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Archive for September, 2011

Too soon to tell

While other moms complained that their babies would only wear an outfit once or twice before the child outgrew it, I kept quiet.  My son always wore a size or two smaller than his age. So at 6 months old he was still wearing 0-3 months sized clothes. He wasn’t premature, but he was small.  By the time he was a toddler the pediatrician recommended we bring our son to a specialist to test for growth hormone deficiency.  He was so small and seemed to grow so slowly that we had concerns.  Turned out he didn’t have growth hormone deficiency – just vertically challenged parents!

At every doctor appointment my son’s growth was charted. We’d see that he wasn’t even on the curve. Our kind pediatrician would say – “He’s on his own path and making progress.  As long as he makes progress everything is fine.”

Sometimes I meet with parents of students who are struggling with beginning literacy skills – rhyming, letter names, letter sounds, etc.  Inevitably they ask the question for which they don’t really want to know the answer, “Does my child have a learning disability?”  To these anxious parents I answer honestly – “It’s too soon to tell.”  Because it is too soon to tell – we don’t have enough information yet.   I explain to the parents that learning to read and write is a developmental process that varies by individual student.

Ask yourself this question – how old are children when they learn to walk?  Did you think of an exact age?  No, you probably thought of a range of possibilities.   Some children learn to walk at nine months while other children are not independent walkers until fifteen to eighteen months.  In a room full of ten month old children you may have a few crawlers, a few cruisers (walking while holding on to furniture), a few tentative walkers, and some runners.  Of course there may be some more variations in between!  It’s all very developmental and individual. So is the acquisition of literacy. Some children are reading by age three while others do not become fluent readers until age 7 or 8.  There is a range of possibilities.

It’s important to keep in mind the developmental nature of literacy acquisition despite the pressure to have students reading when they enter first grade.  Even though our little ones won’t take their first state sponsored assessment until third grade, the effect of high stakes testing has changed Kindergarten.

During my student teaching fifteen years ago, my mentor teacher encouraged me to spend time in the Kindergarten classroom.The decorations were so cheerful an brightly colored.  There was a huge, multicolored carpet with a rocking chair for story-time.  One corner of the room had a few small tables with tiny chairs. The rest of the classroom was taken up by the housekeeping center, the dress-up center, a huge bookshelf of blocks with a building area, a puzzles place, a painting easel, and lots of age-appropriate games.

My Kindergarten classroom looks more like a first grade classroom.  Half of our classroom is set up with tables and chairs for seat work.   There is a huge carpet with a rocking chair for group work.  I have a few puzzles and games, but only when inclement weather forces us to stay inside for recess do we have the opportunity to use them.  Our focus is on academics.

On the one hand, I feel strongly that we should have high expectations in our classrooms and that students can rise to the challenges we present.  The last three years teaching Kindergarten have shown me how far some children can fly.   But I also see students who have trouble taking off.  This doesn’t mean they have learning disabilities, it just means they’re not ready – they don’t have the building blocks in place to learn how to read yet.  Just like the child who begins to walk at 15 months – he walked when he was ready.

I always feel bad that I cannot completely alleviate a parent’s anxieties regarding learning disabilities.  Students in Kindergarten are just beginning to learn, oftentimes there isn’t enough data to know whether or not there is a disability.  Like my son’s pediatrician, I just keep monitoring their progress on their personal growth charts.

So what can parents do to help their children form the building blocks for reading readiness? For starters, parents can nurture good oral language development , which I addressed in my post last weekend. Reading to and with your child every day is fundamental to preparing your child for literacy acquisition. Jim Trelease, author of the Read Aloud Handbook, cites that children need to hear 1000 books read to them before they are ready to learn how to read. With those two areas covered, your child will be well on their way.

At the age of three, my child finally joined the ranks of all the other children his age as his height landed him ON the growth chart.  Of course, he’s still one of the shortest kids in his grade, but so were his parents.

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Linked to Live and Love…Out Loud Wordless Wednesday

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Frozen yogurt can make the day brighter

It says fall on the calendar, but the thermometer has reached well over 80 the last few days. The swamp cooler has been working overtime to keep my classroom cool. Warm classrooms are not conducive to learning so I truly appreciate even the trickle of cool air coming from the vents. Dismissal is miserable – standing outside in the hot sun with no shade. And this morning the doctor couldn’t do anything to help my sore toe. By the end of the day I was tired and cranky.

