Children’s Book Week

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I just found out today is the first day of Children’s Book Week. I am so excited for many reasons. First, the U.S. has many illiterate adults. I do not want to give statistics because they may vary depending on the source and what  definition  of literate one is using. I think most people would agree that adults  who love reading had  a significant experience during their childhood with books. As a former preschool teacher, my first unborn child had a library waiting for him before he was even conceived. I used the books for my classroom at the time, knowing it was a worthwhile investment.

On my son’s first day home from the hospital my husband and I read to him. We continued to do so every day. Our bedtime ritual involved books. We followed the same path when his sister was born. I continued to read to my son each time I nursed my daughter during the day because otherwise he would get into mischief – like smear Aquaphor ointment all over the carpet or jump into the shower fully clothed and turn the water on. Books were often our household sanity saver.

My children are now eight and ten years old. They have read on their own for many years now. I miss reading to them, but am happy they have continued our traditions of reading before bed. They have added a few of their own: reading instead of doing homework, reading before school, reading at the table, reading while walking down the stairs, reading at restaurants, reading in the car and reading while on vacation (to name a few!)

Each day this week I will share with you some of the books my children have enjoyed over the years. Don’t be expecting the usual suspects, although they were enjoyed as well.

What book did you enjoy as a child or does your child or children enjoy now? One of my favorites was Hand, Hand Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins.

What Are They Up to When They Are Quiet?

He's a reader now, but once upon a time he ripped a bunch of books.

He’s a reader now, but once upon a time he ripped a bunch of books.

I’ll never forget the time my son was about 18 months old and I had left him in his room while I was in the kitchen nearby doing something. After some time, I realized it was quiet. Too quiet. I went to check on him and discovered what he had been up to: taking all the tissues out of the box and making a big pile on the floor. I have more stories like that than I have fingers and toes added up. I’m sure if you have children or have been around them then you have a few stories yourself.

A few weeks ago on a Sunday morning I heard a commotion upstairs at 7:30. Based on the sounds, the kids were up and opening drawers, going in and out of their room. I was not worried. I knew I had about 30 minutes to an hour to roll over and get some more sleep before they would need breakfast. Often they wake up early and either read in bed or play. An hour  later I got out of bed. The house was very quiet, too quiet. I prepared myself to find a big mess as a result of creative play. Instead I found them sitting on the floor with clipboards, papers, pencils and colored pencils. They were working on their Young Author projects for school. We had let them play all day Saturday but reminded them that they would not be allowed to play on Sunday until they completed their work. Not only did they both finish before lunch, they did so independently.

It’s strange how you spend time trying to be on top of a problem before it arises based on past experiences. Then your kids grow up and start being responsible right under your nose. I think now I need to shift my thinking about what it might mean when the house is too quiet.

Go Be Creative

This week my kids did not have any camp activities scheduled. We have spent most of the days indoors due to the extreme heat wave Chicago has experienced. Left to their own devices, they normally make  good choices on how to spend their time. But by the end of the week the default was immediately asking to watch television. I told them to go be creative. I said they had to create something  permanent (such as a drawing or a story) or not (building with Lego’s, Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys). I also mentioned that we would be donating the last two soon, as they have not been played with in a while.

This is how they chose to be creative:


The 9 year-old created this

A house the 7-year-old built


The 9-year-old built a house with 3 decks for his sister


What do you do (or would you do ) when you are encouraged to be creative?

There are Fairies in My House

There are moments when time seems to drag on in a repetitive circle in my life as a parent. Five days of school with activities, hustle and hurry, two days on the weekend playing catch up. Repeat. Then something happens and the world seems off kilter, leaving me to wonder:  In which new direction are we headed?

I had decided to take my children to the bookstore one afternoon when they had a day off from school. We all went our separate ways in the small store, looking for new favorites to devour. I ordered hot chocolate and a cookie for the children and called them to the table. Neither of them wanted to leave the books. I told them they could each choose a book to buy before we left.

When it came time to pay for the books, the 6-year-old begged for three chapter books from the Rainbow Magic Fairy series. I held firm to only one and wondered where she had seen these books and why the sudden interest in them.

On the way home we had to stop at the library to pick up a book I had on hold. Once again, the children scattered to the children’s section. And the 6-year-old had found yet more Rainbow Magic Fairy books and wanted to check them out.

During the short ride home she called out page numbers and chapter numbers, announcing her reading accomplishments. The rest of the day I watched her walk up and down the stairs with her nose in one of the books. She brought a book to the dinner table. She attempted  reading while brushing her teeth, a task that even I have yet to do.

