Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 31 SoL Story Challenge: A Look Back

It's been a very busy month around here. A new baby. A four year old. Going back to work.

Blogging every single night for a month was a pretty big goal for me. Honestly, I didn't think I could do it. I figured I'd give it a try, and probably after a week or so of posting every night, I'd use the "just had a baby" excuse (it's legit!) to justify writing less often.

But then week one flew by. Little L was thrilled to be helping me out with a project, and she was handing me stories left and right.

Then came week two. By then we were on a roll, and though it was tricky to find time to write, I didn't want to break the streak.

Now, week three was probably the most challenging. The initial excitement had worn off. Little L was starting to think of storytelling as a chore rather than a fun project, and we both were running out of steam.

Then without even realizing it, week four was here and we were nearly finished. Then, we were.

Here are some highlights from my month of storytelling with the best coauthor I've ever had, my daughter:

1. Near the beginning of the challenge, I learned an important lesson about storytelling with little kids, when I asked Little L to tell me about her school day, in this post titled "How Was School Today?" I learned to let L tell the stories she wanted to tell, instead of trying to push her to tell the stories I wanted to hear.

2. Not long after that, L surprised me when she created "The Hello Box Poem." I knew that she loved to sing and loved poems, but I had never actually asked her to make a poem. Turns out, she could make a poem up just as easily as making a story up. Reflecting on it now, I realize that I supposed that poems would be harder than stories somehow. But now I see that for a little kid, both are playful and creative. There's no reason to think a poem would be any harder to make than a story, (especially if you've been immersed in both since birth like Little L). Lesson learned: just because it's hard for some grown-ups, doesn't mean it's hard for little kids.

3. In the middle of the month, just when we were starting to run out of ideas, the Lego Movie sparked L to make her own Lego movie, captured in this post, "Little L Makes Her Own Lego Movie." Using drama to tell stories was so much fun, that a few days later, we attempted a puppet show. "A Failed Attempt at A Puppet Show." Telling stories with puppets and Legos as props brought me back to my own childhood and reminded me how much I used to love to make up scripts and plays. I realized that Little L had never actually played with her puppets until that post, and that we could be having so much fun making our own movies and shows more often.

4. And the most popular post this month, was "Why We Don't Write On Kids Work," in which I explain, well, why I don't write on children's work. What I learned from writing this post was that I could be sharing more about my convictions as a teacher. 

I also want to say thank you to my coauthors on Two Writing Teachers. Stacey, Tara, Betsy, Dana, and Anna.  You are all amazing to work with and I feel so lucky to be a part of such a smart team of writers and teachers and moms.  The behind-the-scenes work that went into this month's challenge was incredible (and I'm not bragging, because I didn't do any of it -- I was on maternity leave). This was my first year participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge and I am blown away by what a moving experience it's been. I've grown as a writer. Writing every day has been a gift to myself, and to my daughter.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Day 30 SoL Story Challenge: Oral Storytelling and Revision

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For the past week or so, Little L has figured out that I cannot resist letting her stay up a few extra minutes to record a story before bedtime. It's becoming a new bedtime routine! (Not sure yet if it's one I really want to keep… we'll see…)

L surprised me tonight. For weeks her stories have revolved around chipmunks, squirrels, bunnies, and other woodland critters in different fantastical, magical settings and situations. Tonight she told a much more realistic story, with dogs as the main characters, a throwback to her her "younger" days. (I know, she's four, how much younger can you really get! But the three year old Little L used to exclusively tell stories about our dog and dogs in general).

Doggy Runs Away

Once upon a time there was a little puppy and its mother was a golden retriever, and it was a polka dot… it was a silver polka dotted golden retriever, and they lived together in a dog house. And their owner… and the mom person was Goldie, and the little one was Jamie, and the dad was Richard, and the dog… and those were the two pets. And one day the doggies decided that they wanted to… um… run away… so the two dogs ran away. And the next morning when the owners woke up they didn't' see the dogs in the doghouse. Then they looked and looked and looked and looked and LOOKED and LOOKED and LOOKED but they could not find the dogs. So they went to dog proovenary (???) shows. And they found the dogs and brought them home and put a fence around their doghouse so they wouldn't run away again. The… and they got to go to dog races training, and the end. And the dog race training, you get... dogs get to be trained how to do human stuff. The end.

Just after I put the camera down, Little L said, "I know why the dogs wanted to run away."

"Oh, really?" I asked.

"Yeah, they really wanted to go to dog race training school."

"Well, you could tell the story again and put that in there. You could have them talk to each other, so that it shows what they're thinking. You know, about sneaking off to go to dog race training school."

"Can I stay up and do it over?" L asked excitedly.

I sighed. "Sure, why not?"

