Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shared Reading With Your Tiny Reader

In preschool and kindergarten classrooms, "shared reading" is a method that teachers often use to introduce young children to concepts about print and the beginning stages of reading on their own.

Essentially, shared reading is when you and a child (or group of children) read a book together.  The book is read over and over again so that the child becomes so familiar with the how the story goes that she can chime in and "read" along with you. (So make sure to pick really fun books!) Usually we use short, predictable texts so that it's easy for the child to learn how the words go, making it fun and enjoyable to read along with you, matching her voice to each word you point to.

Little L. and I have been doing a lot of shared reading lately, using short, easy, beginner reading books--the kind that you would see in almost any pre-k, kindergarten, or first grade classroom.

We love the Brand New Readers Series. I use these little books often in my work as a literacy consultant, and it's exciting to see how much Little L. loves them!

There are tons of different characters to choose from in this series. Here are a few of our favorite characters from Brand New Readers. There are numerous titles for each character, so you and your child get to read about Monkey, or Mouse, or Worm in many stories, not just one :

Shared reading involves lots of rereading, which is great because it allows you to focus on something different each time you read the book.  Usually the first time through, I read it just like I would read aloud any other book, only I do make sure to point to the words, and I use my voice to make the pattern stand out.

The second time through I continue to point to the words, and I also might let my voice trail off so that Little L. can fill in the missing words. She looks in the picture, and she knows how the pattern goes, so she's able to figure out the words I leave out. Substituting and filling in words that make sense is an important first phase in learning to read! 

I've been keeping L.'s shared reading books in a special bag on her bookshelf next to her bed. We read 2-3 of these before her regular bedtime stories, which are usually longer storybooks or a few chapters from a chapter book. She loves that she gets to have a few extra books before bed, and they're so short that it only extends bedtime by a few minutes. As we reread our books, over time, Little L. chimes in more and more, and eventually she points to the words and "reads" the whole thing herself!

Some parents will ask me, "But aren't they just memorizing it? That's not really reading is it?" Well, yes and no. When your child knows exactly how the book goes, he or she is able to put together many reading skills at once:  using the picture to figure out what's happening on that page, pointing to one word at a time, making sure to say words that match what's happening on the page, turning one page at a time, reading with expression… and much more. All of these skills can come together somewhat easily when your child knows the story, even when they might not be able to practice these skills at all on "cold read." 

For more on shared reading with young kids, I recommend the book Read It Again!: Revisiting Shared Reading by Brenda Parkes.

And if you're more of a researcher type, you should check out Don Holdaway's work (he's known to many as the guru of shared reading). Here's a link to a lovely youtube video that nicely summarizes some of his work.

Happy Shared Reading!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This Is Just To Say: A Story Told Through A Poem by Indigo, the Dog

Each Tuesday my colleagues and I at the blog Two Writing Teachers host a Slice of Life Story event. Teachers, students, and writers from all over the world share a short, focused story from a small moment in their own lives. See more Slices by clicking here.

Little L. and I read this book over and over again.
She decorated this gingerbread house all by herself.
"Nobody is allowed to touch this. Not even you, mommy."

This is Just to Say
a poem by Indigo, the dog

I have eaten
the gumdrops
that were decorating
the gingerbread house

and which
you were probably
so proud of
having done it all by yourself

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so delicate

Guilty doggy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Little L. waits by the window for her cousin, Little J., to arrive.

Little L. had her seat pulled right up next to the window so that she could wait and watch for her cousin, Little J. to arrive. As soon as their car pulled into our driveway she jumped out of her chair shouting, “He’s here! He’s here! He’s here!” She ran around in little circles of excitement.

Little J., and his dad, Uncle J. walked in the front door, said hello, and Little L. promptly whisked her older cousin downstairs to our playroom, where all the toys are. I followed them downstairs to get them set up, and a few minutes later the dads joined me as well.

The two cousins couldn’t be better playmates. Little L. (who is four) usually just does whatever her older cousin (who is five) wants to do. She followed Little J. as he went from toy to toy, trying to decide what to do first. “Do you want to play grocery store again?” Little L. asks. Her little voice is so sweet—all three adults look at each other acknowledging the cuteness of the moment. “No thanks,” says Little J.

