Thursday, November 18, 2010

Inferences about Chicago

Our Broadway babies have been listening to the "Chicago" soundtrack in the van lately. It is very inappropriate for small children, so of course they love it. Currently Claudia begs for "All that Jazz" and "The Cell Block Tango".

The tango song is a lively tune where the six merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail explain how they (justifiably) murdered their husbands or lovers: shooting for popping his gum (so understandable!), poisoning with arsenic, stabbing with a knife while carving up chicken for dinner... (Actually, I believe that guy ran into her knife TEN TIMES. So that must have been an accident.)

While the song was playing on our car ride last week, Fran shook his head disapprovingly and piped up from the third row, "Those ladies are being really mean to their mens." (I love his use of "mens.")

Other mothers would think, "Wow, I should really not let them listen to this," or "Hmm...this is inappropriate for my children, " or perhaps, "Wow. I should stop the music. Now." My only reaction was excitement and joy that he is developing his ability to infer. After all, the song indicated that these reactions were necessary and justified, and Fran questioned that. He was thinking and reasoning about what was unsaid. Bravo.

But personally, I think those guys did have it coming...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Harry Potter Manifesto

Yesterday was the first day I have ever had where I hated Ann Arbor. In six years, this was the only day where I hated-hated-hated Ann Arbor. Yesterday, if I realized that if I lived in another town, I could be happy. Yesterday, I had to reconcile that I hated the very town-- and many of its ticket-holding inhabitants-- in which I lived.

Yesterday I was unable to get Harry Potter tickets for Friday night at a normal time. I am old, so I can't go to late movie at 10:45 since I will simply pay the ticket price for a nap at that hour; I can't stay awake after 10 pm! I cannot go to an early movie at 3:00pm since the school will get mad if I do not pick-up my first grader at 3:42.

Last night I smugly tried ordering tickets from my computer. I thought to myself how tricky it was to get movie tickets when we lived in New York City and how we had to order ahead with movie phone. How civilized it felt living in Michigan, with its plentiful movie tickets and unplanful patrons. And sometimes, it snows so much no one can even get to the movies. I chuckled and clicked.

Click. Click. I kept getting error messages. The first theater had a 7:30 show. Sold out. A 10:45 show. Too late. And sold out. They still had IMAX shows, but I have astigmatism and it gives me a headache. The second theater was sold out at 5,6, and 8. There was still a 9;30. I could do that- I hit click and send and it was sold out, too. I kept clicking and checking- no normal times were available on Friday evening.

At first, I blamed myself. How could I have left this to the last minute? What was I thinking? How irresponsible. I was filled with shame. But this shame soon turned to rage. I soon realized this wasn't my fault. I started clicking other towns. Tickets were still available in Jackson, and Brighton. Plymouth, Canton, and Novi, but these involved 20 minute car rides- each way. Unthinkable. It was only a problem in Ann Arbor.

And then I realized it wasn't my fault at all. It was my town. And now I was filled with hate for this town. This stupid town, with its students taking my movie seats. This stupid town with its unending love and devotion to the best story ever written about boy wizards in the last fifteen years. This god-forsaken place with its planful movie patrons. It sickened me to live here.

I then received a message from friends. They thought we could secure 7 pm IMAX tickets. I told them to act quickly. Seriously- stop *working* and get the tickets! (Jobs come and go- this is Harry Potter!) I took a deep breath and looked outside. It was sunny with blue skies. Ann Arbor does has beautiful mornings. I could do IMAX.

The IMAX tickets were sold out. The blue sky and clouds were mocking me. I had reconciled. I was flexible. I was going to pack some Advil on Friday and be a good sport at the IMAX. I sunk to the true depths of despair.

All morning I sat chained to my computer, sharing messages about ticket times and the limited options available. This wretched, wretched town had stolen my evening, my morning, and my innocence.

I am pleased to inform you that I am now ticketed- with friends- at 7:30 pm for Harry Potter. On Sunday. Sunday. I have to wait until Sunday and find a babysitter.

Oh, Ann Arbor and its smug, planful movie patrons.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reading Rut

Sometimes I get in a reading rut. I can't find anything I want to read. I end up watching TV or surfing the web, aimlessly, instead of reading. Usually when I am in a rut, it means I am stressed about something else. Often it will take me a while to figure out what's really wrong; sometimes it is something I can fix, and sometimes it's not.

It's funny that I find myself in a rut, because as a classroom teacher, I do a lot of teaching about having strategies to maintain a reading life such as having books on deck, revisiting favorites, reading fluff, reading a challenge, revisiting a genre, borrowing a book, getting a recommendation, getting something new, hooking into a genre/author/series, and knowing when to abandon a book.

