Pick a book, any book.

20 Jan

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In my last post, I recommended that you read with your child. I suggested that you expose your child to as many genres as possible at an early age. It will help your child to develop a love of literature. One day, in the not so distant future, it will also help to develop your child’s writing skills and sense of story.

I would like to share some books I love reading to my children. Of course if I listed all of them, it would be too long to post. As I started typing out this list, I realized I could publish a whole book of bibliographies of my favorite children’s books. Hmmm, maybe I will one day.

I have listed a few categories of books to start the list. Most of these books  feature repetitive text. This feature will help your child predict what will happen next in the story, and eventually will lead to recognizing and reading words that appear frequently within a text. It also helps your child to develop pre-reading skills. It will not be uncommon for your child to “read” to you while he looks at pictures and turns pages while using many of the words he heard you use. The repetitive text helps your child to build the confidence he needs to do this. Without “prereading”, there can be no readers.

Recently, my 3 year old found the word “said” in one of her books because I read it over and over. She asked me which word was ‘said’ and went on to find it in another book we had nearby. This was not a contrived lesson plan, or any plan at all. I pointed to words, she listened, and took the initiative to learn a word all on her own. This came from only minutes a day of reading on a regular basis. A little goes a long way!

I hope this list is a good starting point for you. You may see books you have already read. You may see books you own. You will see books that are listed under more than one category. This was intentional.

Of course there are so many more books. If you have any books you feel we all MUST know about and read, please let us know in the comment section. In future posts, I will explore specifics of how you may want to use this literature with your children. But for now, read with expression, point, and read some more.

ABC/123/Color:

This genre is especially wonderful for early readers and preschoolers. There are usually sections of these books at your local library. In my kindergarten classrooms I always had a huge bin out. These books help even the earliest readers feel confident. Many have one letter per page, or one number per page. Those are great, and too plentiful to list. I have listed some others…

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Eric Carle

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Lois Ehlert

Chicka Chicka 123 by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Lois Ehlert

Museum ABC by The (NY) Metropolitan Museum of Art*

Museum Shapes by The (NY) Metropolitan Museum of Art*

*These two books use famous artwork you may see at your local art museum. These books are gorgeous!

Rhyming Books:

Rhyming is invaluable. The more children are able to recognize and predict rhymes in texts, the more they are able to develop phonemic awareness. To refresh your memory, feel free to check out my last post in which I wrote about the importance of phonemic awareness.

Books by Sandra Boynton (Hey, Wake Up!, But Not the Hippopotamus)

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Eric Carle

Beach Day by Patricia Lakin

Rainy Day by Patricia Lakin

Snowy Day by Patricia Lakin

Books by Dr. Seuss

**NURSERY RHYMES/MOTHER GOOSE BOOKS: These are some of my favorites because they are available in all different formats: board books, cloth books, bath books, with CDs, different illustrations, different collections, etc. It is also my personal opinion, that not enough kids today know the basic nursery rhymes. I am secretly hoping that this one blog post will bring back Mother Goose into each one of our children’s lives.

Funny Books:

I love funny books. Now my kids love funny books. Nothing like a good giggle with your kids or your class. I have found that my kids are able to catch onto jokes earlier than we think. So, I read funny books with my kids as soon as I start reading. Here are a few. If you want more ideas, let me know!

Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton

Pookie by Sandra Boynton

Go, Dog, Go by P.D. Eastman

Underwear Do’s and Don’ts by Todd Parr

The Cat and The Hat by Dr. Seuss

Thomas’ Snowsuit and other books by Robert Munsch

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (This book cracked up my oldest when she was only 13 months old. There are not a lot of words but the pictures are a hoot. She still giggles as she reads this book, and she is 8.)

Songs:

You can read or sing these books. When you point and sing a familiar song, your child is able to continue to develop confidence and further those early reading skills.