A few minutes later, Little J. still can’t decide what to play with, so we all go upstairs to the living room, where we keep the Legos and the board games. Little J. loves board games. Little L. loves Legos.

Little J. goes straight to the cupboard where we keep the board games, while Little L. drags out the big plastic storage container of Legos. The Legos are heavy for her, but she manages alright. She’s so occupied with dragging the Legos across the room that she barely notices that Little J. and Uncle J. have already started to play Dino Bump—a favorite board game in our house.

Little L. sees what they’re doing and suddenly melts down. “Hey, I wanted to play that!” she shouts.

Whoa. Where did the sweet little friend from two minutes ago disappear to? I think to myself.

“Mommy! J. has my Dino Bump and I wanted to play with that! He can’t play with it! I want to!”

I respond calmly. Usually L.'s outbursts pass as quickly as they come. “L., when we have friends over they can play with all of our toys.When you go to J.’s house you get to play with all of his toys, too, right?”
This wasn’t helping. Little L. went from Level 1 or 2 meltdown to a 5 or 6. Now she was shouting and crying, demanding the Dino Bump game in the bossiest sounding four year old voice possible. I wound up taking her into the other room to try and have a “cool down” with her. We don’t really do timeouts in our house, but we do remove L. from the situation when she has a tantrum, to let her blow of some steam. Usually she starts to come back to life as soon as we’re in a different room—but this time she wasn’t giving up. Her shouting just got louder and more angry. I had a feeling that if I could leave her on her own for a few minutes she might calm down, but each time I got up to move away, she grabbed on to me. “Don’t leave me Mommy!” Me, nine months pregnant and counting, unable to pick her up, with back pain making it so I was barely able to sit down next to her—I was at my wit’s end. Let’s just say it wasn’t my best parenting moment. Eventually Dad B. swooped in (thank goodness), picked her up, carried her up to her bedroom, and waited with her while she cooled off for a minute.  It was Little J. who went upstairs a few minutes later to her bedroom to invite her to come join us—and she did.


Fifteen or twenty minutes later, Little L. and Little J. were playing happily in the playroom downstairs.  They pulled out all the dress-up clothes and got busy pretending. L. dressed up as “Clara from the Nutcracker” which was really a dress, fairy wings, a crown, and a veil. Little J. was dressed as  dragon – he wore the head from L.’s dragon Halloween costume, polka-dot velvet gloves, more fairy wings, and a scarf. They had been play-acting for a stretch while Dad B. and I were upstairs getting dinner ready. As we were chopping carrots and onions, we heard the sounds of giggling, and roaring, and storytelling.  We also heard music from the playroom drift up to the kitchen. I had put on a CD of kids music earlier.

You can’t always get what you wa-nt.
You can’t always get what you wa-nt

L. and J. were singing along to it. Ha. Of course they would sing along to this song of all songs! The cutest thing you have ever heard in your life is a four year old and her five year old cousin singing along to a kid-version of the Rolling Stones classic (The Randy Kaplan version, if you must know). Us grown-ups froze in our spots and listened to the two kiddos singing at the top of their lungs.

You can’t always get what you wa-nt.
But if you try sometime
You just might find
You get what you need.

Each Tuesday my colleagues and I at the blog Two Writing Teachers host a Slice of Life Story event. Teachers, students, and writers from all over the world share a short, focused story from a small moment in their own lives. See more Slices by clicking here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Little L. Reads Her First Books!

Check it out! Little L. read to us at bedtime tonight! Notice how she's using the picture to help her figure out what each page says, pointing under the words, and doing lots of stopping and thinking along the way. Our little reader!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wait and See

Each Tuesday my colleagues and I at the blog Two Writing Teachers host a Slice of Life Story event. Teachers, students, and writers from all over the world share a short, focused story from a small moment in their own lives. See more Slices by clicking here.

Little L. and I were sitting at the kitchen table.

"I'm hun--gry," she whined.

"Dinner's coming!" B. called from the stove. 

This was our nightly routine now. Me, too pregnant to move, in charge of keeping L. relatively entertained while B. cooked dinner. 