Once upon a time there was two dogs. And Lucy, and… Once upon a time there was a little girl and her name was Carrie, uh… Carrager… no… yeah, and her name was Lucy… and Lucy, um, REALLY wanted a puppy golden retriever and a mom golden retriever and her mom said, "No… No Lucy we can't, cuz theyll… cuz cuz they won't stay at home." 

"Aw, don't worry. Golden retrievers puppies and moms are the best at staying. Kids, dads, they run away. That's all it is," said Lucy. 

"Come on Lucy" 

So… finally, finally her mom letted her get a puppy golden retriever and a mom golden retriever, and then the, the first night they got them one  said, "Lets go to dog training race school" 

But the other one said "No, cause our owners won't let them." 

THen the other, then the puppy said, "Hey I know, let's sneak OUT now."  So they snuck out… ooop. 

Today race, the dog race, the dog, the animal race training school. 

And then the next morning they woke up, and then the golden retrievers were missing. Then they looked and looked and looked and looked and looked and looked and looked but they couldn't find the golden retrievers. So they decided to look at the animal race training school. And they were there. And finally they figured out. They should bring them back home, put  them in the doghouse and put a fence around so they should never ever escape again.

The end. 

Little L sat for a few seconds in thought. I was putting my camera down and about to tuck her in to bed when she said, "And the moral of the story is…" I scrambled for my camera! How could I miss this!

"Wait! Do it again!"

"And the moral of the story is… if you ever lose your pet, go look for it. The end. Done. The end."

Notes: I have no idea when we read a story that a moral of the story ending--maybe she heard one at school. I also have no idea where the names Lucy, Jamie, Carrie, and Richard come from, they seem more like names from my generation than hers! The golden retriever thing sort of makes sense because she asks me constantly to tell stories about my dog, Bob, a golden retriever that I grew up with.

In the classroom, when I'm working with young kids, I often give time for kids to tell their stories aloud many times to their writing partner to rehearse before they write. This encourages them to revise their story again and again before they even put their pen on the page. Some prompts I often use to encourage revision in oral storytelling include:

* Put in what you were saying. "I said…"
* Describewhat things looked like. "I saw…"
* Describe what things felt like. "I felt…"
* Put in what you were thinking. "I thought…"
* Say exactly what you were doing. "I was…"
* Try using expression in your voice so it's very exciting, or scary, or calm like it's a bedtime story, or fancy like it's a fairy tale.
* Try using gestures or drama to act out your story as you tell it.

A little prompting goes a long, long way. I usually just pick one and give kids time to play around with it. Like with L. Just prompting for a little dialogue transformed the second version of her doggy story!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 29 SoL Story Challenge: A Mash-Up

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You know that phenomenon where once you learn about something, you start to see it everywhere?  Well, a few years ago, it seemed like  everywhere I turned, "mash-ups" were coming up. I'm a fan of the show Glee, where mash-ups were in vogue on the show for a while, and maybe they still are. Friends kept posting mash-ups to their Facebook "walls," and even in my doctoral program courses colleagues were taking on the concept of the mash-up as a tool for researching student identity and culture.

Here's an example of a mash-up, in case you're not familiar. DJ Danger Mouse mixes The Beatles with Jay Z to create this mash-up:
Mash-ups are so interesting to me because they often bring together elements of style, culture, and identity that might at first seem disparate, but when juxtaposed or mixed, the common threads pop out. The Beatles are larger than life, Jay-Z is larger than life (if you're a New Yorker especially), and there's a demographic that is attracted to both. The mash-up demonstrates how some of the same people who love the Beatles can also love Jay-Z. I find it very cool.

Anyway, I hadn't thought about mash-ups in a while. Then, tonight Little L. did this:
Go Little L., mixin' it up. Why let the limitations of one genre get in your way, when you can mash them up into a Poem/Song/Story combined?

What I love about L.'s mashup is that she's included her classic go-to's for each genre. She starts with a poem that goes "I am a wish box…" Earlier this month L. made up a similar poem about a "hello box." I loved it so much, that she repeats variations of it often--in the car, at the dinner table, while playing...  Next she moves into ABC's… classic. Finally, a chipmunk story. If you've been following Little L. and I this month, then you know she loves a good chipmunk story. All in all, her mash-up does a nice job summarizing the recurrent themes in her body of work to date!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 27 SoL Story Challenge: The What Is It Poem

Slice of Life Day 7.  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.
Join hundreds of teachers and students as we we share stories each day in March!

Join the Poetry Friday Round up at Rogue Anthropologist
It's also Poetry Friday! Join us!

Once again, Little L. knows that Mommy cannot resist allowing her to stay up a little bit past bedtime to tell stories, or in this case a poem.

What Is It

What is a bag? 
A bag is something you carry something in.

What is a person?
I am a person.

What is an eyeball?
It is on you.

What is a baby?
It is a kid when it is not grown up yet.

What is hair?
It is on your head is this.

