Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Make My Life Easier: Please, Mr. Panda

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

The magic of the right book at the right time!

Today we went to the library and Levi pulled Please, Mr. Panda off the shelf. He asked me to read it to him and as I did Benjamin and Jubilee drifted over, interested. I was immediately required to read it a second time. Later this afternoon, they were using "please" more frequently and with less hassle. And that makes this book a winner!

In it, Mr. Panda asks various animals if they would like a doughnut. Each of them demands a different color and each is met with the same reply, "No, you cannot have a doughnut. I have changed my mind."

This book definitely reminded me of I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.

  1. The large, textured illustrations with bold lines, 
  2. the cast of various animals, 
  3. the rather disinterested look in Mr. Panda's eyes throughout, 
  4. and the repeated text. 

These two books are birds of a feather. Ashley wrote the Everead review of Klassen's award winner, and Ashley you're going to love this one.

I don't even remember now what Levi asked me for, after lunch, but I recognized myself about to begin our usual script, "If you want that, you need to ask with a 'please.'" But I caught myself just in time and said, "No, I have changed my mind." After a moment of confusion, he caught on and grinned as he changed his ask.

It was so fun! It was fun because it was different than usual. It was fun because it was a step up from where we had been -- instead of spelling out for him what he needed to do, I let him figure it out. And it was fun because he had picked the book and he had loved it and now he was living it. It wasn't long before I had the chance to use our new code-phrase with Benjamin.

It's not that I haven't tried to take this little leap before, I have. But it seemed like any time I would try to move us from our old script, the boys would end up frustrated and I would, too. But with the shared experience of having read Please, Mr. Panda under our belts, we were all on the same page.

A book that helps me be a happier parent, 
give my child more responsibility, 
and speak more politely?
Yes, Please!

I'll include an affiliate link for it here, in case your own library doesn't have it, or in case you'd like to give it as a gift or you just know already that you need to own this one. If you shop through my affiliate links, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. So here's one for Amazon and one for Barnes and Noble.


Speaking of books that make my life as a parent easier, here are some others I have written about:
Backtalk: Four Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids,
Practical Wisdom for Parents: Demystifying the Preschool Years,
Cinnamon Baby
and then I wrote about How to Visit the Library with Kids.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

18 Classics to Read with Kids

Today's question comes from Debra:
"Have you ever done a post about your favorite classics for kids? I have been thinking about starting some classics with Kolt over the summer but all the ones I can think of off the top of my head are either way too heavy, or I don't think he would really be into them. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is not really up his alley for example." 

Well, I'm glad you asked! Because it gives me a great excuse to list my favorite classics of children's literature. For those who don't know, Kolt is a nine year old boy, and a very strong reader. I'm making this book list with him in mind. I'm going to stick affiliate links in here, in the form of cover images, just in case you are interested in any of these but can't find them at your local library.

Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White -- As I've been thinking about this list, I keep thinking about The Trumpet of the Swan. I know that Charlotte's Web is the most talked-about of E.B. White's books, but The Trumpet of the Swan has a special place in my heart from my childhood. It follows a swan who can't make a trumpeting noise, so he learns to play the trumpet. What he has to sacrifice in order to communicate and what he is able to do . . . it's just a book I'm never going to forget. Great one to read together and discuss.

The BFG by Roald Dahl -- This is my personal favorite of Dahl's books, and I'm sure you're aware of Dahl as and author, but I just had to list this one. Gotta love it when a little girl makes friends with a misfit giant.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster -- I honestly don't remember that much about this one except that I loved it! It is a very clever book, and just the sort of thing that a strong reader is going to like -- full of wordplay and complex ideas but completely devoid of questionable content. A boy takes a journey into a strange land.