L. and B. continued back and forth, but I didn't hear what they were saying. The baby did a gigantic flip-flop in my stomach. Weird. Amazing. Mostly weird though. My thoughts were interrupted by L. poking my shoulder. "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"

"L., your baby brother is moving, do you want to feel?" L.'s face lit up. She hadn't felt him move yet. Every time she tried, he would just hold still.

L. put her tiny hands on my belly and stared intensely at my tummy. "Move baby!" she commanded. He didn't move. L. moved her hands around a little, sliding them back and forth. "Come on, baby brother," she said sweetly. 

We waited for a long quiet pause. Then, suddenly, he did another big flip-flop.

"Ack!" Little L. looked horrified. Her eyes were as big as saucers. "He moved!" She looked as though she'd seen a ghost. "I could see it! That was disgusting!"

I laughed. I knew what she meant. Seeing a little bump reaching through my own stomach was definitely disturbing. You spend your whole life seeing just a regular stomach there, nothing moving inside. It's just not what you expect to see.

But then I couldn't help thinking, I hope this isn't a sign of what's to come. She's so excited about having a baby brother right now. What if he finally arrives, and she's like, "Ack! That's disgusting!"

Well... we'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


In case you didn't know, there is this thing going on on twitter, where people are making New Year's Resolutions now. Friends and followers of the Nerdy Book Club are posting their #nerdlutions (everything to do with the Nerdy Book Club has the word nerd in it), and are cheering each other on.

I first noticed the #nerdlution hashtag as I was organizing clothes in our soon-to-be son's future nursery. First my friend Chris was in on it, then my friend Kristi made a graphic for it, then I saw more friends--Jen, Kate and Maggie, and more... Before I knew it, #nerdlution was all over my twitter feed. I couldn't look at twitter without seeing a host of friends and colleagues committing to all kinds of resolutions--running, yoga, reading, writing--all things that I would like to commit to as well.

However, my due date is December 21 (we're expecting a baby boy). I have a four year old daughter. The holiday season has just begun. I've been sick. I have all kinds of excuses.

Can I really make a #nerdlution and stick to it for FIFTY days?

Let's find out.

So here are my #nerdlutions, and nerdy they are!

1. Keep blogging even after the baby comes.
2. Read every night before bed.
3. Drink more water and get more sleep (I know these are boring, but necessary. I am constantly dehydrated and I'm suffering from pregnancy-induced insomnia. It's really bad.)
4. Do Lumosity every day. My brain needs a workout.

Here's to the new year! Happy #nerdlutions everybody!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Nutcracker

Each Tuesday my colleagues and I at the blog Two Writing Teachers host a Slice of Life Story event. Teachers, students, and writers from all over the world share a short, focused story from a small moment in their own lives--a Slice of Life Story. See more Slices by clicking here.

When I was a little girl, my Grandma Beazie (my great-grandmother), used to take me to see The Nutcracker every year at our local theater, the Flynn Theater in Burlington, VT. We would walk down Church Street, where all the shops had their holiday window displays set up, stop for hot chocolate, and go see our show together. Some years, I would spend the night at her house afterward. If I close my eyes, I can still picture her living room with the pull out couch, with my playbill and souvenirs spread out on top of the blankets.

This Saturday, I'm taking Little L. to see The Nutcracker for her first time. She's only four years old, so I'm not sure if she'll last through the entire performance…we'll see. I have a feeling she'll love the dancing. Despite my own reservations about princesses and ballerinas, L. has been really into these two books lately:

How to be a Ballerina by Harriet Castor and illustrated Holley Clifton-Brown is filled with flaps and moveable, interactive parts that kids love to play with, and the illustrations are filled with tiny little details. It's the kind of book where you notice something new in the pictures every time you read it.  My First Ballet Class by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (author of Biscuit, My First Soccer Game and other faves) and illustrated by Leyah Jensen is a really a well written, step by step, how-to book. L. likes to act out the ballet steps along with the book because the directions are so clear and engaging.

I wanted to help L. understand the story, so she wouldn't be totally confused by the ballet, so two nights ago, we read a picture book version of The Nutcracker at bedtime. There are about a zillion different versions of The Nutcracker, I learned. This one is a very simple version, with just a few lines per page but still beautiful.

Little L.'s eyes were wide as we read the part about the Mouse King, with his seven heads. She clung to my arm tightly all through the battle scene, where the Nutcracker and the Soldiers fought bravely against the Mouse King and his army of mice, and she gasped when the Nutcracker fell.