What is a nose?
The nose is what you smell with.


UPDATE: Wow, so I later realized that it is actually only Thursday, so Little L and I are a little early for Poetry Friday. But doesn't it feel like Friday?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day 26 SoL Story Challenge: The Story of Crafty Bear

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I sat on the couch with Baby J. in my lap while Little L. built a submarine out of Legos for "Crafty Bear" and "all the chipmunks" on the coffee table. Crafty Bear is the star of a story that Little L. and my husband have been making up for the past day or two. The story basically goes like this:

Once there was a bear named Crafty Bear. He has a friend, Chipmunk, and they find a book that some campers left that was a book of the world with a map of the world. They saw some pictures of a kangaroo and they decided they wanted to see the kangaroo. Crafty Bear happens to be a genius engineer and they decide to build a submarine. His bear friends help him build the submarine, but the bears are too scared to go into the submarine-- except for Crafty Bear. His chipmunk friends are wild and crazy, and they're ready for adventure. So, Crafty Bear designs this amazing submarine that has lots of windows and is the shape of a shark to fool the sharks. It has a big metal tree inside in the shape of a den for chipmunks, so the chipmunks just moved all their stuff in…They go on adventures-- the Marianas Trench, and down in the trench they discover treasure that has four crystals that tell you where the lost city of Atlantis is.

At school, Little L. drew this with Crafty Bear in mind:
"This is the map. There is a red lava pit and a magical blue lake. You have to follow the green trail, then the red trail, then the purple trail, then this trail."

"You follow all the right trails and it leads your o the room full of magic keys. See, there are lots of them."

There's much, much, much more where this came from. Little L. will ask, "Can you tell some more Crafty Bear?" and  my husband will say a sentence or two, and after a few lines, Little L. will take over the storytelling.

I watched while Little L. worked on her Lego submarine. "L., can I videotape the Crafty Bear story?"

"Argh! Let me just tell you. Don't videotape it!"

So… no video tonight. But now you know all about Crafty Bear and his band of adventurous chipmunk friends.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 25 SoL Story Challenge: Fairyland Part Two

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So… we almost didn't have a story from Little L for tonight. Between school and work, grocery shopping and dinner, and diaper changes and feedings, the day just sort of blew past us. All of a sudden it was bedtime and I hadn't even thought about what to write today, and I hadn't asked Little L for any ideas.

But then, at bedtime, when I least expected it, Little L. must have realized that she just might get to stay up a few minutes longer if she offered to tell a story. She was in her pajamas, and hadn't brushed her hair yet, but I couldn't resist saying yes to the offer of a story.

It's not the first time during this challenge that Little L has told a fairy story. Little L's love of all things fairy-related has inspired many stories, drawings, and dramatic performances in our house. Today's story was partly inspired by this library book, which she brought home from preschool last week:
The book was fresh on L's mind because today was supposed to be library day. Her whole class got bundled up in snow pants, boots, mittens, and hats, to trudge through the ice and snow to go next door to the library. (It's still very cold where we live in VT. The high was 17F today.) But when they got to the gate in the picket fence that separates the school playground from the library path, it was iced shut! The teachers kicked and scraped at the ice, but the restless three, four, and five year olds were ready to go back inside where it was warm. So, they turned around and made their way back through the ice-slicked playground to go back inside. The good news is, L got to keep her fairy book for another week!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 24 SoL Story Challenge: A Planned Story

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The four of us sat around the kitchen table for dinner. Little L sat in her "special chair," a chair that can be adjusted in height so that she can reach the table, and three month old Baby J sat in the highchair for the first time.

"So L, what should we write about tonight?" I asked. Little L has been helping me create my posts for this blog each day, mostly by telling stories that I videotape.

For a moment I wasn't sure if L would cooperate. More than once during the SOLSC I've had to do dome cajoling to get a story. 

"I want to tell you a story about a run-away, then find, then lost kind of a story." I knew what she meant. She had a plan for her story; it was just a bit jumbled.

I resisted the temptation to immediately correct her by restating  it. Instead I said, "Wait, I'm confused. It really happens in that order?" Little L just looked back at me blankly. It occurred to me that she perhaps had never heard that phrase: "in that order."

So I asked, "Does your story end with being lost?"

"No!" Little L laughed like that was just plain silly, to end a story that way. "It goes like...first there's getting hidden or running off, then there's being lost, then there's getting found." 

"Oh! That makes a lit more sense to me," I said, proud that she was able to revise her plan to have the sequence make more sense. "May I record your story now?"

"I want to tell it at bedtime," L said.

So later in the evening, after dinner and more storytelling, and cleaning up, and baths, and putting on pajamas, and brushing teeth, and bedtime stories, just before getting tucked in L asked if she could record her story.