Today is Monday by Eric Carle

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Lois Ehlert

The Wheels on the Bus by Raffi

BINGO by Rosemary Wells

Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed by Eileen Christelow

The Lady With The Alligator Purse by Mary Ann Hoberman

Miss Mary Mack by Mary Ann Hoberman

“Snuggly books” (as my kids call them): 

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown

The Jacket I Wear In The Snow  by Shirley Neitzel

(Great rebus book with pictures, kids will feel successful as they join you in reading this book)

The OK Book and other Todd Parr Books

Jez Alborough Books (Tall, Hug)

ANY books by Mo Willems

I hope you do use this list and enjoy it. And, PLEASE, let me know if you have any questions, would like more ideas, or have any more ideas you would like to share.

Coming in my next post, I will begin to discuss what you can do at home to foster math readiness and number sense. You can make a difference in just a few minutes a day. Stay tuned…

When in doubt, READ

12 Jan

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When I was a little girl, my favorite time was when my parents read to us. When I was a teacher, my favorite time of day was read-aloud. My students were entranced. They always asked for more, and even the most active students were instantly calm and engaged.

Now I am a mom. I crave the time of day when my kids and I are cuddled up reading books. There are days when I have to remind myself to stop emptying the dishwasher to read to my very independent three year old who asks “Mommy, when the kitchen is all clean can we read?”

As I sit and cuddle with my children, even the most trying days become rewarding and pleasurable. Each book we read is a shared experience, a giggle, or even a cry.

From the time we become parents, we are told to read to our kids. Some people even go as far as to read to their growing fetuses. No matter when you choose to begin reading to your child, it is important to your child’s development. I will confess, though, I never did read to my belly and I do believe my kids are no worse off.

I want to use this post to tell you WHY reading to your child is so important. I firmly believe, if you don’t do anything else with your child—READ. READ. Then, when you finish READ MORE. This alone will help your child be ready for Kindergarten and beyond. As a quick Internet search will show you, there are a ton of studies and organizations that have proven this very fact.

By reading out loud to your child on a regular basis, you (or any other adult) are shaping your child’s intellectual, emotional, and social development. When children listen to books, they are developing their language—both receptive and expressive. They hear the reader read with expression, they learn new vocabulary words, they may discuss the book and make predictions, they practice empathy, perspective taking, and problem solving. The emotional connection with the reader compounds this valuable learning experience.

Of course, you know me well enough by now to know that I will not end my post here. How you read to your child directly impacts what skills your child is able to pick up along the way.

And now, the tips:

Practice good reading habits. Whether you realize it or not, your children watch you from an early age and pick up your habits. Reading is no different. Try these easy and subtle additions to your reading.

  • Point as you read. As you point, your young child will automatically be drawn to your finger. She will start to see one to one correspondence between the spoken and written word, and between the words and the pictures.  She will begin to understand concepts of print (directionality, spaces between words, etc.), and even learn to recognize basic sight words.

Obviously, this pointing becomes difficult, if not annoying, as you read complex picture books or even chapter books out loud to your older child. I am talking specifically about when you read to your young preschooler or Kindergartener. It is the emergent and beginning reader who benefits most from this subtle, yet CRUCIAL, gesture of pointing.

Of course, sometimes you just want to read, not make it an educational experience. No problem. Your child will learn a lot regardless of how often you point (but do try it!).

  • Read with expression. This tip is a must. No one enjoys listening to a rushed reader or someone who reads like a robot. We want to teach our children how much fun it can be to read and to listen to texts. Use to different voices, or just be sure to read just as you would speak in conversations. Incorporate the different types of punctuation. In doing so, you will create readers who want to emulate “good reader” behavior.
  • Expose your child to as many genres as you can. I will not get into that tip in great detail here in this post, but will supply you with ample ideas and even bibliographies in my upcoming posts. I like to keep you coming back for more!

I hope I have given you some more food for thought. Until next time, keep reading! If you don’t feel like reading to your children, your children will pick up a love of reading just by seeing you read. Perhaps as you leave them to play alone (see my previous post about the importance of independent play) you can steal away and have some alone time with a good book. The dishes can wait.

