Planting Seeds

The weather has turned here, bringing highs of 75 and beautiful sunny days.  Who knows how long this will last, so we’ve been taking advantage of this time and spending several hours each day outside (BONUS: longer naptimes!!)

Yesterday, we took a trip to the hardware/garden store and brought back potting soil and seeds.  This morning, after Baby’s nap, we all went outside and planted the seeds that will (hopefully) grow into some bright flowers.

(I say “hopefully” because I have the most non-green thumb you can imagine and my flowers never seem to thrive.  But, every spring, I get optimistic and give it another shot.)

There was also a deliberate lesson here in sequencing and following directions for Preschooler.  She is a strong-willed little girl, and following directions is something we struggle with daily right now.  My plan was to combine something she really wanted to do (plant flowers) with a lesson on how important it is to do things in the right order, and the way she was told.

Together we:

  • added soil
  • dug holes for the seeds
  • put a few seeds in each hole
  • covered the hole
  • added more soil
  • watered the soil

We also talked about how we’d have to water the seeds every day, and how, after many, many days, the seed would turn into little plants, and the little plants would grow into “pretty blue and pink flowers”.

I know, cute story, but I do have a point.  When I taught, I had otherwise very intelligent fourth and fifth graders who could not correctly describe a sequence of events to save their lives.  We assume this is an inherent skill, but it’s not.  Nor, actually, is following directions.  Both are important literacy skills.  So important, in fact, that in many states it’s included in the curriculum standards at the elementary level.

So here’s an opportunity to “plant seeds” for future learning.  Sometimes, teaching reading skills doesn’t have to involve a book, or an app.  Sometimes, it’s just about digging in the dirt, and talking while you do it.

And did I mention the longer naptimes?

Just making sure.

(See?  Even the tiniest learners can take part)


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Joining up with Jen from Teacher Mentor Texts to share what we’ve been reading in our household this past week.

Mom is reading:

Still reading Mark Zusak’s The Book Thief.  It’s still gripping, but my personal reading time has been limited this week, so I’m still not quite halfway.  I have to say, though, the man is a master at foreshadowing.  Which is, in part, what keeps me reading.  He’ll reference an upcoming event, but it may be another 50 pages (or more!) before that event comes to fruition.   Smart, Mr. Zusak, very smart.


Kiddo is reading:

Continuing with our Mo Willems theme, we read Elephant and Piggie’s Should I Share My Ice Cream?  The Elephant and Piggie series have a long “shelf life”.  The simple text is appropriate not only for read alouds with young children and short attention spans, but also for beginning readers who are just starting the process of reading to themselves.  And no matter what, Willems books always make me smile.


While at the library this week, Preschooler selected this one to read. I Don’t Want to Go to Schoolby Stephanie Blake would be a cute book to prepare a little one for his/her first school experience. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the illustrations, but the superhero style character would appeal to both boys and girls. And I could relate to the way Rabbit’s parents responded to the oft repeated refrain of “No way!”  Small kids at home, anyone?


I love, love,lovethis book. Ella Sarah Gets Dressed  by Margaret Chodos-Irvine is a must for any parent who is tempted to say “no” when your child wants to walk out of the house in a superhero costume, or princess gown, or Punky Brewster-style ensemble.  I don’t know what else to say about this.  If you haven’t read it– please do.

Karen Katz has long been one of my favorite authors for the baby/toddler set.  At almost 3, Preschooler is just about too old for Katz’s books (sob!).  BUT!  She loves to sing, so when I saw this on the library display, I scooped it up.  The illustrations are bright and cheerful.  The text includes some of the well-known verses to “The Wheels on the Bus”, but also has some new and original verses mixed in.  We actually sang this one at bedtime and I know it was a hit because I then heard Preschooler singing it to her babies after I had tucked her in and shut the door.

That’s been our week. What are you reading?  Anything we should add to our library list for our next visit?

Share-A-Story: Encouraging the Bright and Shiny New Reader

Another day of Share-A-Story!  This time the topic has to do with expanding the definition “literacy.”  Both of my children (almost 3 and 3 months) are too young to be “reading” in the traditional sense.  My oldest is just learning the letters of the alphabet, and my youngest, well, he just discovered he has hands.

But I can see the foundations of literacy already established in my oldest.  Which brings us today’s prompt:

What unique / beyond the usual things do you have in your literacy tool belt to engage young readers?

I’m not sure that I do anything “unique” but there are some things that perhaps one might not recognize as a tool relating to engaging the youngest “readers” in the learning process.