Here it is, just as she had planned:

"Illustrated" by Little L. "Asked" by Little L.'s mommy.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 23 SoL Story Challenge: Fairyland

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In kindergarten classrooms all across the country, many teachers are in the midst of teaching "All About Books." During this unit of study in writing workshop, we ask kiddos to talk and draw and write about topics that they are passion about, topics that they are mini-experts in. It's one of my favorite units because I always learn so much about kids. When kids are allowed to explore topics that they are genuinely interested in (rather than assigned) we find out who has an obsession with My Little Pony, and who loves scooters, and who is a Yankees fan, and who knows all about puppies because she has one at home.

I asked Little L. to list some of the things she's an expert on and she had no trouble naming off half a dozen topics.

1. Dinosaurs
2. Skiing
3. Baby Brothers
4. Bike Riding
5. School
6. Fairies

Little L. knows ALL ABOUT fairies, actually. Starting with last spring, we went to a fairy garden workshop, and when we got home, I set aside a little bit of space in my vegetable garden for L. to build this:

L. spent hours upon hours in this spot, creating elaborate narratives involving magic and mystery.

Then, when the weather got cold. we got this for L.'s birthday:
And this book:
And last week L. brought home this book from the library:
And then just the other day she made this (and many others like it); I added the labels:
And today, she worked on this treehouse for her fairies:
When it's time for Little L. to write an All About Book in kindergarten, she'll be ready!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 22 SoL Story Challenge: Why We Don't Write On Kids' Work

My four year old daughter will be the first to tell you that she does not like it when adults write on her work.

"Mommy, I don't like it when somebody else writes on my story."

"Mommy, [insert name of well intentioned adult] keeps on writing on my stories and I don't like it."

Or my favorite, overheard while drawing with an older cousin: "How would you feel if I wrote on your work?"

Don't get me wrong, some kids have no problem stepping aside and allowing someone to swoop in and write the words for them. I experience this often when I work in pre-k and kindergarten classrooms. I can see them, staring at me with puppy dog eyes from across the classroom. Their eyes speak to me. Come to me. I'm just a little kindergartener. Puhleeez do my writing for me… At least just sit with me and give me attention. I like it when you sit with me. Puhleeez?  However, when it comes to independent writing and drawing, I know better than to lay a finger on their work.  Kids are very, very, VERY smart. I know that if I give in even just one little time, then they will hope and expect for someone to swoop in every time and write or spell some words, or even draw for them. It's the same thing with zipping up jackets, or putting on boots, or wiping their noses. Consistency fosters independence--as long as your expectations for what children can do on their own is appropriate for their ages and stages.

I was so happy when I saw this come home from L.'s preschool the other day:

I have a very strong feeling that had Little L.'s teacher written this ON L.'s picture instead of separately, LittlebL. would have either A) thrown a fit, or B) said very little, dictating slowly to the teacher something like "This…is…a…tree." or C) decided not to draw with so much detail if she sensed the teacher was really looking for words on the page. I've witnessed these reactions again and again in early childhood settings.

When I confer with very young writers, I usually say something like, "Tell me all about this!" or "Tell me about your picture," or "How does your story go?" Then as they talk, I discreetly jot down notes, verbatim as much as possible. I always have a clipboard with me when I confer (see this older post about conferring notes on TWT), and I just use a piece of blank paper to take a dictation instead of a conferring form. If kids ask what I'm doing, I just tell them, "I'm just taking notes so I don't forget all this great work you're doing!"

Friday, March 21, 2014

Day 21 SoL Story Challenge: Combining Storytelling and Singing in Dramatic Play

Little L. was busy this afternoon creating an elaborate story using plastic toy dinosaurs and her dollhouse. The gist of her story is that the dinosaurs discover "treasure" in the dollhouse that lead them to believe that their grandparents are "out there" somewhere. The treasure then becomes clues that lead the dinosaurs on a search for their missing grandparents. As Little L. tells the story and plays, she mixes dramatic play with singing.

Here's a clip of the singing (I was having trouble editing with YouTube, so if the clip is longer than 45 seconds, than the singing is at 2:30):

I'm constantly amazed at how children appropriate material from all sources when it comes to dramatic play. Here's a list of  just a few sources that I think L. was drawing from as she constructed her dinosaur narrative:

1. Her love of dinosaurs is an obvious source of inspiration here. She's been a dinosaur kid practically since birth. and it just so happened that at her preschool they are studying dinosaurs and paleontology, and her teacher gave each kid a little plastic dinosaur to take home today.

2. Building on the paleo/archaeology theme, my husband has been doing some oral storytelling with Little L. At every bath time, meal, and bedtime, Little L. wants to hear a bit more of the story of Indiana Jones. She's obsessed now, and her dramatic play now includes a bit more mystery and intrigue that I think comes from the Indiana Jones storytelling. (BTW I'm amazed at the level of detail my husband can recall from those movies!)