So recently, I applied these strategies to my own "on deck" list.
Books that have stopped my reading rut or are on deck:
(Rereading a favorite) The Phantom Tollbooth
(Borrowing- now that this is almost overdue at the library, it interests me) Parenting, Inc.
(Revisiting a genre/ Mystery) And Then There Were None
(Recommendation- Thanks, Susan Adamson!) Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
(Rereading a favorite, Hooking into a series) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
(Reading a Challenge- will need tissues and emotional reserves. This has been on deck for a while.) Ten Thousand Splendid Suns

I think rereading children's novels could count as fluff, but since I am a teacher, it can also be considered professional reading. So keep reading-- because you are what you read! I truly believe that by maintaining our own personal relationship with books (even fluff), we are better able to reach both others and ourselves.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Handwriting and Home

When I was a kindergarten teacher, I remember being pretty peeved when First Grade teachers would stomp downstairs and kvetch about pencil grips and handwriting. Kids had been holding writing utensils for years- and their habits seemed too hard to break.

Teaching simple letter formation rules can really help kids form letters quickly, correctly, and without tiring as easily. But in my personal and professional experience, it is really hard to fix grip and formation in the classroom alone and the solution may need to include a home component as well.

As a writing staff developer, I hesitate to say the h-word (handwriting). Nothing upsets me more than writing workshop being hijacked for handwriting- or postponed until kids are forming letters to teacher specification. Handwriting and writing are initially two very different tasks. At a certain point, grip and formation can greatly impact fluency for writers, so it is something that should be addressed early on in Kindergarten and First Grade (again, separate from writing workshop).

The first simple fix for helping grip is using a vertical surface, such as an easel or taping papers to a wall. It is hard to use a "hook grip" in this way. A bigger instrument, such as a crayola marker is also helpful in getting fingers in the right position. Chalkboards are also helpful; chalk has a great "pull" when it is used and this helps kids get a good feel for writing.

Formation is key. Letters are made top-down, left-right, and counter-clockwise (except b and p). If these basic strokes are overlearned, this is helpful. Muscle memory is powerful. Practicing these strokes is like learning a new dance step. At first, it seems awkward, but then it is second nature. Practicing these strokes with both large motor and graphomotor activities is a good idea. Also, it is essential to be at arm's length of a child when teaching handwriting to monitor formation. How letters look is not nearly as important as how they are formed. Letters formed properly will be legible and handwriting only needs to be neat enough. When things need to be perfect, they are typed.

Another strategy that is often helpful is to have students overlearn the formation of their first and last names. Just practice forming it over and over again. Starting with the first name and eventually adding the last name. Again, close observation of a child while they are learning this is essential. For most kids, their name will provide ample access to practicing basic strokes. Sometimes just printing the lowercase alphabet once a week, with close observation, can have a powerful impact.

While the name is being learned, continue teaching. Talk about the space letters use: tall, short, letters that hang. Talk about the shapes: curvy, straight, dotted. Connect letters that use similar strokes (such as c: o, e, a, d, g, q, s and r: n, m, h). During handwriting practice time- you are the coach!

Above all, keep it positive. Stop before it's time to stop. Don't push to frustration. Reward working hard - not "good work". Sometimes it may seem like the kids who are struggling the most academically have a harder time with handwriting. So keep practices short and positive and focused on working hard.

There are so many important issues in education. Handwriting seems a little silly to worry about- until you see students further down the line struggling with writing fluency in later grades. I once watched a third-grader print a "t" in three stokes- up from the bottom, to the left from the middle to cross, and to the right from the middle to cross. He was struggling to get his fast, great ideas down with his slow, labored writing. (Also, his first name required 2 lowercase t's.) Hopefully, hooking families in early and having minimal (often only weekly, not daily practice is needed) "coached" practice time can repay your investment ten-fold.

For some kids, practice won't be enough. If steady teaching and home involvement don't seem to be helping, the child may need help with visual-perception skills, orthographic coding, or motor planning and execution. But for most kids, practice makes "good enough".

Perfect is not the goal for handwriting. All handwriting needs to be is fast enough so you can get your good ideas on a page, legibly, and feel good about your work. So, stop and give me 5 minutes of practice this week. Just a few minutes can make a huge difference!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's the Rush?

Last week I read an article in the New York Times about rushing kids into chapter books and the troubled future of the publishing of picture books. I have been milling about it for a few days.