"What's going to happen?" she asked worriedly.

"Don't worry, let's keep reading and find out." 

As we read the next part, where Maria (in this version, the main character is named Maria instead of Clara) takes off one of her slippers and tosses it at the Mouse King. He hisses and falls into a limp pile, destroyed by Maria's slipper. Little L. excitedly started to chatter. "She…she… she SAVED him!" L. shouted triumphantly.

"She sure did. She's brave," I said.  I read on, trying to emphasize how brave Maria is. For the rest of the book, I sort of glossed over the parts where she and the prince get engaged and then married and the typical, fairy-tale sort of ending that reinforces the expectation that women need to be married in order to be happy (my thoughts on princess-culture and fairytales can be saved for another post).

"What do you think, are you ready to see the dancers bring this story to life on a stage?" I asked L.

L. stared back at me blankly. "Huh? This is REAL?"

"It's a pretend story, but on Saturday we're going to the theater to see dancers act out all the parts of the story on a stage."

I could tell she was still confused.

So, tonight we watched a few scenes from the 1986 movie version of The Nutcracker, the one that Maurice Sendak helped to write and design.

To be perfectly honest, I found it a little creepy, but Little L. LOVED it. We only watched the first ten minutes of it, but she was on the edge of her seat the entire time. 

"Now, are you ready to go see the dancers in real life on Saturday?" I asked her.

"Can we go now?!" was her answer.

"Pretty soon, L. Pretty soon."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sing Your Thanks: Songs and Verses for Thanksgiving

When visiting my daughter's preschool for their Thanksgiving celebration, I was inspired to round up some songs for the season. Enjoy!

Giving Thanks
First we give thanks for the food that we've been given (hold one hand like a bowl and the other like a spoon; pretend to eat)
Then we give thanks for the houses that we live in. (Put hands, fingertips together, over head to represent a house)
And we give thanks for the sun that shines above (Point with finger to sky and look up)
But mostly we give thanks for the people that we love. (Cross hands on chest and rock back and forth slightly as if you are giving/receiving a hug.)

* Sung to the tune of Itsy Bitsy Spider)

The Earth Is Good To Me

Oh, the earth is good to me,
And so I thank the Earth,
For giving me the things I need
Like the sun and the rain and the apple seed,
The Earth is good to me.

For every seed I sow,
Their grows another tree,
And soon there’ll be apples there
For everyone in the world to share
The Earth is good to me
Earth who gives to us this food
Sun that makes it ripe and good
Dear Earth, Dear Sun, by you we live
To you our loving thanks we give.

For the food before us,
For the friends beside us,
For the love that surrounds us,
We are truly grateful.

This food is a gift from the earth, the sun, the rain, the
whole universe
It comes to us through the hard work of many people
May we live in such a way as to be worthy of it
May it give us energy to do the work of love

From you I receive, to you I give
Together we share, and from this we live

Nature's Thanks

The eagle give thanks for the mountains
The fish give thanks for the sea.
We give thanks for the goodness
And for what we're about to receive.

(arms like wings, then become mountain peaks)
(hands together like swimming fish, then wave motion)
(arms raised in front like receiving something being passed down from a height)
(arms lowering, hands like they are holding something)

* spoken

Things I'm Thankful For

There are many things I am thankful for
I can find them near and far
There are many things I am thankful for
Let me tell you what they are

I'm thankful for the earth
I'm thankful for the sea
I'm thankful for my friends
And I'm thankful to be me.

There are many things I am thankful for
I can find them near and far
There are many things I am thankful for
Let me tell you what they are

I'm thankful for the sun
I'm thankful for each tree
I'm thankful for my home
And I'm thankful to be me

There are many things I am thankful for
I can find them near and far
There are many things I am thankful for
Let me tell you what they are

I'm thankful for my food
I'm thankful to be free
I'm thankful for the stars
And I'm thankful to be me
* Song by Hap Palmer, from the album Holiday Magic

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mom's Best Friend

Each Tuesday my colleagues and I at the blog Two Writing Teachers host a Slice of Life Story event. Teachers, students, and writers from all over the world share a short, focused story from a small moment in their own lives--a Slice of Life Story. See more Slices by clicking here.