3. Little L.'s all time favorite show (one of the handful of television programs she's ever even seen) is Wonder Pets, and as you may already know, the Wonder Pets sing throughout every episode. It's like opera for little kids.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day 19 SoL Story Challenge: Emergent Reader

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One of the things that makes my heart melt is that Baby J. absolutely loves his big sister Little L. He turns his little head, searching for her when he hears her voice, and he gives her the biggest smiles and giggles. It's such a sweet thing, as a mom, to see how the two of them are becoming familiar to one another, little by little, becoming friends.

Tonight at bedtime Little L. had a great idea. She asked if I could videotape her reading a story for Baby J. so that he could watch it while she was at school tomorrow. "In case he was missing me," she said.

Baby J. is too young to watch videos, but I'm glad I have this video so that I can watch it... in case I'm the one missing her.

P.S. To find out more about how we've been supporting Little L with her reading at home, and to get ideas for supporting the emergent readers in your life at home or in the classroom, see this old post: Shared Reading With Your Tiny Reader.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day 18 SoL Story Challenge: Little L.'s Thank You Note to a Friend

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It was the end of a very long, tiresome day. Baby J. was about four weeks old. I climbed the steps to Little L.'s preschool classroom one by one, each step taking much more effort than usual. I couldn't figure out any good way to hold Baby J.'s car seat that didn't hurt my arms, wrists, and hands. I had to stop at the landing to catch my breath. Finally I reached the top of the steps and opened the door to the classroom.

Little L. was wrapped around me in a flash. "Mommmmmy!" Her face was shining, so happy to see me.

My heart felt warm, but there was also a pinch of guilt. This was the first time that I had picked her up from school since the baby was born. I used to pick her up every day.

L. latched herself on to me as I put my initials on the sign-out sheet and started gathering her things from her cubby. That's when I noticed a little blue gift bag.  I knew that it would be for Baby J. so I tried to hide it among the backpack, lunch bag, and projects going home.

"What was that?" L. demanded to know.

"Let's put on your boots!" I said with enthusiasm. I wanted to avoid a scene over the gift.

"Is that for the baby?" she said.

I pretended not to hear her. "Boots time!"

"Mommy, I know that that is for the baby." Little L. was using her "teacher voice," to let me know that I wasn't fooling anybody by hiding that gift.

The guilt pinch got stronger. She proceeded to put on her boots, then her coat.

Gifts had been pouring in for the baby over the past few weeks and I worried that L. was feeling a little sensitive about it. We had done the best we could not to make a big deal about presents for the baby, opening them on our own most of the time. Sometimes a thoughtful friend or family member would include something for L. and we'd let her open hers first.

But then, amazingly, miraculously, she said cheerfully, "Let's see what is it! Is it another hat?" (L. loves J.'s hats for some reason).  "Can I open it for him?"

I was shocked. Little L. didn't seem to care that J. was getting a present. She genuinely seemed interested in what he was going to get.

The present was adorable (Thank you A. & M.!) and L. couldn't wait to see Baby J. try it on.

The next morning, Little L. decided to write a thank you note to her friend:

Moral of the story: Maybe I've been underestimating Little L.!

PS In another post, at another time, I really want to point out all the great emergent writing behaviors going on  in this video clip, but I'll save it. It's hard to turn off my teacher brain!

Monday, March 17, 2014

SoL Story Challenge Day 17: Failed Attempt at a Puppet Show

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I often use video clips in my workshops with teachers. Sometimes I'll use just a short clip of a student doing some work--perhaps reading aloud, or working on her writing, or two kids talking about the books they are reading. We might pause the video to talk about what the students are doing really well, and discuss what the their next steps might be. Other times I might use a clip that shows myself or another colleague teaching. We might watch a writing conference, one step at a time to analyze ways that conferring might go, or to discuss all the teaching moves the teacher decided to make.

One thing I know I can't stand when it comes to videos in staff development is when the video is TOO perfect. Like there's a second grader reading at Level R, or a kindergartner who's written an entire ten page thesis on her baby brother (with perfect spelling to boot). I like my video clips to show the real deal -- they need to be in a real classroom (when at all possible) and kids need to be making noise in the background.  The kids chosen for the video taping shouldn't be coached ahead of time into saying or doing certain things--otherwise the whole thing feels staged and when I try to use the clip in staff development the teachers I work with will call me out on it (as they should).

So the same thing holds true for the blogs I like. There are some blogs out there where it seems like every post is about a perfect project that a super duper person did with an amazing group of kids who totally, completely, loved it and it came out perfect… every. single. time. Every post. When I read these blogs I think to myself first,  "That looks really complicated for a four year old."  Second, I think, "Those children clearly did not really do those reindeer/pumpkin/leprechaun/whatever projects independently. The grown-up totally had to do it for them."