I am bothered by the assumption that reading longer is better. I think reading only chapter books is a huge disservice to children. Children need to read well-written picture books for many reasons. First, visual literacy (artistic elements and methods, use of space, telling stories with pictures and words) has incredible value, especially in our digital age where information is typically presented visually and words alone are not enough. Also, picture books lend themselves to an emotional reaction and rich vocabulary. But also, these texts are about the same length as stories we want children to write. Our young writers can feel how to move a story over pages and experience the structure of a piece similar to one they might use to scaffold their own storytelling. Close study of picture books is the most effective way I have found to teach writing.

Chapter books also have a vital role in reading. They aid children in developing stamina as readers and can help them build a strong identity as a reader. There are many fabulous chapter books written for the early set, many having plenty of pictures to aid in comprehension, problem solving, and enjoyment. I think there is nothing better than the chapter books that changed my life as a child: the Frog and Toad series, "My Father's Dragon", "Ramona the Pest", and "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler."

But a diet of chapter books only is like a diet of chicken only. Sure- you need protein, but you need other things, too. Children need exposure to magazines, short stories, poetry, picture books, and nonfiction. (I would love the NYT to talk about the boon in publishing of children's nonfiction.) Different kinds of texts require different reading strategies and life experiences to support understanding.

But in reading the article, its comments (387 so far) and the follow-up letters to the editor, I am left asking "What's the rush?" and "Why isn't Shelley Harwayne my neighbor?" Why are we pushing kids to read books at frustration level? This does not teach them how to read better or what it feels like to truly understand what you're reading.

I think this is a case of bad PR. Parents and teachers must live in the world in a way that demonstrates the value, art, and complexity of picture books. It is not about being harder or easier. It is not about pushing kids to read the next level. Teaching reading is about showing kids the value in responding to ideas and integrating them into their own lives. This is supported by word and comprehension strategies, but reading is always about making meaning. Every book you read, every conversation you have, every thought you think and every experience you have shapes who you become.

So, what's the rush? Slow down and go buy a picture book.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Watching and Wondering with Woodpeckers

Last Friday, Fran started the morning by offering some pretty specific instructions. He met Claudia and I at the bottom of the porch steps and told us to be quiet. We followed him into the driveway.

"Listen," he said, pointing up into the tree.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. We looked up and saw a white-and-black-and-tuft-of-red woodpecker peck, peck, pecking in the tree. We stood there together, watching and listening.

It was a fabulous start to our morning. So often we are running and rushing. But today we were still enough to listen. It always shocks me when I slow down and hear the birds singing, enjoying the start of their day. It reminds me to be quiet and notice the world more. Really, mornings are just fabulous.

We took Fran to school, still talking about our woodpecker morning. After drop-off, I let Claudia play with a friend on the playground with a buddy instead of rushing home for my run. She and her friend had a blast climbing on the ladders and hiding under the turtle and dropping some pebbles in the storm drain.

When we were leaving, Claude and her buddy stopped and crouched by the grass to watch a Monarch butterfly sitting in the grass, opening and closing its wings over and over again- either showing them off, drying the dew, or perhaps preparing to fly. I watched the children stay so still, watching the butterfly from just inches away.

Claude and I then said our good-byes to butterflies and friends and started to walk back the way back to the van. I was starting to go through our to-do list and plan out a running route in my mind when we heard it again: tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. We stopped and looked up to see a white-and-black-and-tuft-of-red woodpecker working on someone's house. I'd like to think it was the same woodpecker. I was glad to see him. He had arrived just in time to remind me to take a deep, full breath of the fall air.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ready or Not... we are relaxing and looking over beautiful Lake Michigan. The sun warmed our bodies and spirits and the water was refreshing. The lazy days of summer seemed endless.

But today is the last day of summer and it's a stinker--gray and cloudy. We were hoping for one last dip in the pool. It seems as if the weather today is sending us a clear message: It is time.

Our summer was eventful: Claudia has been wearing underpants for quite some time; Fran practiced swimming and floating in the big pool; we visited in Indy; we did summer reading for AADL, Nicola's, and Bach School; Amy and Jason got married on the beach and we had a week-long beach trip with Nana and Papa; we did drop-in writing on Tuesdays at 826 with Mrs. Z and Miss Chris; we had lots of BBQs and root beer; we went for bike rides and runs; we celebrated Gran's 88th birthday; we had playdates and camp weeks. We basked in the sun and savored its summer-ness.

As the warm pulls away and is replaced by fall, I am left feeling sad. First grade seems so much bigger than Kindergarten. I should just be excited. Fran's reading has changed so much this past year. He went from reading little books to reading Fox. (He even tried doing tricks on his bike like Fox in Fox Gets A Job to "impress the girls.") He does math in his head and explains his theories. He loves learning and first grade will be fabulous, but he really loves summer. Claudia will miss him terribly. It will be a big adjustment.