  • We singFor some children (like mine), music is a way of learning.  It was, of course, the way she first learned her letters.  But it also encouraged creative thinking.  We now have our own verses for “The Wheels on The Bus.”  There’s no book in her hand, but she’s learning pacing (tempo), discovering the world around her (we like songs about farm animals, in particular), and expanding her vocabulary.  Recently, she’s even begun making connections between text we read and songs that she’s learned from hours of singing in the car and around the house.
  • We look.  And more than that, we talk.  ALL. DAY. LONG.  In fact, sometimes we talk more than I’d like.  Preschooler is at an age now where she has a comment or question about absolutely everything.  This process started long before she was verbal, when it was just the two of us in the house, and I would chatter away to her throughout the day.  This was partly to fill the silence, but it has paid off in her verbal skills and vocabulary.
  • We allow a little mess. Who knew that reading could be so… UNgentle of an activity?  Some of our books are what I would term “well-loved”.  They’re not deliberately mishandled, but it happens.  Our bookshelves are overflowing, and not always neat.  But I’ve come to be okay with that.
  • We take breaks.  Some days, the only reading that happens around here is the story I read at bedtime.  That’s reality.  Reading should be an enjoyable for young readers.  Forcing the issue may lead to a negative association with books, and once established,  that’s a difficult battle to win.
  • We share.  When Preschooler began “reading” on her own, I pulled out the Flip cam and recorded it for Daddy and the grandparents.  She was shy about reading the book to me, but was more than eager to perform for the camera, and quite excited to send the email off.

Will she REALLY be a “happy reader”?  I don’t know.  But I do feel confident that the foundation is there for us to grow upon.  And whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a librarian… that’s a good place to start.

Share-A-Story: Letters to My “Readers”

I’m back for another day of Share-A-Story.  Today’s topic involves breaking down the stereotype of what a “reader” looks like.  The prompt I chose for today is a little more personal, but relevant for this blog, which is a combination of literacy and family chat.

Is there a young reader (or reader to be) in your life? Write them a letter expressing what you hope for them as readers.

Dear Preschooler,

In just three short years, I’ve already seen the beginnings of your evolution as a reader.  When you were little, you loved to chew on books.  Well, really, you loved to chew on anything, but you particularly loved the way that cardboard felt on your gums.  As you got older, you were fascinated by the pictures, and would spend (short) times on my lap as we talked about what we saw on each page.  A little bit older, and you would tolerate actually listening to short board books.  In the last 6 months, you’re attention span has increased so that you will listen to much longer picture books.  We’ve even started reading fairy tale anthologies, one story at a time.  Recently, you thrilled me by reading tome.

You are most definitely a reader.  My hope for you, as you grow, is that you will enjoy a wide variety of texts, whether it be graphic novels, picture books, chapter books, or audio selections.  I hope that you enjoy some of the selections I send your way, but also develop relationships with characters of your own choosing, as I did with Laura Ingalls, Nancy Drew, the Wakefield twins, and that close-knit gang of babysitting friends.  I hope that in the next few years, we are able to continue our Special Time of reading at bedtime, expanding to chapter books that we are eager to return to in the evenings.

Sometimes hearing “Read this to me, Mommy!” for the 600th time in a day causes me to do an internal eye roll because, really, I need a Mommy Break.  But even so, I love that you want to be read to, and that our bookcase is overflowing with books that you actually use. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud of you.



Dear Baby,

You are too tiny to have much of a reading history yet.  You do listen as stories are read to your sister, but you listen anytime you hear my voice, so that’s nothing new.  Maybe this is the start of your literacy journey.  Hearing a pleasant (why, thank you!) voice in connection to books will hopefully trigger a positive experience in your memory.  As you get older, I hope that we can share some of your sister’s favorite books a second time around.  I hope you will also smile over the antics of a silly puppy, and search for your favorite barn animals among the pages.

I’m looking forward to seeing you toddle over to the bookshelf (but not too soon, okay?) and developing your own interests.  Will you also be a Thomas fan?  Will you also want to read/watch Curious George ad nauseam?

You have a ways to go.  We’re not even at the book-chewing stage yet.  But when you get there, I’m sure we’ll find a whole new world of characters to explore.


The Lady Who Comes to Get You in the Middle of the Night (aka “Mommy”)

World Read Aloud Day

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

— Jacqueline Kennedy

Today, March 7th, has been designated World Read Aloud Day.  This celebration, started by the team at Lit World, encourages young readers and writers to share their words and thoughts with the world.  From the website:

World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology.

That’s something you can get behind, right?  And participating is easy.  Click on over here to register, and then…read aloud with your child!  That’s it.  There’s no financial cost, no long-term commitment, no forms to fill out (anyone else channeling a life insurance commercial right about now??).