Well, I am not that sort of blogger. Not every post is going to show you something wonderful that came out perfectly.  Just because something isn't perfect doesn't mean it's not worth trying. If you've been following this blog, then you know that every day this month I have tried to find ways to storytell with my four year old daughter, for the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Little L. has shared true stories, fantasy stories, jokes, songs, even her own Lego Movie. Today, I share with you one failed attempt at a puppet show. Yes, check it out. It's actually pretty funny.

It's a little hard to hear, but L. is making snoring sounds throughout. The dragon won't wake up.

I'm kidding when I say it "failed." Actually, Little L. and I had been playing with the puppets, "rehearsing" our story for quite a while before we asked my husband to come down to the basement to watch our show. Little L. and I did our show for my husband, who was holding Baby J.  Then, Little L. wanted to do a show that Baby J. and I could watch, so my husband took my place behind the curtain. That's when Little L. decided that her dragon should just sleep through the whole story.

We did try to videotape our original version, but that also was a fail. Baby J. started crying loudly just a minute into it.

Oh well. Nobody's perfect!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Day 16 SoL Story Challenge: Drawing Inspiration from Familiar Stories

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Whew! We just had the busiest weekend ever! Saturday for Little L went like this:

10:00am Teddy Bear Tea Party
11:00am Special Lunch at Gardeners Cafe
12:00pm Parents Day at Little L.'s Preschool

That' a lot of excitement for a four year old in one day.  Then today went like this:

11:00am Cousin J. came over to play
1:00pm Go to Casey's Hill for sledding with Cousin J., K, and M
4:00pm Grandma and Grandpa and Great-Grandma came over for dinner

With all this great stuff going on, it was hard for my little coauthor and I to squeeze in some storytelling for the SOLSC. Then, when we finally did have a minute, we had a hard time coming up with ideas.

So, what do you do when you can't think of an idea for a story?  Here a just few things I do:

1. Think of a true story that really happened
2. Think of people or places that matter most to me, then think of one thing that happened
3. Think of a person I'd like to tell a story to, and make up a story just for them
4. Look at pictures or videoclips to get ideas
5. Draw a picture of things I like to do, then tell the story of one time
6. Think of stories or books or movies I love, and write my own version

In today's SOLSC Little L. tells her own version of a story that is very familiar to her. See if you can guess what story she is adapting (don't cheat by looking below!):

Peter Rabbit has been a topic of conversation quite a bit lately. She has a porcelain place setting decorated with Peter Rabbit and other Beatrix Potter characters that was my husband's when he was a child, and I think this sparked her interest. She also has a complete set of Beatrix Potter books that was a gift one year, and she's enthralled by the stories. The beautiful language captivates her. The gorgeous illustrations and little child-sized hardcover bindings are absolutely enchanting. The thing that I think interests her the most, and the thing that is the most surprising to me as an adult…. is that the stories are shockingly violent in a way that I think scares her just a little, but not enough that she dislikes them. There really isn't a better word to describe them, but violent. Funny, I must have read the same set of stories a hundred times when I was little but I don't remember them being so violent. I guess I must have been so swept away by the child-size covers and adorable pictures that I didn't even notice that characters were risking limb, and losing life on every other page!

Little L has a bunch of other stories that she loves to retell, especially for her baby brother. She loves to do The Three Little Pigs, and she also really loves to tell the story of The Carrot Seed and her own versions of Winnie the Pooh chapters, and movies that she's seen (especially The Lego Movie lately). (Also, for more on emergent reading with preschoolers and kindergarteners click here).

What about you, dear readers. What familiar stories did you love to retell when you were young? Do your students or your own children retell old favorites? Leave a title in the comment section!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Day 15 SoL Story Challenge: Teddy Bear Tea Party

Slice of Life Day 7.  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

First thing this morning, when L woke up, she shouted from her bedroom, "Mommy, today is the Teddy Bear Tea Party!" 

"Ugh." All I wanted to do was sleep. 

But I didn't. I got up and, realizing that I really didn't have much time, I began to rush. I raced through breakfast for L, fed the baby, jumped in the shower, fed myself, got L dressed, got Baby J dressed, car seats....and finally we were on our way, with me already exhausted and feeling a headache coming on.

"This is going to be the best day of my life!" L shouted to no one in particular.

As we walked into the greenhouse, we could smell flowers and plants and earth. Although it was freezing cold and grey outside, the sunlight was amplified by the greenhouse windows and we felt like we had stepped right into spring.

Little L hugged her teddy bear and her stuffed poodle tight as we made our way to the tables, all set up for kids. We found an empty seat and got settled.

The greenhouse at Gardeners Supply was decked out for a tea party, with tables covered in white linens, and each place set with a plate, a plastic teacup and stickers to decorate it, a string of beads, and a tiny plastic teddy bear.