Ready or not... it is time.
Good-bye, summer.
Hello, fall.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Claudia was looking through a picturebook. She was intently looking at the pictures. Fran studied her for a bit and then asked, "Is she reading in her head?"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Swerve: A Lesson from Naomi Nye

This weekend, I went to hear the poet Naomi Shihab Nye speak at the Ann Arbor District Library. I loved hearing her writing in her own voice. But it was her presence that impressed me the most: firm, quiet, funny, compassionate, positive, kind, welcoming. The kind of presence I want to have- and sometimes have- and sometimes don't. The kind of presence I want my children to have in the world. The kind of presence that comes from feeling good in your own skin.

I was pleased with her praise for Ann Arbor Public Schools, relieved that writers notebooks in elementary and middle schools have the power to overshadow bad financial news in education. I lapped up her talk about how notebooks, libraries and newspapers (and clippings) fueled not only her writing, but her experience in the world. But what really stuck with me was her advice: swerve.

That's right: swerve. Naomi said, "On the path of daily obligation, if you take some kind of swerve, the best things happen. We'll remember 'the swerves.' Do something you didn't plan to do." As I sat listening to her, I evaluated my Sunday so far. I had swerved the day before and registered at the last minute for the Dexter-A2 Run. It was fabulous (even though I had not run for weeks and had a dreadful headcold). I took my children (sans husband!) to the Taste of Ann Arbor even though it was a busy, crazy day with a birthday party, poetry reading, and t-ball hanging in the midst. Fran tried chicken satay (no sauce) and Claudia gobbled Thai food. Also, we finally tried a Michigan bumpy cucpake- pure bliss! Fran strutted around holding the tickets and Blaine heard we were there and left work to see us (swerve!) and we went to the photo booth for the AADL and I hula-hooped in the street. We came home and dropped Claude off for a nap and I returned to the parking nightmare of downtown to hear Naomi. I snuck out early to run through a rainstorm to the van to go to take Claudia to a purple fairy birthday party for a cute 4 year-old and the boys went to t-ball where they were drenched in rain. So much swerving. What a great day.

So we'll keep swerving this summer (between Claudia's naps). We'll keep doing robot karaoke and picnics at the pool and kayaking on the Huron and biking to Summerfest and volunteering at Mott (coming soon!) and making books and taking time to read and write new things. Swerving is fodder for both writing and living.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kindergarten Crybaby

We shed no tears on the first day of Kindergarten. The whole Roderique family (except Colby- it was raining) took Fran to school. We took pictures. We lingered. Then we left him there. We came home. We all sat at home the whole day; Blaine even took the day off. Then we went back to pick him up. We took more pictures. We came home. Fran was exhausted, but he loved it.

I saw some mothers crying at Kindergarten drop-off. (And after it, walking down the tree-lined streets toward parked minivans.) I shook my head and thought things like "Wow, I'll bet she's doing a number on her kid." A few days in, I saw a mother who was still crying. (Granted, she could have stubbed her toe...) But my eyes were dry. Kindergarten is a joy; what was wrong with these people?

Fran loved Kindergarten. He still was quick to tears at times, but we heard he was a social butterfly. Kindergarten was going well. And it seemed like it would go on like this for quite some time.

But really, Kindergarten was flying by like calendar pages in an old-timey cartoon. Suddenly, there were about 30 school days left. I started to panic. How could Kindergarten be ending? How could Fran possibly be big enough for first grade? And then I realized that come summer, Kindergarten would be over. New class. New teacher. New grade.

And then I started crying, just like the other mothers. Just a little late.

Also, I think it's fair to say that I am pretty sure I am doing a number on my kid...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Smooth Operator

Some of my favorite classroom activities for practicing reading fluently are shared reading, reader's theater, and partner reading. Another big component for teaching fluency is having it modeled with frequent, well-read read-alouds and also direct teaching in minilessons and conferences. It always amazes me how a simple demonstration comparing a "robot read" with a "fluent read" turns on light bulbs for readers. Additionally, studying how punctuation shapes reading is a huge help (phrasing, making it sound like talking, using end marks and commas to guide our voices).

But what does home support look like? I have noticed Fran's reading level has progressed nicely this year. When he is reading something with very high accuracy or familiarity, his intonation and phrasing are spot on. If the text is new (even with high accuracy), he does a great job reading with meaning about three-quarters of the way through the text and then reads more in short phrases to finish. That being said, our reading time is right before bedtime and he is exhausted from a busy day in full-day K and playing outside until dinner. Still, I have been thinking a lot about a home-support plan.