The alarm goes off. It's early. The sun isn't quite up yet. My eyes are blurry. My head hurts. My hips hurt. My back hurts. My feet are swollen. I feel slightly sick to my stomach. Only four more weeks to our due date.

My hand touches something fuzzy and warm next to me in the bed. Indigo! He's got his furry little head resting on my belly, using it as a pillow--so cute! I wonder if he can feel the baby moving around in there. How did I not notice him sleeping on me? He's warm and soft, and suddenly I don't feel so sick anymore.

I pause for a minute to give Indigo some pats and some love, and then I gently slide him over to the side so I can get up and start the day. He lifts his head for a moment and gives me a look that says, "Hey, I'm snuggling here!" (I've always imagined that Indigo has a Brooklyn accent) and then he flops back down with a giant doggy sigh and goes back to sleep.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Book, Authored by Little L.

Here's Little L.'s latest book! She drew it and told it all by herself! The captions are her words exactly. Enjoy!

By Lily, [Book] 1
"The title is Color."

Page left: "First the little girl and her daddy woke up."
Page right: "And then they played outside in the SUNSHINE!"

"And they played outside, and then they went to sleep, and then it was night time."

"And then the next morning, it was thundering and lightening and rainy. The little girl and her daddy waited for the storm to pass."

Page left: "It's sunny and then the little girl and her daddy go out to play. But before they knew it, a storm was coming. They heard the thunder off in the distance."
Page right: "Then they hurried inside."

"And now for the final page. It's sunny again through all those storms. The sun was shining brighter than they had ever seen in their house. And they lived happily ever after."


And here's how she did it:

1. I stapled together pages of white printer paper, and asked L., "Would you like to make a book?" I said this with lots of enthusiasm, like an invitation to do something really, really special.

2. I pointed to the first page and said, "What happens first?" She told me the story aloud first, and then I said, "Great story! Draw it!" and she went to town.

3. As soon as she had drawn everything that she wanted for the first pages of her story, I turned the page and said, "What happens next?" She told me, and then again I said, "Wow! Draw it so we don't forget it!"

4. I continued this way, nudging her to turn the page before putting the whole story on one page, and asking her to tell the story aloud before drawing. As we neared the final page of the book, she started planning out how the story would end. As she drew the last few pages she told the story aloud several different ways, finally deciding on the beautiful ending that you see in her book.

Some tips:
1. Encourage your children do their own work all by themselves, with minimal intervention from you. For example, when L. first got started she turned to me and said, "I don't know how to draw a house. Draw it for me." I said, "Well, think about the shape of a house. It's kind of like a square." On a separate piece of paper I drew a very simple square shaped house. L. looked at it, and said, "I'm just going to do it this way." And she drew a circle around the little girl and her daddy to represent their house.

2. Be proud of whatever stage your child is at.  When L. was still in the scribbling stage (which she still enjoys quite a bit), I would still say, "Wow, tell me about this!" or "What's happening on this page?" To her, those little squiggly lines held meaning.

3. Resist spelling words for your child, and especially resist writing on her paper. As soon as your child sees you writing on her paper, a little switch goes off in her mind. She thinks to herself, "Aha! All I have to do is get a grown up to do it for me!" To foster independence and a sense of ownership, try to be very consistent about not writing on your child's work.  (The one exception might be if, from the start, you say, "Let's make something TOGETHER." so that it's clear that it's yours as much as your child's work).

4. Take a dictation of your child's writing word-for-word on separate paper or post-its. Don't change a thing! Even if your child is stringing together words with strange sentence grammar, or if it doesn't make that much sense to you. Think of it like a photograph--You'll want to remember this stage later!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ideas on Being a Working Mom

This morning I worked with a group of teachers who are getting ready to teach a personal essay unit of study to their fourth graders. We were writing our own essays in preparation--what better way to prepare, than to go ahead and try it out for yourself.

As I was working, all I could think about was the fact that I couldn't go with Little L. to her four-year well visit at the doctor's today. I knew she was going to get a bunch of shots, and I worried about her all morning long. Knowing that my husband, B. has an irrational fear of needles didn't help!