When it was time to read before bedtime, I asked her which book she wanted me to read to her. She said, “I don’t want you to read to me tonight. I want to finish my book about Mia the Bridesmaid Fairy.” I tried every trick I could think of to change her mind. All of them were unsuccessful.

I felt deflated, like a day old balloon. For the past four months, we had a routine in the evening where we curled up on a mound of pillows and I read her chapter upon chapter of wonderful books, like the Ramona Quimby series. She was attentive. She asked questions. She compared herself to Ramona and other characters. She laughed at all the right parts. It was a special time of the day for just her and I.

It all seemed to vanish in the blink of an eye. But as I reflected later on, I realized that we had built up to that moment over time. She has always been a self-starter. It was she who told me that she wanted to learn how to read when she was in preschool. She practiced and challenged herself with new words and their pronunciations. The former teacher in me encouraged her to read some of the passages out loud from these chapter books geared toward second and third graders, just to see if she was ready for this type of reading material on her own.

In addition to the mountain of books oozing out of every surface possible in our house, I indulged her and bought books that  interested her, like “Fancy Nancy“, “Pinkalicious” and “Angelina Ballerina“. But now, these books that she had been in love with only a short time ago were unacceptable. “They’re baby books,” she told me. I suggested chapter books that her brother had read when he was younger. She turned up her nose to “The Magic Tree House” series and others. I began to realize how important it was for her to have a say in the genre of books that she chose to read.

Now, she is a full-fledged member of our book-loving family. She wakes up early like her brother, turns on her reading lamp and gets a dose of words before breakfast.  She begs me to take her to the bookstore so that I can buy her more books to read (Fairy books of course). I know that when she is ready to read some of the outstanding literature  we have at home, (like Pippi Longstocking) she will dive right in and eat it up, just like she does with everything else.

As for me, I think this summer I will impose a Mama’s choice night where I get to choose the book and read to everyone. I am not quite ready to give up reading with my children. I guess I should start on my list now. I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from you, readers.

Which books should make it to my “summer reading with my children” list?

The Strings of Kites

Kites that are used to lift skateboarders up i...

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This week our school is celebrating teachers with Teacher Appreciation Week . I wanted to take the opportunity to post a few teacher and education related essays on my blog this week. Please add your comments and/or perspectives at the bottom of the post. Conversation makes it more fun.
The following is a re-post from about a month ago. I wrote it to honor my son’s teacher, who does an incredible job with the students she has in her second grade classroom. I dedicate this essay to Ms. O’Hara.

Have you ever met an amazing teacher before? They come in different shapes, sizes and colors, much like the intricate Lego kits that my son loves to build with. They have their own personality and teaching style, and it is electric.They come from all walks of life and when they become part of your life, you find that you will never be the same.

Early on, my husband and I started noticing differences in our son. He was fascinated with spinning items. It began with fans, then came to include wheels. This led to inquiries about how things moved and worked. I still recall him at one and a half years old trying to communicate with the cashier at Dominick’s that the wheels on the bus go round and round, and of him laying on the floor exploring how a spatula spun around, instead of using it for pretend play. His interest in motion grew with a passion, as did his quick grasp of letters, sounds and words. He was an early reader and at times I wondered if he had a book stashed somewhere in my belly before he was born. On most mornings he is nowhere near to being ready for the day and not in the least  interested in anything other than the book in front of him.

This year he is finally in an environment where there are all sorts of children with  similar, intellectual abilities, interests and intense personalities. Although they are all working beyond their grade level, some are stronger in math or reading than others. Some show traits of perfectionism and are afraid to fail. Some of them get distracted easily, while others have a hard time with transitions because they are so focused on the task at hand. Many have asynchronous development, which means that their social and emotional development is not at the same level as their cognitive development.

This year, he has one of those amazing teachers. She understands all the quirks of these children. At times I cannot even describe how she does what she does in her classroom of 29 students. I have volunteered often and have seen her effortlessly manage behaviors, distractions, interruptions, and misunderstandings. She has multiple groups configured  by ability, personality, gender, table and compass direction. Her students are engaged in their learning environment.

Everyday, these children arrive, like little kites, ready to fly. She has 29 strings to manage. It can not be done well if she holds them too close to her for the entire day. She has to consider the classroom barometer to determine what type of weather her kites will be exposed to on any given day.  Then she must check for tears and properly woven strings before letting them go, up, up, up into the sky. Each day, she has to decide how much string to let out on each kite, and when to reel them in. She makes sure that the strings don’t get tangled up, or carried away towards  trees and wires. Some kites need to fly closer to the ground, while others show their need for  space and freedom with little tugs. Some need to be close to others or to her. Occasionally a kite can only stay so long in the sky, before it needs to come down.  She watches each uniquely designed kite, and marvels at the dips, swoops and dances that occur in the air and can’t help but smile as she witnesses the extraordinary potential of them all.

