help it -- it's my fun -- it's made me a better person and helped me understand others in a way that my own limited experience cannot.  And I want others to have that too. Authentically to love reading and writing in order to authentically love and understand each other.

Twenty two years ago, when I began teaching, I spent countless hours scouring the Claremont Graduate School's Children's Library for wonderful literature, checking out my 50 book limit every week. I wanted these students, MY students, to have books -- and lots of them. 

But there was a hint of, if I am raw and vulnerable, competition. I wanted to be the best reading teacher -- and the best first year teacher -- in all history. I thought I had it down.

Oh yeah, I have certainly learned that was not, nor ever will be, the case. There are always others who are innovating, discovering, and touching lives in ways I never, ever will. There is no BEST.

That maturity and realization has also brought a comfort, a pleasure, in finding what I bring to teaching in my own unique way. As I have released the need for myself to be the center of attention, characters have stepped up and wormed their way into reader's hearts.

This realization has come hand in hand with learning how to deal with teenagers. 

It's a tenuous line with them. How much to hang on, how much to model, and how much to release. And there's much more releasing -- which is TERRIFYING as a parent. 

But it's a good thing. A necessary part of them becoming who they are truly created to be. They are forging their own lives, connecting with others and operating in the  world in their unique way. 

Often they don't do very well...I cringe and shield my eyes (and heart) when they fail, flail, and use basic survival skills just to keep their heads above proverbial water. Sometimes though, I am humbled by how much better they do things than I would.

So that part is about me in the process of learning to get out of the way...

My boys and my students know, that I am firmly grounded in the belief that we were not put on the earth for ourselves. We were complexly designed to connect, and be in relationship, with others. 

All the brain research I have done recently (one of the many distractions that have kept me from blogging) points directly to this. Scientists and doctors are all abuzz about the mind/body/soul connectivity and how that is what brings wholeness, human to human. They've even allowed talk of spirituality in research data!

I know at this point you are wondering: "Where are you going with this? How in the heck does it all tie together? Maybe you should go back to that I-don't-have-time-to-blog mode...this is way too confusing."

Bottom line. I can't ignore how I am created. I was given a passion in this way -- to connect with others via reading/writing. Not a facebook/instagram/snapchat kind of way, but a deep, reaching connection.

I can show kids how to do it too.

It's actually a venue where I find really wonderful relationships with people. I let down my guard and just am. My eyes light up and my energy soars. I don't care about anything else but connecting with that person, right then. 

When kids read with me, we are in that moment together. When I write in front of them, I put "me" right there, in a vulnerable way, not a "be me" way. They in turn, trust that they can put themselves on paper too. 

And if there is that connection...

there is room for respect and genuine love.

There's no place for distrust, hate, or separation.

It's magic: it's communing, the way we are supposed to be.