Basically, I think partner reading would be a good way to address this for a few reasons. Most importantly, Fran likes reading with me as a partner. I read a page, then he reads a page. Also, when we read as partners, I can subtly help with tricky spots and also cycle in-and-out modeling good phrasing. Fran and I have also talked about reading "quick enough so it sounds like talking." The Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books are a great read for this- the books are all dialogue and one person can read the Elephant talk bubbles and the other person can read the Piggie part. I think Fran would also enjoy writing and performing puppet shows (or having Elephant and Piggie Puppet shows.)

Reading fluently- or smoothly, with expression - will also elevate comprehension. I think these activities will be a fun for Fran and will make him feel very proud. Hopefully Claudia will outgrow her puppet fear so we have an audience!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kindergarten "Home-work"

This past weekend was our second Freckles weekend. (Freckles is a stuffed jaguar that travels from house to house from the kindergarten in a little blue backpack.) I got pretty wild and crazy. "Frecks" rode the bus home for Fran's playdate at Carlos's house, dined at Bennie's- just like MIchael Phelps, and went to a Tiger's soccer game. Freckles hosted a crazy playdate with Luke after soccer and hosted Claudia's Birthday Brunch. Fran even read the funnies to him on Sunday. Many events were documented by photographs.

Then we had to fill in the journal page (on school nights after long school days.) We trimmed a couple pictures and Fran picked his "layout". And then it was time for the captions. Fran was doing fine work, but Blaine and I were getting cranky. It was like a kindergartner was doing this writing. (Wait- he is in kindergarten...)

As a classroom teacher, I remember those points in the year where I would panic a bit about making sure I was guiding kids firmly enough. And looking over our year at home, I am having the same worries. I feel like there are a lot of times I have dropped the literacy ball at home. Fran has only written one story at home this year. We do a great job reading aloud to him, but after full day kindergarten, he often plays instead of reading independently (except for March is Reading month... he was a lean, mean reading machine.) But looking at his progress over the year is reassuring and inspiring. The difference in his writing from October was incredible: confidence in stretching and approximating new words, getting ideas on his own, neatness, spelling (kindergarten) high frequency words conventionally,... Most importantly, he works so much more independently now.

Maybe having a reading and writing house is not just about reading and writing. Maybe it's also about puppet shows, playing outside, and just sitting in the backyard in beach chairs under the Snoopy flag, thinking. But now, I think about how a little stuffed jaguar showed me how hard my Kindergartner has worked.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The End of Publishing?

I hear people raving about their Kindles, but I still like to hold a book. I love the smell of a new hard-cover and even the smell of library book. I love how I feel when I read something that knocks my socks off (published writing or student writing!)... The following link came from a friend of mine who works in publishing: it is a nice sentiment. It is a feeling that I think as teachers we need to espouse to influence and inspire our students. Watch here and enjoy!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When Did This Happen?

At some point, Claudia has turned almost-two.

She has fabulous book handling skills: gently turning pages, scanning left to right, returning books to their shelf, having favorites, "reading" to herself, recognizing characters, noticing letters (all letters are "a"), remembering words and filling them in...

When did she stop chewing the board books?

Go Whalers!

The boys are heading off to the final (regular season) hockey game of the Plymouth Whalers. Fran sent Blaine back into the house to pick up the sign he made to take to the game. It's a proud moment in the reading and writing house: making a sign to take to a sporting event. The next step is painting his chest!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Advocates and Assholes

I understand that finding the word "asshole" in a blog celebrating the joy in raising readers and writers might be surprising. But it must be said and recorded: There's a thin line between advocate and asshole.

I think this applies to all areas of life: political leanings, charity work, professional and personal philosophies, and of course parenting. I'll be the first to admit I have crossed this line before. I feel pretty strongly about universal health care and support services for kids whose families are struggling. I feel extremely passionate about professional development for teachers and classroom libraries. And I am pretty crazy about high fructose corn syrup- well, actually pretty crazy against it... And I think sippy cups are sent straight from the underworld. Just use a damn glass. But I digress.

As parents, we are told we must advocate for our child. But what does that mean?

Perspective and methodology both play a role. Advocates enter situations with wide-open eyes, considering how they are contributing to the greater community. Assholes enter situations with expectations, focusing on what they think they need or deserve.

My grandmother would say it's about catching more flies with honey rather than vinegar, but I think that's too simple. Advocacy isn't just about sweetness; it's about truth. A remarkable amount of self-reflection is necessary to see the truth in our selves and our children. But holding to the tenets of advocacy is very important and not holding fast to them can have serious repercussions.