Blah Blah Blah

5 Jan

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First off, I would like to thank you all for reading this blog. When I see how many hits I get each day, it validates that there is indeed a need to consider and discuss what we are doing at home with and for our children. I hope you will stay tuned to pick up some new ideas and even share some of your own tips with the rest of us.

Before I go into the next tip, I will need you to visualize a mother picking up her child at preschool. She has answered an important call on her way over to the school and is continuing the chat into the building, silently picks up her child, and then walks out holding her kid’s hand. They get into the car, and with the wonders of modern technology, the mom is able to complete her important conversation while her child buckles himself in and eats his snack in silence.

Is this at all familiar to you?

Now imagine a parent walking his or her child in the stroller. The child is looking at traffic, singing, while the parent is on the phone.

Does this ring a bell?

Now move onto the grocery store. A caregiver is pushing the cart while the child is in the front pulling stuff off the shelves naming every item he throws in. Caregiver says, “SHHHH, I am on the phone.” Then into the phone: “This kid doesn’t let me get a thing done.”

I have probably just described any one of us at one instance or another. Can any one of us busy parents/grandparents/nannies say that we have NEVER been on the phone while out and about with our children? Probably not. I, too, feel that sometimes the only time I can get a word in, or be at all productive, is when my kids are strapped in…

The purpose of this blog entry is to inspire all of us to stop and think before we make that call or have a long conversation while out and about with our children. When our children are strapped in—be it in the car, the stroller, or the shopping cart— we are able to have the most meaningful interactions we will have all day. The “on-the-go” chats about what we see and do are the most important learning experiences for our young children.

You may be asking: “Why does it matter if I am on my phone while we walk or drive?” What I have for an answer is my opinion, based on what skills I have watched my children acquire along the way and by what I have seen and read as a teacher of young children. By talking to your young child about the world around her, you are helping her to become a member of society. You are helping her to process what she sees around her, helping her find vocabulary to describe and assimilate her new knowledge and observations into her world.

Here is an example. In just one short trip to the grocery store, your child has the potential to learn:
-vocabulary for all the objects around the market
number skills as you count foods as you put them into your cart
-social skills as you interact with those around you (including your child)
-literacy skills as you read a shopping list or make one for your child to read
-attributes and organization of food around the store: green apples, red apples, fruit in one place, fish in another…

Transition times, as short as they may be, also prove to be wonderful times for learning. In the short time it takes you to walk upstairs with your child, walk to the car, take a bath, prepare dinner, you can work on some basic literacy and mathematical skills that your child will need for kindergarten, and beyond. Here are just a few of my favorite educational space fillers:

Sing your ABCs and other kids’ songs
Count steps (by 1’s, 2’s,backwards, forwards)
Rhyming (“bat rhymes with fat. Mat rhymes with bat.”)

Though you may start off feeling like you are just reciting to your child, you are actually laying the foundations. In no time at all, your child will join in.

When you talk to your child you are helping to build phonological awareness skills. What does that mean? As Hallie Kay Yopp and Ruth Helen Yopp, two professors in the College of Education at California State University define it in an article (“Phonological Awareness is Child’s Play”, 2009):
“Phonological awareness is the ability to attend to and manipulate units of sound in speech (syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes) independent of meaning.”
Simply put, your child will learn to understand to break down words, hear syllables, make rhymes (words that SOUND as if they have the same ending) and detect words that have the same endings and sounds within syllables (rimes). Phonological awareness is directly correlated to your child’s later success in reading and spelling.

So, there you have it. I am sure many of you are already doing exactly what I’ve discussed in this blog. If so, I hope I have helped you understand how valuable these seemingly trivial interactions are to your young child’s social and intellectual development. In later blogs, I will revisit this topic and give you more ideas. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section of this blog.
Until then, I hope that I have given you the food for thought you need to bring the joy back into grocery shopping. (I think we all need a little reminder every once in a while! I know I do.)