And if you’re the social media type, follow along on Facebook or Twitter (hashtag #wrad)

Happy Reading!

Share A Story : A Passport to Other Worlds

Last year, I participated in Share A Story 2011.  This year, I haven’t been on the ball enough to fully participate, but I’m joining in today.  Today’s featured bloggers are focusing on literacy as “passports to other worlds.”  For the rest of us, there are daily writing prompts to help further discussion.  Here is what I chose:

An acquaintance wants a book about a culture unlike his/her own … You’ve got 100 words to pitch your favorite book. Pitch us!

This is the Way We Go to School

Written by Edith Baer, Illustrations by Steve Bjorkman

Scholastic, 1992

Preschoolers have a unique, egocentric view of the world.  This is the Way We Go to School uses lyrical prose and full-spread illustrations to introduce children to cultures not only within the United States, but across the globe.  The simple narrative suggests different ways children arrive to school– be it by foot, bus, boat, or even helicopter– while the illustrations are detailed and invite further conversation.  The final two pages include a list of each child mentioned and their country of origin.  What a wonderful way to connect world cultures to the lives of children just beginning their school years!

For middle readers, I’ve also enjoyed Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, and Nora Ryan’s Song,and Maggie’s Door, both by Patricia Reilly Giff.

Do you have a favorite?  A book that opened your eyes to a different culture and led you to a particular fascination?  Share, please!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

In my quest to get back into blogging here, I’m joining up with Jen from Teacher Mentor Texts to share what we’ve been reading in our household this past week.  I have to say, though, that the other bloggers linked up are able to cover alot more material each week than I am, so if you’re really looking for recommendations, head on over there.

Mom is reading:

I just started Mark Zusak’s The Book Thief.   I’ve been reading and hearing about this title for a long time, but only recently have I been able to start reading for pleasure (thank you, Baby, for sleeping through the night!)  I can see what the fuss is about.  This book sucks you in from the very beginning, with it’s unique narrator, and from there it’s difficult to put down.  Even when you know that there’s a 4am feeding on the horizon, and that the Preschooler is feeling under the weather and is going to want extra attention in the morning, and there’s that doctor’s appointment that you made for 9am, and…and…and…. How’s that for a recommendation?

Kiddo is reading:

I’ve been a fan of Mo Willems since reading the original Knuffle Bunny.  However, that particular book (and the Knuffle Bunny books that followed) still go slightly above Preschooler’s head.  However, this one has become a bedtime favorite.  She likes the simple text because she can “read” it herself.  The flutter, flap, and zoom sounds don’t hurt either.  I’ve heard her read this one aloud to her stuffed animals after I’ve tucked her in and closed her door for the night.

This was my first introduction to Karma Wilson, but we’ll be back.  One of Preschooler’s favorite activities is when we visit the “aminals” at a nearby farm.  So this book, with its featured farm animals and wonderful repetition was an instant hit.


We had several children’s bibles in our house, but none that I really loved, until we recently received this one as a gift.  This is the first one I’ve found that’s truly appropriate for preschoolers.  The stories are extremely short and cover the basics.  The illustrations are bright and simple.  There are a couple stories missing that I might have included. But as far as writing to the audience… Juliet David does an amazing job.

In addition, we’ve been visiting some constant favorites like Clifford, Thomas and Friends, and Curious George.

That’s been our week. What are you reading?  Anything we should add to our library list for our next visit?

She Reads

Since Baby arrived, Preschooler and I have had a little less time reading her beloved books.  We still read right before her nap, and right before bed, but it has been harder to find the time to fit read aloud time during the day.  Her brother has been not only “hands-on”, as newborns are, but also a fussy hands-on.  Even while feeding, he likes his environment quiet, and my voice disturbs and distracts him.

So instead, we started reciting nursery rhymes and singing children’s songs, as these are things I can do while pacing around the living room, or rocking a fussy baby in our bedroom rocker.  As a result, she’s recently memorized many traditional rhymes.  She gets so excited when we then DO get around to reading from a selected book and these same rhymes are “IN MY BOOK, MOMMY!!! LOOK!  LIKE THE ONE WE SING WITH BABY!!”

One such book is Tracey Moroney’s Animal Songs.  This book contains The Owl and the Pussycat, Hey Diddle Diddle, Pop! Goes the Weasel, and Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear.  A few nights ago, while making dinner, I looked over to see her “reading” the book to herself.  I later convinced her to read it again so that I could share her accomplishment with the grandparents:

It’s quite obviously memorized “reading”, but the teacher in me was pleased to see her emerging literacy skills, namely:

  • reading from left to right and front to back
  • using the illustrations to guide her reading (in this case, when to turn the pages and when to begin/end each rhyme)

And the mom in me thinks she’s just plain ol’ stinkin’ cute.  She was so proud, and has watched the video over and over again, chanting along with her favorite reader.