"Mommy, look," L exclaimed as she climbed into her chair, "They brought animals too!" She pointed to the stuffed animals that the other children at her table had brought with them. Her eyes were glowing with excitement.

As L got down to the business of decorating her plastic teacup, I thought to myself, Someday when she's all grown up, she'll remember this as the time we went to the Teddy Bear Tea Party... I watched her carefully, trying to soak up this moment, trying to slow it down, so that I would remember it too.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Day 14 SoL Story Challenge: She's A Poet And She Knows It

Slice of Life Day 7.  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.
Join hundreds of teachers and students as we we share stories each day in March!

Join the Poetry Friday Round up at Rogue Anthropologist
It's also Poetry Friday! Join us!
Little L loves to create songs and poems. In this poem, she starts out by creating a sort of list, with a pattern to it. Then she begins to make up rhymes. Please enjoy this little "slice" of my life:

I’ve got a shoe on my head
I’ve got a shoe on my foot
I’ve got a cloth on my head
I’ve got a cloth on my foot
I’ve got a brush…I don’t use
I’ve got a…neck I have choosed
I’ve got a earring that I don’t care
I’ve got a ring that I don’t spare
Haha…That’s silly.

I’ve got a phone that ran out of known…that ran out of drone
I’ve got a blanket that has a canket

That doesn’t make any sense!

It’s just a silly song.

I’ve got a fan that has a ban
I’ve got a mirror that has a birror
I have a pictures that have a wictures
I have a house, got mouse, got a pouse

I have a shoe on my head
I have a shoe on my foot

I’ve got a house, I’ve got a brouse, I’ve got a touse
I’ve got a mouse
I’ve got a brush I don’t wear I don’t care I don’t share I don’t spare


This goes on and on for about three more minutes! As you can see, using rhyme in a poem is challenging. Not the actual rhyming words part. She's got the hang of that. But once her attention is on the rhymes, she gives up trying to make sense! For now, that's okay. We can make silly poems and have fun. But as time goes on, I'll keep nudging her to create songs and poems that have meaning.

In the classrooms I work in, kids and teachers often ask me why I don't teach them how to write poems that rhyme. Well, as Carl Anderson often says, meaning comes first. And I believe in that. I want kids to know that poems are powerful tools. We can use poems to describe objects and experiences. We can use poems to express ideas or feelings or to tell a story. I devote my teaching to meaning in poetry, because that is usually the part that kids and adults need more help with.

And yes, we can use poems to have fun and be silly too.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day 13 SoL Story Challenge: Little L Makes Her Own Lego Movie

Join hundreds of teachers and students as we practice our own writing by sharing a story from our own lives every day for the month of March.

I'm starting to realize there is a reason why it's called the Slice of Life Challenge.

During the first week, my biggest challenge was that I was rusty. After all, I had a baby on December 20, and I hadn't written a word or done a scrap of work until Day 1 of the challenge. 

At the start of the month, I thought that I might record Little L's stories each day, and have her as my coauthor. After a few days I found myself brimming with ideas. Little L was fully cooperating -- she had lots of ideas too and was loving all the extra attention she could get by offering up stories for the camera.

Fast forward to today.

Now that the novelty has worn out, she's not so cooperative. Yesterday, all I could get on camera was an exaggerated eye roll (yes, four year olds definitely do roll their eyes).  

I wound up using a backup story yesterday, an extra clip from a week ago that I hadn't thought I would use. 

Without any videos to post today, I wasn't sure what I'd do. I walked around all morning with  my camera in hand, hoping that Little L would start storytelling, or singing, or reading at some point, but every time she saw me hold up he camera she'd stop, scowl, and shout, "Blah blah blah blah blah!" I begged, I pleaded, I explained, I tried being sneaky with the camera hidden out of sight. I even bribed...with chocolate…and cookies when that didn't work. None of it worked. She just wanted to play with Legos and NOT be videotaped.

Just when I was about to give up and write my first SOLSC post without my little coauthor, I had a stroke of parenting/teacher brilliance. Little L had tired of me recording her but maybe she would let me record her make a movie... a Lego Movie of her very own.

It worked! L told a great story with her Legos and she loved watching her movie. Don't be surprised if you see more home-made Lego movies on this blog in the future. 

Now...what will I do tomorrow?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day 12 SoL Story Challenge: A Story About a Guinea Pig

Join hundreds of teachers and students as we practice our own writing by sharing a story every day in the month of March.

It's amazing the way little kids use bits and pieces of true life in their make-believe play and storytelling. In Little L.'s stories, real life pets often become main characters, and characters from familiar books make appearances.

Today, Little L. tells a story about a guinea pig. Her classroom at preschool has a pet guinea pig, named Roger. Little L. has been begging to get a guinea pig of her own lately (it's not going to happen).  Also, we recently read The Mouse and The Motorcycle  and Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary, and in both these books, the antagonist is a cat named Catso. See if you can hear how she pulls some of those details into her story.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Day 11 SoL Story Challenge: Then And Now

Join hundreds of students and teachers as we challenge ourselves to write a story from our own lives every day for the month of March!