I Forgot My Homework

We have an occasional problem in our house. When it is time for the 8-year-old to start his homework, sometimes an exasperated cry rushes out of his mouth, “I forgot my homework!”  he wails, with all the drama of an actor trying out for the Spring Play. Those four words turn our household upside down within a matter of minutes. I remind him to be more responsible. He admonishes himself for being forgetful. Then we all take a breath and try to figure out the next step.

The parents in his class stay connected through Google Groups. At least once a week, a parent posts that their child forgot a worksheet and kindly asks if someone can scan it and e-mail it. While this strategy comes in handy, especially when some children don’t start their homework until after dinner, I know that if my son knew it existed, he would expect me to take care of it for him. I have already helped him established a few bad habits (that I am trying very hard to break him of) and do not need him to start another one, especially when it is related to his education. What to do, what to do?

I decided that he might be less likely to forget his homework if he has to “work” at getting the information that he needs. I provided him with the telephone numbers of students in his class and coached him on telephone etiquette. Then it was his responsibility to call up his peers, explain the nature of the call and kindly ask if they could help him out.

This strategy killed two birds with one stone. He learned a bit about responsibility and how to conduct himself over the phone. Oftentimes, the child’s parent would help out over the phone, but still I wasn’t making the call for him. I did have to give a little explanation later about why he was calling instead of me. He actually enjoyed chatting with his classmates about other topics and later asked if he could call that person again.

Will he never forget his homework again? It’s doubtful. He is human. Now, we need to work on the proper protocol when someone you phone is not at home  and the answering machine picks up instead. Which reminds me, I need to send an e-mail to a classmate he called last night to explain that it was us who did not leave a message after the tone.

Thou Shall Not Covet….?

At what age are children expected to follow the Ten Commandments? The boy has a problem  and he is only eight. For whatever reason, he is drawn like a magnet to the possessions of others. For the last several years it has been in the form of a stuffed animal. Or two or three. I have stopped counting.

A few years ago we started spending more time with our old neighbors and their grand-daughter. She was the same age as our daughter and would come to visit armed with stuffed animals. These critters were always unique, hence the boy’s obsession, I mean fascination with them. It began with him begging to play with the fluffy friend. After much pestering, she allowed him the opportunity. The problem intensified when he kidnapped the special animal and denied knowing where it was. This led to a 20 minute search through the house, leaving it looking as though the Tasmanian Devil had just stopped by. The grand-daughter left in tears and I fumbled through an apology to my friend like a scrawny freshman quarterback,  promising to find the coveted animal before bedtime. After a more thorough search, I discovered a penguin with a shiny star on it’s foot  under the comforter at the bottom of the bed. The boy got an earful, (the verbal kind, not the old school kind), but did not take home the message: Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbors Penguin.

This coveting of others’ possessions was first noticed shortly after his sister was born. He took the lovey he named  “Little Pooh” from her crib and began to play nosey nosey with it. My husband and I didn’t see any harm, because after all, she was only 2 months old. It happened again a few months later when the sister received a bear bigger than her. The boy took possession in all forms, even naming it. We thought it was cute. Little did we know that we were silently encouraging his wrongful desires.

Last year we moved about 20 minutes away from our beloved neighbors and don’t get to see them as often now that the girls are in school. Before the move, the boy once again began with his addiction I shall call coveting. The latest gee whiz wow animal to appear on the scene was a big pink hippo and you know who would not let up with his feelings for it. Imagine my surprise when during the winter vacation I received an e-mail from our old neighbor saying that the pink hippo was washed and was ready for adoption by the boy. Truly this couldn’t be accurate. The sweet little grand-daughter had already given up her special penguin from her uncle and now she was willing to part with the hippo? I should have told him a long time ago, “Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbors’ Pink Hippo!” but I guess it’s a little too late for that.

Two months ago the pink hippo came to live at our house. The boy  is in possession of it. But somehow after running around the house with it, eyes wild, hair sweaty and voice senseless, it seems that the pink hippo has possessed him.

I am a bit worried. Is there such an organization with a 12 step program called Coveters Anonymous? If so, then where do we sign up? Because things can only go downhill from here.

Can you imagine eight years from now, when the boy’s friend has a girlfriend and he does not? Or maybe he does, but this girlfriend is unique. One of a kind. “Please, please, please, let me have her! Please! I really want her!” the boy will plead to his friend. Then the friend will not see her for a while. The girlfriend  will be found eventually,  safe and happily  tucked under the comforter at the bottom of the boys’ bed. A lecture will then ensue. Not about hiding girls in bed, but about that sixth commandment.