Navigating the Library with a Non-Reader

My oldest child loves to visit the “wibwary”.  We are fortunate to have a public library system that is both current and extensive, so she has every book she could possibly want at her disposal.

Which is great.

Unless you’re a preschooler and then it can be a little overwhelming.


I appreciate her enthusiasm, but I’m also supposed to be a responsible parent, and allowing my child to pull every book that catches her eye off the shelf as she runs tearing down the aisles?  Not so responsible.

So we have a routine.  And since this is my blog and you might care, I’m going to share it with you.

  • Timing:We plan our library trips to be during Baby’s morning nap.  This way, I increase the chances of getting a larger block of uninterrupted time, as he’ll nap away in the stroller.
  • Returning books:In keeping with the whole “you’re responsible for you own items” theme, I have my daughter drop her books in the return slot as she comes in the door.  Fortunately for me, she enjoys this element of control.  Woe unto the helpful librarian who tries to speed the process along by taking the books directly from her hands.
  • Selecting old favorites: Before doing anything else, we also select two of her known favorites.  Currently these are Curious George and Clifford books.  She requests these every time, and knows exactly where they are kept in the library.  Again, control.   See a theme here?
  • Selecting new reads: Next, we pick two more books.  These are usually ones she selects by sight (ie they’re on display).  Sometimes they are ones that I guide her towards, based on her current interests or ones from my childhood I think she might enjoy (it’s how I introduced her to Marcus Pfister’s Rainbow Fish).
  • “Mommy’s Pick”: Our fifth book is a “special” book that I get to select for us to read together.  This may be a new book that has received good reviews, or one that just jumps out at me, but that she doesn’t show an immediate interest in herself.
  • Holiday book (optional): Typically, we bring home 5 books.  This number allows me to keep track of the borrowed books, and keeps her from wanting to bring home every book in the library.  We do, however, make an exception for a holiday book.  Close to a current holiday, we will pick one or two extra books from the holiday selection and bring these home, too.  She is at an age where she’s beginning to understand the meaning behind Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, or Easter, and these books help cement that new-found knowledge.
  • Story Time: While at the library, we take the time to read a couple books that we don’t take home.  These are almost always entirely her picks, and I typically will not say “no” unless it’s a book I know is inappropriate or contains themes I don’t agree with (ie cheating to win,  negative values, topics I prefer to discuss at home and not in a public library).  We call this our “special library time” and it can vary in length depending on how long my infant will nap in the stroller.  Once he starts to get fussy, we get ready to leave.
  • DVD selection:  On our way out, I allow her to select 2 DVDs to take home.  These are typically characters from her PBS shows.  While some may disagree with bring DVDs home from a library, my feeling is that we have a young baby in the house and the reality is, sometimes I just need her to sit quietly while I tend to the crisis at hand.
  • Check-out: Our library has a self-checkout system. Perfect for my “I do it!” helper.  She sits on the counter, and as I scan the books (the scanner tends to be a little temperamental), she places them in our library bag.

Once we’re at home, we have the rule that the library books stay in the library bag when she’s not reading them.  She has full access to the bag, which is kept in my bedroom,but the borrowed books are less likely to get mixed in with our own.

That’s our routine, and it works for us.  Anybody else have any tips?  Or want to tell me how the heck I’m going to do this when my children are, say, 2 an 4.5?

Maybe we’ll just do ebooks then.

I kid.

Sort of.

Friday Confession: Lessons from Alexander

Yesterday was the” terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  Like Alexander , my day began poorly and just got worse and worse.  The climax came during dinner when I had reached my emotional limit and snapped at my husband, for snapping at our daughter, which led to my then fleeing from the room, and my daughter dissolving into hurt and confused tears.

Not my finest parenting moment.

And so I confess:

Yesterday was a big ol’ parenting FAIL.

There were no educational moments, no nature walks in the sunshine, no snuggling and reading of library books.  It was a “barely getting by” kinda day.  And then after the kids went to bed, there was some wine, some venting, some discussion, and some decisions made.  And then I  fell asleep (only to get up 2x in the night for feedings).

But today?  Today has been a much better day.  I’ve forgiven myself for my bad day.  The sun is literally shining, my children are in better moods, and we’re moving on.

So for anyone else who needs a redo on the day, take heart. Every terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day must eventually come to an end.

And the law of averages says that the next day will be better.