So when I started to give examples for my own essay, I ditched my original safe plan. I've gotten in the habit of using the same old examples over and over. Usually I do, "Dogs make the best pets,"  or "Sometimes being alone is a good thing." But today, I ditched my usual examples and went with what was really on my mind.

Here are my "boxes and bullets" (thesis statement and supports) from my own essay that I used as a demonstration text for the teachers I was working with:

It's hard to be a working mom.

  • It's hard to be a working mom because sometimes you have to miss out on important things at home.
  • It's hard to be a working mom because you sometimes you have to miss out on important things at work.
  • It's hard to be a working mom because you constantly wonder if you are doing the right thing.
When I shared my example with the group, I started to feel a little uncomfortable. The whole working mom thing is such a hot-button topic lately in magazines and on social media. It felt very negative.  Nobody said anything or questioned my opinion, but I kept thinking and thinking about it all day long.  Then I realized why my essay plan was on my mind. I actually love my job… LOVE it… and it was bugging me that my plan for my essay didn't account for this. Yes, being a working mom is hard, incredibly hard, for all the above reasons and more, but there's more to it than that.

So, I'm revising my essay now, to redeem myself for earlier:

It's important for me to be a working mom.
  • It's important for me to be a working mom because I love my work and it helps lots of people.
  • It's important for me to be a working mom because, let's face it, we have bills to pay.
  • It's important for me to be a working mom because it's setting an example for my daughter.
In fact, right now, as she sleeps, I'm working… and I'm okay with that. In fact, I'm better than okay with it.

I hope that lots of kids have a similar experience as a result of the personal essay unit. I hope that they too start out thinking about their own lives in one way, and then have that moment like I did. A moment when they say, "Hey, wait a second…" and they too are able to see their own issues or ideas in a new way.

Choosing a thesis statement that was close to my heart helped me think deeply about an issue in my life that eats away at me every day, and helped me make sense of it in a way that I would not have otherwise. I've always believed that we learn alongside our students, especially when we practice our own writing. But to get the most out of it, we've got to be willing to think deeply about our own lives and to tackle questions and ideas that aren't so easy to figure out. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Slice of Life Story Challenge

Getting Little L. to School

Little L. just turned four and getting her ready for school each morning is NOT easy.

This morning went something like this:

5:45am "Mommy! I need to be with you!" Little L. shouts in my ear as she climbs into bed on top of me.

6:00am "Mommy! Why aren't you awake yet! I need to be with you!" I roll over, groan. "I'm getting up," I say. I'm not, really. But maybe if I tell her I am she'll be peaceful for a few more minutes.

6:10am "Mommmm--yyyyy! I'm hungry! Wake up! I need you!" This time I roll out of bed, slowly. Very slowly.

We head downstairs to the kitchen. "What would you like for breakfast?" I ask.
"Toast with butter...AND peanut butter," is L.'s response.
"You get that from your daddy," I say. She does. B. loves butter and peanut butter combined.
"Come sit right next to me," demands L. as she pulls my chair right next to hers so that they're touching.

6:30am We go back upstairs to L.'s room to get dressed, brush teeth, battle to brush L.'s hair (resulting in only sort-of brushed hair).

7:15 Yes, it really does take us forty-five minutes to get our child dressed in the morning. Don't judge. Finally, we put on shoes and coats and backpacks and climb in the car.

7:30 In the car, L. tells me she doesn't want to go to school. She wants to stay home. She wants to be with Mommy. She wants to be with Daddy. She wants to play. The more she says, the more my heart sinks. I desperately want my little girl to love school. I desperately don't want to feel guilty about going to work, but I do. By the time we're at school I have a headache.

8:00 We arrive at school. Amazingly, L. skips down the sidewalk to the front door, holding my hand and chirping away happily about nothing in particular. She hops up the steps to her classroom, and... most amazingly she hangs up her coat, switches into her 'inside shoes' and puts her lunchbox away all by herself. 

8:05 "Bye Mommy!" L. wraps her arms around me and gives me a goodbye squeeze, and amazingly, miraculously, skips off happily into her classroom without a single tear, not even a peep or a whimper. I sigh a huge sigh of relief as I head out the door to start my day.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

It's Little L.'s second year at her preschool, and she's lucky to have a handful of the same friends from last year in her class again this year. I am so excited and proud to see her really come out of her shell at school, playing and laughing and telling me all about her friends when she comes home.