In my work as a classroom teacher, it was always pretty easy to spot the advocates. Part of their angle is clearly a smart political move (never burn a bridge!), but much of it is also a perspective for interacting in the world. It's important to consider a few things when entering a school (especially as a Kindergartner). First, lose the score card. If you are not keeping score of the teacher's rights and wrongs (and typos), everyone will be happier. Also, look within and think: how is my child and my family making a positive contribution to the classroom and greater school community? If my child needs more attention or services than a typical student, are we gracious recipients? Full disclosure: teachers and support staff want to make sure your child gets what he/she needs so remembering that you are on the same side is essential. And for me, if someone spends six hours a day with my kid, I am going to make nice.

Now, as a mother of a kindergartner in a middle class public school system, this may seem like premature advice. What could I really know about advocating for my child when we've only been in a school community for 110 school days? (And full disclosure: we've had no big issues since Mrs. Z. is practically perfect and she "gets" our not-as-perfect-yet-quintessential kindergartner). Obviously, I have had the advantage of working in schools for over a decade and also observing others really struggle with this adjustment and have seen firsthand how not to react. Very unsavory situations can be created by being combative. It reminds me of my favorite dating advice: Act like you're not crazy for at least 3 months. After all, in a K-6 school, if you are unpleasant to deal with in Kindergarten, it may take a while (even with kind professionals) for it to be forgotten and forgiven.

In sending my son to school, I am recognizing that he is not perfect- or even easy all the time- for that matter. I know what his triggers are and I understand how intensely and quickly he reacts to little things, but not necessarily big things. It's exactly what I see some parents doing: reacting to little things rather than big things. Except they think they're big things. And after series of meetings and other shenanigans, they are big things.

I think there are situations where the classroom situation is so detrimental that polite advocacy may not be an option. There are some really bad teachers who have been given too many chances. There are IEPs that are simply not being met. That is not what this post is about. It seems that for many people, some issues are created by some poorly played situations. And as a former crazy girlfriend making crazy late-night phone calls, I have learned (ok- am learning) to wait and be more self-aware- and avoid knee-jerk reactions.

It's all about finding the truth- and then living in it. And, hey, a little sweetness mixed with that truth couldn't hurt. Asking for help when you live in the truth is advocacy.

We all need help sometimes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Show- And Not Tell

We are visiting my parents in Indy on a whirlwind tour and Fran and Claudia are sharing a room. Claude is tucked in a pack and play and Fran is in one of the twin beds. I am sleeping across the hall all stretched out.

This morning I was greeted by a rustling doorknob and four pitter-patters: one pair of socked feet and one pair of footie zip-zip jammies. At 7:30. (I had been up all hours of the night due to my caffeine-to-stay-awake-while-driving-to-Indy strategy.) I admit, I was pretty bleary. No one wanted to snuggle. They wanted to play and eat miniature pancakes and Lucky Charms. (Curses to the toys and junk food with which the old ones stock the house!) We pitter-pattered downstairs.

Later in the morning, Grandma came down followed much later by Grandpa. Cereal. Old-school Fisher Price. The doll highchair (with Claudia sitting in it). Lots and lots of coffee. Then, Mom and I made a run to O'Malia's food Market with the kids. When we pulled into the parking lot, it finally occurred to me: how did Claudia get out of bed?

"Fran," I said, "How did Claudia get out of her bed this morning? Did she climb out of her pack and play?"

"No," he said, his eyes growing wide. "She was standing up and talking in her bed so I went over to her." He started acting this out as best he could strapped in his carseat. "I pulled her up by her arms and then I reached over and I grabbed her and held her body and pulled her up and over the pack and play. And then I put her down and we came into Mommy's room."

I looked at him in amazement at his description. Most mothers would just find the commentary and accompanying actions delightful, but I was practically bursting with pride at how he slowed down an important action. Show- and not tell. He didn't just say "I got Claudia out of her bed," he showed me with his words and actions, like a story.

I was pretty bleary until the show-not tell description. Then I felt wide awake!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Extra! Extra!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Fran has been making newspapers lately. He scrawls out some news- quite quickly- and uses his tiny scissors to cut the page out of the notebook. Next, the paper goes into the delivery bag (which is the small blue cooler with a shoulder strap that we take to the pool.) He delivers the papers around the house.