I've always thought that March and April are a great time of year for reflection. We've come so far since the start of the school year, but we still have plenty of school year left to go. We've made lots of progress toward our goals, and we still have time to do even more.

As readers, kids might look back on their book logs and surprise themselves with how many pages, chapters, and whole books they've completed so far this year. They might think back on favorite books or series, and make plans for how to keep that momentum going.

This is the time of year that kids might look in their own writing portfolios and really see the difference between that first published piece, and the piece that they publish now. They might also reflect on all the different kinds of writing they've learned to do, from small moments, to information books, to how-to books, to persuasive letters…and beyond.

Reflecting on our lives as readers and writers is important, not just so we can become stronger students in school--my hope is that kids can also learn to be reflective in life.

The past year and a half have brought my family many big changes. Several moves. A new house. We left behind ten years in bustling, busy, crazy New York City for the serenity and familiarity of our native Vermont. We've endured loss and illness. We've welcomed a new baby into our life. Our life has been both more peaceful and more tumultuous than ever.

Lately Little L. has been asking a lot about how thing used to be in Brooklyn. What was her old bedroom like? What was our old library like, and did the park have swings? When can we go visit?

She's beginning to forget our old life. But she wants to remember. She wants to hear stories about when she was a baby, and how we used to ride the subway, and how we used to walk Indigo instead of letting him out in the yard. We didn't have a yard and we lived in a big tall building. This is ancient, fascinating history to her.

It's amazing to me how much can change in a year, how much we can learn and grow in such a short amount of time.  Here is L., telling a story just about a year and a half ago, way back then.

…playing with his own ball. And then he was playing with his mom and dad’s ball. And that was playing with her ball. And they loved to play. THE END. And then they went of setting into the woods with Indie. And Indie paddled for a while. And then they were lost. And then, and at the VERY time when they went home, they had a new dog named Luckchuck. And Luckchuck loved… They, they got a new dog because Indie set off into the woods to somebody else’s house. And then they ran to their house, and ran to the house, and grabbed Indie. And Indie gave Luckchuck a big (slurp) juicy kiss. Luckchuck gave Indie a big juicy kiss (slurp). “And then…” And then Luckchuck and Indie were set off into the woods. And Lily and Grandma and Grandpa and Daddy and Mommy were set off into the woods to find Luckchuck and Indie. “And then what happens?” And then Luckchuck and Indie came scampering back to them. And then Luckchuck and Indie and Grandma and Grandpa and Daddy and Mommy scampered back home, all together and then they ran back inside. And then they were safe and sound, all back asleep. “The End.”

And here she is now.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Day 10 SoL Story Challenge: Knock Knock Who's There?

Join hundreds of students and teachers as we challenge ourselves to write a story from our own lives every day for the month of March!

Yesterday, Little L. was telling knock knock jokes non stop all day long. Breakfast…lunch… dinner.. bed time… all day long. I guess she was just in a knock knock mood. She's in that stage where she totally gets the knock knock jokes that I tell to her--but her own jokes don't really make sense. Personally, I think that's what makes her jokes funny.  Here's a little "slice" of her jokes:

I, personally, love knock knock jokes. The cornier, the better. I've never understood how some people just don't like them! They're hilarious to me!

Here are some of my favorites that I tell to Little L. all the time:

Knock knock…
Who's there?
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in, it's cold out here!

Knock knock…
Who's there?
Boo who?
Don't cry, it's only a joke!

Knock knock…
Who's there?
Banana who?
Banana who?
Banana who?
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn't say banana again?

And my all time favorite:

Knock knock…
Who's there?
The interrupting cow.
The interrup---

Jokes are great for vocabulary and language. Kids have to infer to get the meaning, sometimes by reading between the lines, sometimes by interpreting the meaning of an expression or idiom. And yes…puns! (Again, I just don't understand how puns are not funny). Puns are great-- homophones that kids have to figure out in context in order for it to make sense. What a great way to study words!

Also, humor can engage kids who might otherwise not be interested in reading or writing. That kid who sits all through reading workshop, staring at the pages of some chapter book that she picked just because her friends were reading it? Help her out. Find a funny book together and bring her reading life back to life.

My colleague, Colleen Cruz, not long ago tweeted this great idea for the classroom library:

No, funny books may not always be great "literature," and no, a steady diet of Captain Underpants and nothing else is not exactly what I envision for a well-rounded reader (sorry Dav Pilkey…). But there's nothing better than laughing out lout to help you fall in love with reading. I think we can all agree on that. 

In the comments, leave your favorite knock knock joke. Tell a joke today or read a funny book. Enjoy!