Abel's Island by William Steig -- This is another one from my own childhood. It is the story of Abel, a mouse who ends up stranded on a desert island. I re-read it in adulthood and loved it just as much the second time. Completely un-put-downable. You may already be familiar with Steig because he wrote Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Shrek. And, actually, we really loved listening to the audiobook of Dominic as a family last summer.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis -- I assume Kolt has read The Chronicles of Narnia and I know you guys are Christian. Have you looked into reading The Screwtape Letters together? When I read them I was just reading on my own, so I wasn't evaluating them for readability-with-an-nine-year-old. But The Screwtape Letters is some of the best Classic Christian Literature, in my opinion. The book is a series of letters from a devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood. They detail some great strategy for how to tempt humans to do wrong and thereby educate us on how to resist temptation.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare -- On the Christian Fiction theme, another favorite of mine is The Bronze Bow. It's the story of a young man, Daniel at the time of Christ, and his experiences in the political atmosphere of the time. He wants revenge on the Romans for the unjust deaths of family, and he joins Zealots living in the mountains.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg -- The story of a brother and sister who run away from home to live in the Met and discover a mystery. I was completely enchanted by the idea of living in a museum, and by how Claudia and Jamie managed to overcome the practical problems of doing so. Still remember some of the scenes from this one and it has been years.    

Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- Jacob read and loved these when he was about Kolt's age. I just barely started reading Little House in the Big Woods aloud to our boys at night and they are completely enchanted, as am I. It is so fascinating to read about this family and how they live -- to get into the nitty gritty details of hunting and farm life. All the close encounters with bears and panthers keep my boys well invested.

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor -- I never read this one as a kid, but when I read it as an adult I knew I had to own it. It is set in the South during the Great Depression and follows Cassie Logan and her family as they experience the racism of the time. It might be a good one to read together if you want to apply the book to current events.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett -- If you can get Kolt past the title of this one, it is absolutely a fascinating story about a wealthy girl who is brought to ruin and continues standing up for right despite her complete change in lifestyle. I read it as a child, then watched the movie. When I re-read it as an adult I found that  my memory had been heavily tainted by the (inferior) movie. And holy cow I could relate to Miss Minchin a lot more than I did when I was a kid. Heh.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett -- My mother and I read this one together when I was about seven or eight
and it is one of my favorite childhood memories. Mary, Dickon, Colin, the secret garden . . . I remember particularly when Mary gets a skipping rope.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery -- Jacob and I both read this series when we were kids and just loved it. Honestly, it's been ages since I read it, and I don't remember much at all about it, except that these were, for a time, the best books ever.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck -- Historical Fiction set in the depression, this slim book is one of my absolute favorites among children's lit. Since it only won the Newbery in 2000, I don't know if you would consider it a classic or not, but I do. It follows a brother and sister who go to visit their grandma. The kids come from Chicago and Grandma Dowdel lives out in the Illinois countryside. She is sassy, sour, hilarious and amazing. One of my all-time favorite characters. See also the prequel, A Long Way From Chicago.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin -- Definitely a classic, this one is a mystery set in a mansion. Sort of reminds me of Clue, the game. Sixteen heirs are brought to Westing's mansion to try and solve the mystery of his death. Winner take all. I read this one first as an adult, but I would have loved it as a kid, too.

Karlsson-on-the-Roof  by Astrid Lindgren -- This is, like, maybe the original Cat in the Hat or something. Karlsson-on-the-roof is a little man who lives on the roof and comes to play with Eric, the boy who lives in the house. He accidentally sets things on fire and does other crazy stuff. It's classic, it's crazy, and it's a winner of a book in my opinion! From the author of Pippy Longstocking and Ronia the Robber's Daughter.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald-- Ok so I haven't actually read this one, but my brother who has insanely good taste swears that it and it's sequels are the best children's classics ever. Definitely on my to-read list.

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth -- You got me, I haven't read this one either. But Jacob loves it, and every time I hear it mentioned, it is by people who love it.

Watership Down by Richard Adams -- Last but not least, a book my entire family loves but that I have never read. Lots of other people like it too, I've heard. It's about rabbits. An epic tale. Our family copy was so loved that it was falling apart and I blame the broken book for being too broken for me to read.

I hope you find one (or more!) books that you love here, Kolt! Debra, let me know if any of these work out well.

And for the rest of you, how would you answer Debra's question? What books is this list missing?