This newspaper activity brings about a slew of emotions: my pride with his autonomy in incorporating writing into play, his love of newspapers, my excitement with much quicker he is writing now, my sadness at not seeing a paperboy in years, my relief that we still get at least a Sunday paper and the coupon paper mid-week to demonstrate the value of newspapers, and pure enjoyment in watching him entertain himself. I even left a copy of Dav Pilkey's The Paperboy out for him at breakfast. Now he'll probably need green rubber bands.

It's so nice to know that I'll wake up to a morning paper tomorrow. I hope it's good news. With Fran, it usually is.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Days

I cannot fathom living somewhere without snow days.

We had a lovely one yesterday. We started our day with a nice breakfast: turkey bacon during the week! Then we all bundled up and shoveled our 10 inches of snow, built a "snow mountain" in the yard, cleaned snow off the cars, and took a baby sled/ dog walk. We came in for a mac and cheese feast. Next came the Easy Bake oven and a tasty-albeit small- layer cake. We figured out the 100s collection and finished up some valentines. When Claudia woke up from her nap, there was dramatic play in the basement. Then an outing to Trader Joe's to get more chocolates before heading out to go sledding on the big hill.

I felt really greedy for wanting another day.

Friday, January 29, 2010


This isn't really relating to literacy, but anyone who knows my unfortunate draw to animal prints (cruelty-free, of course) will be amused to know that tonight, in our goof-off time that extended bedtime to later than usual, Fran brought over The Ann Arbor Observer, turned it to the back cover and tapped at a picture.

"Hey, look," he said. "That chair's classy."

I glanced over and it was a leopard print chair.
"What did you say?" I asked.

He pointed under the picture and tapped the page again. "That chair. It's classy. We should get a baby Jaguar chair like that..."

That boy's mother had sure done a number on him.

Monday, January 25, 2010


We just got back from storytime at the main Ann Arbor library with the ever-lovely Laura Pershin Raynor. She told the story of The Mitten with a giant felt mitten and animal puppets.

When came home, Claudia went into her room. She dug through her book baskets and came out clutching in her little hands her copy of the board book, The Mitten. She looked at me, and started nodding. "Ree," she said.

I think Laura Raynor may have magic powers.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

I think Writing Workshops are fabulous in Kindergarten. (I started mine the first day of Kindergarten.) I think making books by putting ourselves on the page is an important thing for little ones to do. But in my work- and sometimes at my house- I am seeing kids needing more oral language storytelling experiences to both help them write and communicate their hopes and dreams. I do not think that holding off on the workshop is the way to go; I think we should teach (and celebrate) writing and storytelling along side each other.

Playing and storytelling will help them write. And think. And grow. And have a good time.

So today, I am making some decisions:
A decision to read more.
A decision to tell more stories.
A decision to listen to more stories.
A decision to facilitate extended periods of time for play, both independent and in a group (2 or more).
A decision to scaffold storytelling with my children.
A decision to cultivate a cadre of family stories.
A decision to be "checked in" when I am with my children.
A decision to participate in dinner conversation, even when dinner is at 4:30 or 5:00, and even if I am exhausted.
And also a decision to better nurture my own reading, writing, and storytelling.

And a constant reminder that the dramatic "scene" work we have with towns, roads, train tracks, and action figures is the very valuable work for a reader and writer (and should be left up for a period of extended play). Literacy is not just interacting with text: it's experiencing life and making meaning.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Was Just On My Mind

For the past few days, I have been thinking about how my blog's audience is kind of like Sesame Street's: the kids (and families) that most likely have much of what they need already in place. I want all kids to grow confident in themselves and in their abilities as readers and writers. I am still convinced in the power of literacy: that reading and writing can lift you up and shape you so completely.

So it seemed funny to me that as I was careening to the library to pick up a giant stack of on-hold materials, I happened to catch a story on NPR about The Perry Preschool Long-Range Studies. Even more inspiring is that the preschool is one town over.

Click here to link to the podcast and transcript of "Early Lessons" by Emily Hanford

I have been having some pretty intense experiences working in schools that have kids with pretty strong academic needs and limited home-support and resources. Again, I am convinced that the hugest component of literacy--talking and listening and connecting to others-- is what can make the biggest educational and personal impact.

Reading and writing connects you to others and to yourself. But it's the connection to others that matter most.

Monday, January 18, 2010


When we read "Goodnight Gorilla" to Claudia, she imitates all the facial expressions on the lights-on page.
She does an "O" mouth with wide eyes for the zoo keeper's wife; a wide, toothy grin for the gorilla; and a "honk-shoo" noise for the sleeping zoo-keeper.

Oh, my.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What a Mess!

Today at a party, Claudia snuck over to the children's easel and got into the black paint. It took five grown-ups to handle this.

I blame myself.