Fight for their right…TO PLAY!

29 Dec

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I hope you are all enjoying your children this vacation. By now, I bet it doesn’t feel much like a vacation. I am sure you have all had your fill of each other. Oh, I hear ya. I, too, have been with my children non-stop for the last 9 days.

While there are only a few days left of this break from school, I’d love to give you a tip to truly enjoy the rest of your vacation. It will sound callous, perhaps even odd. Here goes: leave your kids alone.

What do I mean by this? Do not schedule an activity, do not play with them, and do not turn on the television, video games, or computer. Just let them play. This is tip number one from my list of tips from a couple of blog entries ago: UN-schedule your child.

Some of you may have heard of David Elkind. He is a professor at Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University. He has written many books that have shaped my own perspective as a teacher and parent ever since I was his student.

Here is a statistic Elkind mentions in his book, The Power of Play: “Over the past two decades, children have lost 12 hours of free time a week.” WOW. I’ll give you a moment to digest that. 12 hours.

Where have those 12 hours gone, you may ask? Does the scene in the picture above look at all familiar?

When I think of my happiest memories as a kid, they all involve me playing with my toys and games at home, in the yard, or with friends running around pretending we were teachers, parents, or living in the wild. Why would we knowingly rob our kids of such experiences?

Elkind writes, “…Parents, anxious for their children to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, regard play as a luxury that the contemporary child cannot afford.” This statement saddens me every time I read it. And it rings true.

Now, back to you and your kids. Your child probably does enjoy the activities to which you (or someone else) bring her, but I encourage you to think about the schedule you have for your children. Does it include an early bedtime? Does it include quality unstructured time?

Elkind states: “The psychological consequences of the failure to engage in spontaneous, self-initiated play are equally serious, and equally worrisome.”

Kids NEED unstructured time to play alone, with friends or adults in their lives, outside or inside. This time is critical to social, emotional, and intellectual development—to name just a few perks. Kids learn to be creative, solve problems, work through their emotions, and occupy themselves.

As a teacher, I used to offer free choice time each day, regardless of what grade I was teaching. Over the course of ten years, I saw a huge change in how my students reacted. At first, kids were excited and thrilled to have free time with math materials, puzzles, art materials, or just to play “pretend.” As the years went on, free time became stressful.

“Denise, what do I DO??!?! THIS IS SO BORING!” I would say, “Well, what do you play at home when you have down time?” Here is a sampling of the answers: “I never have free time.” “My mom chooses for me.” “I watch television.” “My mom or dad tells me what to do.” And my favorite: “I never choose. Someone always chooses for me. If I think it is boring, they choose something else for me.”

Hmmmm.

As a parent, I have found the younger my sitters are, the less they are able to actually play with my kids. I have come home to find my girls playing on the babysitter’s phone, the sitter lying on the floor texting while my kids literally run in circles playing around her, and even overheard my kids saying “We don’t actually watch TV too much. We love to play together.”

Just tonight, my husband and I wanted to cuddle on the sofa with the girls and watch a movie. They chose to play family with their toothbrush and toothpaste samples from the dentist. (Yes, it does sound odd to say it out loud but it really is cute. Mr. and Mrs. Mint have a very nice life. Our kids spend hours at a time with free floss and toothbrushes. I kid you not.)

Have you ever thought, “If I don’t plan something for my kids, we will all drive each other nuts”? Before you reach for your car keys, I’d like to leave you with this thought: the more you leave your kids alone, the more independent they will become. Provide them with time to explore all the toys, art materials, dolls, etc. in your house. They will have more ideas than you. There is nothing more fun than sitting back and watching your kids play independently—except maybe the downtime you will get for yourself.

Mark my words, when your child has had the opportunity to create, problem solve, and interact with others, he will enter his academic career with the confidence and skills he needs to succeed. He may not be able to solve quadratic equations or be fluent in three languages at age 4, but I assure you he will be happy and well equipped for his future as a life-long learner and social being.

Talk to the kids? Pop the bubble?