But... there is just one thing.

L. doesn't really want to play with the new kids. In fact, sometimes, she can even be a little bit mean to them. Especially during "outdoor time" (that's what they call it at her school) on the playground.


So we've been having many, many, many discussions at home about being kind, making new friends, and thinking about how others might feel. And of course, we've been reading lots of books to help Little L. understand how her words and actions can hurt -- or help -- others.

Here are a two of the many wonderful stories that are really helping L. make sense of what's going on during outdoor time. Thankfully, her teachers have been telling us that she's already thinking more about others, and now will even remind other kids to be a good friend.

The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

This book, The Recess Queen,  really hit home. At four years old, Little. L. can totally relate to both "Mean Jean" and Katie Sue and the other kids in the story. We've read and reread this book many times on L.'s request. She's really into it.  Here are some of the ways we've talked about this book:

We try to put ourselves in the character's shoes. I asked L. one night, "Why do you think Jean might act so mean?""Maybe she doesn't know how to make friends yet," L. said. "Maybe she doesn't know that the other kids are sad."

We think about all of the characters, not just the main character. We talk a lot about how the other kids in the story feel, but we also talk about what they might have done differently. "It says nobody ever dared played with Jean. What do you think about that?" I asked L. and she said, "The other kids could be like Katie Sue and ask her to play--then she might not be so mean."

We talk about different ways to figure out how characters in books, and people in real life, are feeling. I asked L., "It seems like Mean Jean doesn't know that the other kids are sad. How would she know that she's making them feel bad?" L. responded, "She should look at their faces," or "Maybe she should ask them 'How are you feeling?'" 

The big thing we talk about is that it's important to try to think about how other people feel. Look at their faces, ask them questions, talk to them, invite them to play.

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow

Little L. relates to this book this just as much as The Recess Queen. We've probably read it ten or twenty times in the past week!

We use what we learned about one character to help us figure out another similar character. In this book, Ronald Durgin reminds L. of Mean Jean from The Recess Queen and we talk a lot about how they are similar and different. Especially we talk about why Ronald might act the way he does, and how maybe he feels a lot like Jean who nobody ever plays with.

We talk about how the character's actions are similar to real life experiences.  Ronald calls Molly Lou Melon a name, making this book the perfect spring board for talking about a name calling episode L. experienced at school. "What could Ronald have done differently?" "How do you think Molly Lou Melon feels when he says that?" leads right into, "How do you think Little E. felt when you called her a name?" "What could you have done differently?"

We talk about how characters change across the story, and what they might have learned along the way. Along the way in this book, the author repeats the line "and he felt very foolish..." L. asked about this one night. "What's foolish?" she asked. "It means he knows he did something wrong," was my response. "So why does he keep being mean to Molly Lou Melon?" L. asked. I had to think about it for a second. "Why do you think?" I asked L. She stopped to think about it too. "Maybe..." I said finally, actually having to really, truly, think about it, "...maybe, it takes some people lots of times to really learn something." Then on each subsequent page we stopped and talked, "Did he learn a lesson yet?" "Nope, not yet..." Next page. "Did he learn anything yet..." Nope, not yet. Then on the last page, it's so clear... Ronald finally learns how to be a friend, and isn't so foolish anymore.

We talk about why characters react the way they do.  In this book Molly Lou Melon always reacts very positively even when Ronald is being extremely mean to her. We talk a lot about why she's able to do that. "Some kids would be really sad if someone was mean to them. Why do you think Molly Lou Melon is still so happy and cheerful?" Little L. has to think about this, every time, even though we've had the same talk lots of time. But she always comes up with something along the lines of, "Because her grandma told her to stand tall."

With this book we talk a lot about how even though Ronald starts out as a bully, he's able to change, and if he can change, then anybody can. And thank goodness for grandmas!

Has your child ever had trouble on the playground? What books do you recommend? Leave a comment and share the love!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Slice of Life Story Challenge

Little L.'s preschool class was sitting in a circle on the rug in the center of their cheerful classroom. A special candle had been placed at the center. Ms. C. introduced me, saying, "Everybody, this is L.'s mom, she's come to visit for L.'s birthday."