Not only was she poorly supervised at the party by her parents, but we have taught her too much about easels, paints, and pens.

Being the Parent, Not the Teacher

It's been a strange year, being the parent and not the teacher. I thank my lucky stars that we ended up in Mrs. Z's class; she is absolutely perfect- for me. (We think she's practically perfect for Fran, too!) The journey of learning to be a parent of a child in a class has been an absolute pleasure and has required much reflection. I am astounded by how much this experience would affect my own role as a classroom teacher. ( I think I'd be a little sweeter next time around...)

The interaction between parent and teacher needs common ground and mutual respect. But the thing that seems to have the biggest impact is attitude. From what I can see, the experience families have in school mirrors the energy parents send off about the school and their child's teacher. As my mother always says,"You catch more flies with honey than vinegar."

I understand that my experience would be different if Fran, his teacher, and his classroom weren't so smooth. But I hope that even in an adverse situation, I would know not to come in swinging, assuming the role of adversary. Being combative or accusatory never gets the outcome you desire.

I really want to embrace and support the people who spend six hours a day with my child. Maybe this is because I've walked a few miles in "teacher shoes," but I think it's more than that. I think it's an approach to life. And it feels good when I let little things slide; I know they don't matter. Supporting my son's overall experience is more important than reacting to a slice of one day.

I can't believe Kindergarten is half-over.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

No easel? No problem!

When Fran was little and started painting with tempera at about 1 1/2, we didn't have an easel.

But we had a fridge.

I just taped chart paper to the fridge. The clean-up was insanely easy- it just wipes off the fridge and the vinyl flooring. Close supervision and washable tempera are also recommended!


"I write." is one of my daughter's daily statements. She is 20 months old. She loves marking with skinny markers (Pipsqueaks!) and does a pretty good job staying on paper. It is interesting to me that writing and drawing seem so natural to her. Granted, a lot of writing happens here. She loves to sit at the table and instruct for me to draw babies, meow-meows, and woof-woofs while she marks the other side of the page. Yesterday, I made a circle and asked her to do it, and she tried a closed shape. It was pretty exciting. She has been all about lines. But after her attempt, it was more meow-meows for me. She tapped the page firmly to let me know her plan.

My son was an avid "writer" at about ten months, marking on my grocery pads. (He has never written on an inappropriate surface!) But at some point, I think my "guidance" about his pencil grip may have been what dulled this interest. I remember waiting in agony for him to be interested in writing his name and doing more representational work. Luckily, paint and play were nice distraction from the pressure I had created with pencil grip. Giant paper and co-illustarted big pages (mostly trucks and cars and roads) were our next step. It is a relief to see him currently so engaged with writing and drawing projects.

There is so much writing in play and life in our house. I think a lot of factors contribute, especially the availability of a variety of materials: pens/ markers/ paper, easels, notebooks, envelopes, list pads, book templates, cards, and so much modeling. But time is probably the most influential component. TIme to sit next to them one-on-one, time to play and explore, time to make independent choices in play, quiet time to think, and time to be slow.

I am glad I've figured out that no pushing is necessary. I just need to leave out the markers and leave enough time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Board Books

I love board books.

I have watched one child grow into them- and out of them- and into them again to share them with a sibling. I am watching a younger sibling develop her own relationship with books, different and the same as her brother's.

I have strong opinions about what works well as a board books (generally, books formatted initially as a board book, not simply printed as a board book with the exception of The Little Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Machines that Work and a few others.)

I am stunned about how varied learning can be with board books:
* learning to sit on a lap with a book
* learning to engage alone in a book
* chewing a book (and getting the dog blamed for eating a binding of Busy Doggies)
* looking at pictures
* studying pictures and naming objects
* comparing pictures from book to book
* listening to a story
* listening to comments about each page (when a story is too long)
* caring for books (even Miss C puts the books back in her baskets)
* carving out "real estate" in homes for books
* figuring out book orientation
* developing favorites
* increasing attention span- sitting through as many books as a lap will allow!
* "reading" a story independently
* getting stories in your blood
* exposure to genre, concepts, structures, rhyme
* conversation fodder
* flaps!
* and, of course, my favorite thing: finding "meow-meows"

It's always a good day when someone little crawls in my lap with a book and says "ree". I enjoy a good story and always sneak in a cuddle.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Well, We Must Be Doing Something Right...

On Monday evening, our five year-old sat in the bathroom, vomit on his jammie sleeves. He lowered his eyes and shook his head. "I can't go to school tomorrow."

He paused.

"I will miss library and I like library. I like changing my book." He pushed out his pouty lip and sighed.

And then he threw up again.