15 Dec

Today, it does feel strange to blog about something as trivial as preparing our kids for kindergarten…There is no way to discuss that, as NONE of us were prepared for the day some kindergarteners had yesterday in Connecticut.

The parents of the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary school had no way of preparing themselves or their kids for this. It is an incredible tragedy that has taken over all of our minds—especially parents and teachers.

My husband and I were faced with the same decision as many of you: to tell our children or not to tell our children of this unspeakable event? Do we keep them in their bubble only to have it burst when they hear an older child or a peer with an older sibling talk about it outside of our earshot? Do we hide the news from them? Do we tell them all the gory details or water it down? What do we do?!?!

I was instantly brought back to when I was teaching second grade that fateful September 2001. Keep in mind I was in Northern California—3 hours behind the East Coast. Parents knew.  Most adults were in shock, some were crying, and almost none had told their young children. They dropped them off with us, went home to watch the news and cry. We were left to “act normal” and stay away from news unless we could escape to the teachers’ room to watch the television someone had turned on. It was the hardest day of my career as a teacher. Most teachers would probably agree with that, or they would have until yesterday.

Back then, our principal’s instructions were to act as if life had not changed. We were all instructed to be present at recess and lunch, and to be vigilant about eavesdropping on kids’ conversations. We were to keep the classroom safe and happy. Of course, we were to address any issues we overheard.  No lesson plan, no contrived discussions. Our students were young and many parents did not want to cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety. We were to see what our students and parents needed from us.

Those were the days before I was a mother. It was so difficult to act normal. So hard to smile and ignore how this one day had and would change the rest of our lives. But for my class of second graders, it didn’t change their lives.  It was my job to see that it didn’t.  Part of me resented this. When could I grieve? When could I watch the news and cry my eyes out?

BUT NOW, ten years later, I GET IT!

My husband and I discussed how we didn’t want to scare our kids. One of our daughters would surely not sleep for weeks if we told all details. But then we thought some more. What if she went to school and heard misinformation over which we had no control? What if that scared her more than the facts we did not tell her? What if she did not feel safe coming to us because we pretended it did not happen?

We decided to tell the basic facts to our two older daughters—ages 8 and 6 and 1/2. A man who was very sick in his mind went to a school and hurt a lot of people. It was awful and sad and scary. There are many people who are safe now because of the teachers and others who did so much to keep them safe. We assured them they are safe at their school and that things like this are so rare. It won’t happen to them, we said.  In saying that, we were assuring ourselves more than them. We told them if they have ANY questions to talk to us, or their teachers.

How did it go? My middle daughter asked if he got everyone else sick. They asked where he is now. We said he is dead and can no longer hurt anyone else. And with that, the girls went back to their art project.

I don’t know what will happen when they go back to school and are with other kids. My hope is that they are too young to discuss current events, or that enough time will have passed since Friday and it won’t be a hot topic. I am hoping their school is on the same wavelengths as my own former principal.

Most of all, I am hoping I can keep my girls in this news-free bubble for a little while longer. Actually, I am hoping I can keep them in this bubble of safety and happiness forever. If anyone has ideas how to make that work, please let me know.

Back To Basics With Betsy

6 Dec

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My two older daughters and I love reading the Betsy series by Carolyn Haywood. Some of you may have read it when you were little, but I would be willing to bet if your mothers were born and raised in this country they read the series when they were little. B is For Betsy was first published in 1939.

I devoured the series when I was little, and began to read it to my girls a couple of years ago. In the first book, Betsy started school. As my kids noticed right away, Betsy began her school career in First Grade.

Until then, Betsy and her friends were in playschool. My oldest asked me: “What on earth is PLAYSCHOOL? Sounds so fun!! They just played until first grade? They called it school?”

What could I answer? Yes, they did. And they grew into industrious, productive older students and eventually successful adults. If anything, they were happier, less stressed, and more independent than many students are today when they enter first grade. Back then, educators knew the true meaning of preschool: teach children to play and explore the world around them. When children understand how to be social beings, they can concentrate on the academic part of their schooling.