Monday, June 29, 2015

On My Mind -or- Things I've been meaning to tell you

Caption contest. :D
TeenBoat being serialized as a webcomic, woo! ("The angst of being a teen--the thrill  of being a boat!") As predicted it is wacky and fun and well done thus far.

Speaking of webcomics I wrote a post about them for the Cybils blog. It's a funny story because the call went out for awesome book lists made up of previous Cybils books and I was like "oh, I could do one around webcomics!" and our editor, who is a well-informed sort of person was like, "No...we need ones from the Cybils..." Then I was like "Aha! I *must* do the one about webcomics then, because not only do the masses need education, but some of our own best and brightest did not know that webcomics have won the award!" And so I did.

Someone has actually done the thing that I was thinking (idly) of doing. It's called Bookroo and yay, now I don't have to do it myself. Let me know if you're interested (or if grandma and grandpa are interested on your behalf) because I think maybe I can get you a discount code.

I worked on Story Club tonight. Again. Finally. Moving, sheesh. Moving is like the project that never ends.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is now a stage production. Holla! Several of my friends told me about this, knowing of my love for Shannon Hale. A former director of mine is the dramaturg for the show. So that makes me feel like saying in a demure voice, "I have connections."

There is a sale happening at Kiwi Crate (for all the Kiwi Crate Family Brands) so that's awesome! My kids and I have loved Kiwi Crate and we got my friend Kate hooked on Koala Crate (exhibit A) and she's always sharing the cuteness with me. Anyway, the sale is 40% off with the code FIREWORK40 through July 5th, 2015, and I would not mind a bit if you used my affiliate link there.

Also I finally finished Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson, which you will remember I began reading a long time ago. It was great. I'll have to review it for ya.

And I read Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Skottie Young in one sitting, at the library, because we can't check anything out yet. My little instagram review of that is here. I really want to read it with the family and then read a bunch of Skottie Young and Eric Shanower Wizard of Oz adaptation stuff.

Bookshelves, bookshelves! Got any tips on styling bookshelves? Because our dining room is surrounded by built-ins and our living room has them on three walls. So yeah. This is my favorite article so far, but if you have advices I am all ears. Do you want before/during/after pics?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

I'm a Reading Tutor: 3 Ways I Teach Reading

Hello, I'm Alysa. You may think you know me, but did you know I'm a reading tutor? No? Maybe that's because I just started this year. I love it! I got my degree in Elementary Education with a minor in TESOL, and it's on that strength that I draw when reading with Kierstin.

Right now I'm taking the summer off from tutoring, (I'm moving) but I just finished tutoring Kierstin, an exuberant first grade girl. Her teacher was concerned about her reading ability and had talked with her parents about having her repeat first grade. Since I happen to be her next-door neighbor, we connected and started reading together. Happily, her reading has improved and she'll be advancing to second grade next year.
Donating some books to the library, in preparation for the move.
 Photo by Jacob Stewart.

How We Do
What do we do? We spend 30 min together, twice a week. I'd love to meet more often, but twice a week is what works for everybody right now. I've broken our half hour into 3 chunks: Dyad Reading, Sight Word Practice, and Guided Reading. 

Dyad Reading
For the first part of the lesson we read together, aloud simultaneously, from the same book. This strategy is called Dyad Reading. The point of Dyad reading is to hear the word, say the word, see the word, and touch the word all at the same time. Like when Anne Sullivan famously spelled WATER for Helen Keller while her hand was running under water, all the sensory inputs are working together to make connections in the brain.

In my initial assessment, I could see that Kierstin did not have a large sight word repertoire. She was excellent at sounding words out, but would get so bogged down stopping to decode each word that she couldn't read fluently and couldn't comprehend the books she was reading.  Dyad reading emphasizes fluency. The learning reader chooses an interesting book to her, regardless of what reading level the book requires. The lead reader (that's me!) leads her along in reading it. I read at a pace that Kierstin can keep up with, but I read in a natual way, using expressive phrasing, proper emphasis and emotion. Sometimes also voices. :) We point to the word we're on as we read.

