Tag Archives: motherhood

It’s been a while…

24 May

It has been far too long since I have blogged. Time just flies. I feel like I blinked and my kids are all growing up so fast…my baby just turned 4. In the last few weeks, I have realized that all the special moments with her as my little baby are almost behind me. I have made the conscious decision to make sure I enjoy all the moments that much more—with all of my kids, not just my 4 year old.

In these last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to sit and watch my kids from the sidelines. I have watched them in school performances, and just sat back and watched them at home.

My “first baby” is now in the grade that I taught when I first entered the world of teaching. Second graders seemed so old then! How can I have a second grader who does research, reads complicated books, and writes stories?! How is it possible that my first grader who did not read with confidence, suddenly reads with expression and total comprehension as she devours her favorite new series, Roscoe Riley? How can my 4 year old suddenly correct ME when I read her favorite books and skip a word?

Of course my kids have grown as people: emotionally, socially, and in other areas. Since this blog focuses on our children as learners, that is what I have been thinking about most as I observe them.

This past week, what has become obvious to me is how my kids have begun to teach each other. So, in the spirit of getting you more free time while at the same time fostering your kids’ emotional and intellectual development, I am going to give you a tip: make your kids take over your role at bedtime.

If you have older children, have your older children put your young preschooler to bed. If your preschooler is your oldest and you have a baby, have your preschooler try to put your baby to bed. If you have a preschooler or a toddler and no others, have your child put YOU to bed.

It seems silly, I know. This past week my oldest decided to put our 4 year old to sleep. It was helpful for me, since I was able to spend the time with my middle daughter. It was helpful to me, since I only had to put TWO kids to sleep and not three. But most of all, it was helpful to the two of them.

For my oldest, she was able to apply so many of her skills:

-she felt really old, mature, and responsible

-she was able to practice her own reading with expression and keeping it interesting for her audience

-she actually worked to teach her little sister to read! She read her one of our favorite books (Baby Happy, Baby Sad by Leslie  Patricelli) and made sure to point out the repetitive text

For the youngest:

-she learned a new book from a different teacher

-she felt mature and responsible, too. Mom was not present!

Above all, they bonded. In the way that reading is so special for parents and children, it is as special for kids to share this with each other. Sometimes, parents can be in the way of truly positive interactions between siblings. (Don’t get me wrong. Feel free to spy from the hall.)

This can work with any age children. I have been doing this with my kids since my oldest was four. You would be amazed at what your kids can do. (Just don’t forget to try to stand in the door to take a video. It is guaranteed to warm your heart!)

Let me say this again: try this to save yourself some work! Use the extra time to kick up your feet and curl up with a book of your own. The dishes in the sink will wait until tomorrow morning. I promise.

noname-1

 

Do The Write Thing

9 Feb

By now, if you have been reading my blog, you know my philosophy well: stop bringing your kid to classes to help her have a leg up in kindergarten. Schedule less structured time, and more play time. Enjoy your kids as much as you can, even on the days when it feels impossible, for they will be grown-up before you know it. Let your child have a stress-free childhood. PLAY. PLAY. READ. RHYME. COUNT. Play some more.

There is one last step in my list of ‘back to basic’ tips: write notes to your child. This is one of my favorite tips. I LOVE writing notes to my kids, and they love receiving them. I urge you to start doing this every day, no matter how old your child is. Even the youngest of preschoolers understands what a note is and is excited to receive a note or a letter, even if s/he cannot read independently.

In writing notes, you are modeling writing as a FUN means of communicating. You needn’t ask them to write back to you; in no time at all your child will take initiative in ways that will surprise you.

What is the educational value of these fun notes? For starters, modeling yourself as a writer is as valuable as modeling math and reading for your children. It helps your kids see the fun and applicability in a skill.  You are a role model in all you do; when they see you write, they want to write. When children enter school ready, confident, willing, and loving a skill, they will develop the skill naturally, quickly, and with little effort.

As importantly, these notes—no matter how short they are—help your child to learn to recognize high frequency words such as: good, morning, night, love, I, you, me, mommy, your child’s own name, etc. In my opinion, there is nothing that will give your child the upper hand in reading and writing more than this. And, it is fun learning. In fact, you and your child do not even have to be face to face to make this happen.

