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.