After some ooh's and ah's, and after a few kids called out, "I know her!" things settled down, and Ms. C. handed Little L. a small round globe. "L., will you hold on the to world, and walk carefully in a circle around the candle, the sun, while we sing the special birthday song?" Little L. stood up, holding the world in her hands and stood near the "sun" and waited.

To the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell," the class sang.

The Earth goes round the sun,

The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun.

While they sang. L. walked slowly, slowly, around the "sun," holding the Earth in her hands. I watched her, proud of how careful and sweet she was. (She would have NEVER followed directions so well at home.)

When the song came to a stop, Ms. C. said to the class, "Now L. is one year old. What was L. like when she was just one year old, mom?" That was my cue to share one of the photos I had been asked to bring. "Here she is!" I said,  "This is when we still lived in Brooklyn, before we lived in Vermont." The picture was very cute. She was such a cute baby, really. Some giggles from the kids... and then we sang again.

The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun.

After a brief moment of thoughtful silence, Ms. C. said, "The Earth has gone all the way around the sun twice now. Now L. is two years old! Mom, can you tell us what L. was like when she was two?" I held up the photo of L. with the NewYork City skyline in the background. "This was the last summer we spent in Brooklyn, right before we moved here. L. was still just two when she started at your school last year. This picture was right before school started!" I thought to myself, I cannot believe it has already been a year since we moved. I can't believe how tiny she was when she first started school!

The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun.

L.'s teacher now said, "The Earth has made the long trip all the way around the sun three whole times since L. was born. Now she is three years old. What was L. like when she was three?"

I paused for a moment. My little girl isn't three anymore. It was as if it were really sinking in.  Finally I said, "Well, in this photo, here she is learning to ski. Do you think we're still in New York City?"

"Nooo!" shouted the class.

"You are right!" I said brightly, shaking off a little bit of nostalgia. "When L. was three we lived in Vermont."

Phew. I made it through the tough part. No tears.

The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun.

The children stopped singing, and L.'s teacher said, "Now the Earth has traveled all the way around the sun four times since L. was born. L. is four years old now! What a big kid! Mom, do you want to share anything about L. now that she is four?"

And then, what do you know? All of a sudden I was holding back, fighting tears! I couldn't believe my baby girl was already not just three, but four years old! I coughed, pretended like my throat was just dry. After an  uncomfortable pause I finally held up the fourth photo. It made me smile. My little girl in her dragon costume that she had chosen for Halloween. "Here she is!" I held it up and the kids gave me the reaction I knew I would get. "Wow! Cool! I love dragons! Is that her Halloween costume?" I smiled. "Yup, L. is four now and just the other day we tried on Halloween costumes. She tried on a fairy, a princess, and a dragon. And what do you think she chose?"

"Dragon!" the kiddos shouted. L. smiled a big huge smile, and hugged the Earth she was holding in her hands. "I love dragons," she chimed in.

The rest of the afternoon in Little L.'s classroom passed in a blur. I was still thinking about how quickly four years had gone by and how L. had grown from a tiny little thing--to this bold, strong little person. A kid who goes to school, and has her own friends, and is getting bigger and smarter and more and more herself everyday. And yes, a kid who chooses to be a dragon for Halloween.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Long Time, No See!

Hello Readers!

So, it's been a looooong time since my last post. Almost two years! In that time, my family and I have moved multiple times. First we packed up our Brooklyn apartment and headed home to Vermont, where my husband and I grew up. We spent a few months hopping from one family home to another while we searched for a house to buy, and then finally... finally... finally... moved into our house that we live in now.

That was about a year ago.

Also, while all that was happening, I coauthored a book! Check it out! This book, titled How-To Books: Writing to Teach Others is part of a series of books titled Units of Study for Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing. My coauthors, Lucy Calkins and Laurie Pessah are two of the most incredible teachers and mentors a person could ask for. If you teach grades K-8, check out our stuff!

Also, while all that was happening, my husband started his own business, Little L started preschool, and I continued to travel all over the country doing consulting for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. 

And, we're expecting another baby to arrive in December of this year! Hooray!

So, it's been a busy two years. But, things are starting to settle down (for now, anyway), so you can find me blogging about our littlest readers here, and you can also find me blogging about teaching with an amazing team of writers over at Two Writing Teachers.