How can you add note writing to your daily routine without it feeling forced? How can you keep it fun and organic? I have a couple of suggestions I have been doing with my own children since they were two years old.

Stick a memo board to their bedroom door. Think college dorm message board. I began with writing notes that were simple and fun. As my kids got older, I added blank spots for them to fill in words and letters, told them to circle words they knew, letters they recognized. Then they started writing back, and even initiating notes before they left for school.

This is an invitation to a tea party that came in the "mail" under our bedroom doory very early one morning.

This is an invitation to a tea party that came in the “mail” under our bedroom door very early one morning.

This one made my day.

This one made my day.

I LOVE the writing process. It is fascinating to watch kids learn to express themselves in writing as they piece together letter sounds and words they know–or think they know. Sometimes what they write may make no sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to them. Empower them. Have them read it back to you.

Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is my daughter was nearly 4 and a half and very proud.

Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is my daughter was nearly 4 and a half and very proud.

Lunch box notes are always fun. For my three year old, I write the same note each time I write to her: “Dear Sophie, I love you. Love, Mommy.” She now knows the words love, dear, and Mommy.  For my older two, I write puzzles, math problems, word games, and notes.

A lot of the examples that I have mentioned mirror what I did as a teacher within my own classroom, but your notes do not need to do this. Even the shortest and simplest notes will help your young children to recognize and appreciate the power of the written word.

There are so many ways to extend all of this, but if I tell you all of my ideas now, you won’t come back to read more.  Now I hope I have hooked you in…

Until the next post, have fun and enjoy your new little pen pals.

You can always count on numbers to provide hours of fun (pun intended)

27 Jan

In today’s blog I would like to explore another tip. We have been focusing on social and literacy skills that your child needs to be a confident, happy, and successful kindergartener. Today I will touch upon number skills.

Just as it is important to talk to your child so s/he develops language and social skills, it is important that you count with your child so s/he develops number sense. Your children listen to every word you say, so you may as well make it count. (No pun intended, I promise.)

Counting with your kids is fun, crucial, and easy to do.  It is one of the most valuable educational space fillers you can do in such a short time. A minute a day can make a huge difference.

Here are some ideas I have done with my kids:

  • Count steps as you walk
  • Count buttons or snaps as you dress
  • Count buses or trucks as you walk or drive
  • Count babies at the supermarket
  • Read number books
  • Count out snacks as you prepare them
  • Surround your child with numbers: magnets, bath toys, blocks, and board or card games that involve counting and can be modified (such as UNO, BLINK, snail’s pace).
  • If your games use dice or spinners with numbers, be sure to have your child read the number or count the dots him/herself. It is good practice.

When my youngest was 2, she was able to count to ten and recognize numbers to ten when they were written. This was nothing I sat and taught her explicitly. She learned first to count by rote, but then was able to read the numbers when she saw them. How did that happen? When she learned to count, she was ready for the next step and was attuned to the numbers when she saw them around her. She watched us all play UNO, and in time even joined in.

As I am sure you know, any time you spend with your child is fun for him, no matter what it is. And when your child is having fun, you do too! You can sing your numbers, count backward or forwards, or even use numbers to pass time.

My three year old and I do a counting game whenever we have a moment of down time. I showed her once, and she asks for it all the time. She even taught her friend on a playdate the other day. Who knew it would be so fun for her? I will share it with you. It is simple, really. You and your child (or children) alternate saying numbers IN ORDER out loud. When someone makes a mistake, you correct it and begin again. Also, you need to start again if someone blurts out a number when it is not his/her turn. (Numbers and social skills in one game!) There are no cards necessary for this game, so it is easy to play in the car, at restaurants, in bed, the bath, etc.

You can also modify this game. Start with a number other than one, use it to teach your older kids to skip count by 2’s, 3’s, and 5’s, or count backwards. I used to have my 25 second graders sit in a circle and see how quickly they could count by 2,3,5’s. You could do it with your whole family around the dinner table. It is great fun, and never gets old. Give it a try!

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

Frazzled Kid

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.

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