At its start, Dyad reading is basically just the learning reader repeating what the lead reader has said. As the learner improves, it becomes a dance. It's a no-pressure reading environment. If Kierstin doesn't know a word, I'll know it and say it. The narrative continues without pause. No stopping to sound words out. It's also a high-engagement reading environment. I'll hesitate when I know we're at a word that Kierstin knows or can get, or if I see that she is looking across the room instead of at the word she's pointing to. If she is getting more words than not, I'll let her take the lead.

Sight Word Practice
For this part of the lesson, we usually do some kind of game. Since Kierstin is the energizer bunny type, I try to add a physical element to our sight word game.

I have some sight word flashcards, and it is amazing  how versatile flashcards can be.  We have spread the cards all over the lawn and then read them as we picked them up. We have had two stacks of cards on opposite sides of the room, and she has run from one stack to the other, reading sight words (a favorite!).  We have had a competition to see who could tag the sight word first in an array of flashcards. We have made our own flashcards, out of common words that Kierstin struggled with in a previous lesson. We have also played with magnetic poetry and played "spot the word" on the page or on the cereal box.

Guided Reading
Finally, we always end with some guided reading. Kierstin's teacher often sends home books for Kierstin to read -- you know the type: paperback books that are a little bigger than a 3x5 card. They're very carefully leveled and often emphasize a particular phoneme. Mean Doreen was all about the long e sound, for example.

Essentially, Kierstin does all the reading, with a little guidance from me.

To prepare for the reading, we look at the book together. Sometimes we "take a picture walk" flipping through the pages to look at the illustrations and make predictions about the book.

Then Kierstin reads aloud to me. If she comes to a sticky spot, I prompt her (not just to "sound it out" but to look at the pictures for clues, look at the context for clues, look at a first or last letter etc.). If she makes an error and continues on, I stop her at a good stopping place and we talk about the error: "That didn't make sense..." or "that made sense, but look, this word is different from the one you said." Sometimes we talk about vocabulary. Some of these texts have words that one never hears on conversation - especially books that target a specific phoneme,  Other times a familiar word is used in a new way. Mean Doreen is a chicken and she took all the feed from the other chicken. It was completely unsurprising that the first time Kierstin read that she said that she took all the "food" not all the "feed." Guided reading is where we get to stop and talk about all that.

After Kierstin reads, we'll talk about whether or not we liked the book, what we thought of the plot or the characters, or make connections between the book and real life.

And that's it! If we're lucky, Kierstin doesn't have any chores and she gets to stay and play for a while. It has been so nice having a next door neighbor the exact same age as my oldest. We're going to miss our neighbors.

But, man, writing about all these parts is just so exciting! Tutoring reading is so much fun! I can't decide which part is my favorite. I don't have to decide, do I? You won't make me pick? What questions do you have for me? Have you used these techniques before? I hope you find some of the strategies above useful in your own reading with kids. Be sure to let me know if you do.
12 Things Not to Say to Young Readers by one of my professors.
I'm a writer by me
My call for virtual moving help

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I Need Your Funnies.

The library books are the only ones not packed.
I'm moving.

We're moving.

We're moving to Connecticut from Georgia in 10 days.

And moving is stressful.

But laughter is the best medicine. Share me some funny jokes or silly videos or something, ok?

I'm counting on ya. Think of it as giving me virtual moving help. (And please keep it clean.)

Friday, May 29, 2015

3 Ways Dweck's Mindset Changed My Parenting Vocabulary

I am honored today to have Lindsay Call here with a guest post.

I asked Lindsay if she would write about one of her favorite books, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. I know Mindset is one of her favorites because she has mentioned it on her excellent blog time and time again. I wanted to hear more about it.
After reading the ways that Lindsay's parenting vocabulary has changed (and the reasons why) I'm itching to get my hands on it. You'll find affiliate links scattered throughout the post. This book sounds like just what I need to help Levi right now.