These days, we are so busy as adults that we tend to make sure our children are busy. We don’t want them to be “bored” or “under stimulated.”

All of these activities our children attend can have negative effects such as overstimulation and overtired children. We want to squeeze it all in, but is this lifestyle best for our children? Best for our family? Not necessarily…

My girls only have one extracurricular per week and I hold firm to that. I feel they need the time to play, relax, and have fun on their own. Luckily, my three kids are close enough in age to play with one another happily. I find that their peers are so busy that spontaneous playdates are near impossible–even on weekends.

I believe that we as parents can get “back to the basics” of parenting and give our children the childhood Betsy and her friends had in the 40’s, or that we had in the 70’s and 80’s. We can create children who are confident learners, happy, relaxed, well-rested, and well-prepared for the social world in which they live.

I believe there are 5 steps we need to take with our preschoolers to set them on the path to being “kindergarten ready.”

  1. UN-Schedule your child
  2. Talk to your child
  3. Read with your child
  4.  Count with your child
  5.  Write notes to your child

You may be surprised at what I will send your way, or rather what I won’t be sending you way. Throw away the math workbooks and phonics sheets they sell and display at Barnes and Nobles every August. Put away your wallet. Cancel the tutor.

All you need is a little time, a sense of fun, and maybe a trip to the public library. I will explore these steps in depth in future blogs, give you ideas and resources you can use as a parent or share with your child’s caregivers. If you walk away with one new idea, I have done my job.

Race to Kindergarten Readiness

2 Dec

Not too long ago, before I was a parent, I was a teacher in the California Public Schools in an affluent area. I opened an email from a parent in the neighborhood that shaped my perspective in life–as a teacher and as a parent.

This mother emailed every single kindergarten teacher in the district. She wanted to know:“How can I best prepare my son for Kindergarten? What skills can I teach him at home so he is well-prepared to advance in Kindergarten?” By the time I had finished reading her email, my mouth was open so wide that her “nearly three year old” son could have climbed right in to take a much-deserved nap.

We have all been there. We think we are the best parents in the world…until we sit down with other parents. We watch their kids, we listen to them discuss how wonderful their kids are, how smart, how advanced, how well-rounded, how precocious, how athletic… Sound familiar??

Now ask yourself: how many of those parents mentioned how HAPPY, social, and independent their children are? My guess: zero. Maybe one.

It is easy to realize how happiness is paramount when you look at your own child within the confines of your own family, your own day. But step out of that bubble and you are immersed in parents who want their kids to be the best, the busiest, smartest, most athletic, and most artistic.

We have ALL been there. I am the least competitive person I know—as a person, a mom, and a teacher. I play tennis or scrabble and I don’t care about the score. I have never played to win.  My uber competitive 6 year old can’t understand me, but it works to her advantage.

As a teacher, I never cared if my students scored the highest on their standardized tests. I taught them according to my own teaching style, got them involved and excited. They excelled because they learned passionately and at will.

The same—I imagined—would ALWAYS be true for me as a mom. But even I have been caught up in the competition that our generation of parents has inadvertently begun and is perpetuating.

This competition—and stress–is evident as we watch high schoolers prepare for college, pack on the extracurriculars, and AP classes. They have little time to sleep or have fun. What we as parents of young children need to realize is that, these days, we are treating our preschoolers like high school students.

Ask yourself this: do you think there is anyway YOU can prepare your preschooler for Kindergarten and beyond by stepping back and enjoying your child? Can you just let your kids be kids? Can you give your child the academic skills she needs with just moments of quality time a day?

I am here to tell you what I believe to be true: YES, YOU CAN. You don’t have to be a stay-at-home parent and you don’t have to pay a tutor. I will give you tips you can do with your child that will take less time than it takes you to read a blog entry. I promise: it is tried and true. Your child will be ready for kindergarten and the rest of her life.

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