Here's Lindsay to discuss three ways Dr. Carol Dweck's Mindset has changed the way she talks with her daughter:

  • Long before I read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, I was intrigued by an article I came across online. The basic punchline: It’s a really bad idea to tell your kids they’re smart. (What’s worse? Telling them they’re dumb, obviously.) It sounds counterintuitive in a world saturated by self-esteem talk, but we now have years of compelling research pointing to the fact that telling youth they’re smart is counterproductive for some simple reasons. First, it tells them that intelligence is a fixed trait, and second, that you’re judging theirs. In several experimental studies, Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues found that kids who were praised as “smart” were less likely to take on challenges and were more risk-averse; they quit trying sooner when obstacles arose; and they were even more likely to lie about their actual performance in an effort to look “smart.”

  • So if “smart” creates a “fixed mindset,” what language will instead foster a belief that intelligence and talent can be developed through effort, a “growth mindset”? Dr. Dweck has no shortage of ideas after 30+ years of study. Here are just three that have profoundly shifted my vocabulary, as a parent and an educator:

  • 1. "You worked really hard at that!"

  • This is among the most oft-repeated phrases around our house, followed closely by “Please stop whining,” of course. If “person praise” like telling a child they’re smart or cute reinforces the fixed mindset, replacing it with “process praise” -- praise for effort, choices, and strategies -- is key to strengthening the growth mindset. A good question to ask ourselves in various settings is Am I praising something that is directly within this person’s control? (One study found that only 10% of the praise young girls received was process praise, compared to 24% for boys, so this may be an even more critical focus when dealing with young girls.)

  • Now that I can see through the growth-mindset lens, I am astounded by just how saturated our society is with fixed-mindset messages. My five-year-old is regularly praised for her appearance, artistic talent, and intelligence, which may undercut the effort she’s put into mastering the skills she’s acquired. Many of the princess stories and fairytales my daughter loves so dearly emphasize fixed traits and virtually effortless “happy endings,” which is why I geekily scatter little written affirmations around the house like “Happy endings take hard work!” and I actively seek out growth-mindset media (The Princess and the Frog with its emphasis on hard work is a personal favorite).

  • 2. "There’s no such thing as perfect."

  • We probably all remember getting a grade-school assignment back with a big star and “Perfect!” scrawled across the top. It seemed harmless at the time, but the more I’ve studied the more clearly I see the way it feeds a fixed-mindset obsession with perfection. Students given that type of praise were less likely to take on more difficult tasks for fear of not performing perfectly and thus no longer appearing “smart.” It’s been hard to completely expunge “perfect” from my vocabulary, but I always try to follow it up with a reminder that there’s really no such thing as perfect. Mistakes and even failure are integral to progress (a message that is wonderfully expressed in the very growth-mindset children’s book Rosie Revere, Engineer), and trying to correct them is the path to becoming a “problem solver,” a label that my daughter has gleefully taken on as a core part of her identity.

  • Of course, there are downsides to raising a "problem solver," like the sheer number of repairs you stumble upon unexpectedly. "Oh yeah, I broke that but don't worry, because I did good problem solving and fixed it!" (Usually with mounds and mounds of scotch tape.) Hopefully, her personal empowerment is worth all the property damage in the long run.

  • 3. "You’re literally growing your brain!"

    Underlying the growth mindset is a basic physiological reality: Neuroplasticity. The brain is not a static organ, as was once believed, but a malleable one, constantly changing in response to environment, circumstance, and behavior. While process praise and growth-mindset messages implicitly send the message that effort and persistence lead to mastery, studies show that people of all ages (toddlers to college students) respond to explicit teaching about the brain’s capacity for growth. In one significant study, just 50 minutes of teaching about neuroplasticity dramatically improved low-performing students’ beliefs about their capabilities, not to mention their test scores.

  • With my five-year-old, the children’s book Your Fantastic Elastic Brain has been a fun and entertaining way to teach her about her brain’s inherent capacity, coupled with frequent reminders when she’s getting frustrated with a task she has yet to master. Trying to sound out a word? You’re literally growing your brain! Trying to tie your shoes? You’re literally growing your brain! Trying furiously to remove the marker from the wall before your parents notice? You’re literally growing your brain! (But we prefer the other methods . . . )

  • Are you a parent, a spouse, a teacher, a manager, a worker, an athlete, a perfectionist? Read Mindset. It’s a game changer.

Thanks, Linsday. Questions and comments are welcomed, below. 

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