On the way home the boys and I stopped at Smart Cow Yogurt Bar for a cool treat on a hot day. This is a new place that opened recently by our house.  We’ve been meaning to try it for a while, but haven’t – no particular reason. We went today though because Smart Cow was having a fundraiser for our school.  20% of  today’s total sales will go to our school. We had to go – it’s our school!

I’m not a review blogger. Typically I write about books and my boys and teaching. But I started this blog as a writing experiment and so I want to write about Smart Cow because it’s pretty nifty and it made me happy.

We had a great time tasting different flavors  – there were these nifty little tasting cups so you can try different flavors. We went up and down the block of self-serve machines trying Watermelon Sorbet, Tahitian Vanilla, Thin Mint Cookie, Triple Chocolate, and White Chocolate Mousse sharing with each other. Mom, you have GOT to try this one! Each pair of flavors could be mixed together creating different combinations of flavors – some more appealing than others.

Then there are loads of different fun toppings including cereals, nuts, candy galore, and fresh fruit.

And very large cups to fill.

I decided to go with the Tahitian Vanilla which was more a vehicle for the toppings than a favorite flavor.  I wasn’t so sure about putting Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Heath Bar on top of Watermelon (that’s just me).  The boys and I went a little crazy with the sweet toppings and I was OK with that because it was a special treat. Plus it supported the school. And I got the fat-free no sugar added vanilla!!  And did I say how tired and cranky I was at the end of the day?

I felt much better eating the yummy yogurt topped with Heath Bar crumbles, crushed Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, marshmallows, sprinkles, and Oreo cookies.  Just a little of each – just to taste. Again, pretty tired and cranky.

The boys devoured their extremely chocolatey concoctions, every last drop. They asked if they could have seconds and my initial response was No.  They’d had more than enough sweets to last a week. Then someone said, But you could take some home with you.

Oh. I had really enjoyed the Watermelon Sorbet. The Watermelon truly made my mouth happy.  Yes, happy. And it is yogurt. OK boys, you can get some more but no toppings this time and we’re getting lids to save this for tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that and the day after that – they filled those cups to the top!

And gosh, wouldn’t that Watermelon taste really yummy with the Tahitian Vanilla…

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This weekend we went to the store and I got the most awesomest costume for Halloween.  I’m going to be WolverineFrom Marvel Comics for Halloween this year!  I have a costume that has real wolverine claws and a mask and my dad was in the United States Wolverine Corps.  Wolverine is my favorite super hero.  I really like super heroes!  I have a Wolverine book and a Batman book.  Do you know I have a red cape with a lightning bolt on it?

If you give this little guy an inch he’ll go on and on and on. When he’s not rhapsodizing about super heroes, he’ll tell you more than you’ll ever want to know about sharks – all different kinds of sharks!  I enjoy every minute of his chatter.  He’s using age-appropriate grammar and a rich vocabulary.  OK, so some of his details are a little off.  Like how his dad was in the United States MARINE Corps, but you’ve got to love his enthusiasm and his pride in his dad.

In my opinion, one of the biggest predictors of success in Kindergarten is a child’s oral language skills.  So while those chatty kids might drive parents crazy, those are the students who are easiest to teach.  Sure, it takes time for students to learn when it is OK to talk in school and when it is not OK, but eventually they figure it out. And just so I don’t have a complete rebellion on my hands I allow opportunities for sharing about our days, responding to a story, or quietly chatting with neighbors.

It’s the quiet kids that always concern me. The ones who never raise their hands. The ones who never have anything to say even when called upon to share.

Sure, some children are painfully shy. And I completely feel their pain because I was super shy as a kid. Eventually, my shy students will come out of their shells long enough to answer a question or share a story – even if it means whispering to me or a friend to share for them.

But my concern for quiet kids does not include those who are shy, it is for those who never have anything to say. The chronic shoulder-shrugger “I don’t know” responders. The child who pulls an item out of a basket and can’t think of the word fish – and is a native English speaker. The child who says tiger for a picture of a tabby cat or house for a picture of a window. The child who has nothing to share about her weekend even after all the other children have shared about riding bikes, playing wii, or going to grandma’s house. These are the children who worry me the most.

Puritans thought that children should be seen and not heard. Fortunately this belief is no longer widespread for studies have shown that children who have more extensive vocabularies will perform better in school. Children with rich and extensive vocabularies have the words to express themselves and better overall comprehension. Dr. Louisa Moats found that linguistically poor children enter first grade with 5,000 words in their vocabulary while linguistically rich students enter first grade with 20,000 words.  That’s a huge gap to fill.

In the book Building Oral Language Skills in PreK-K, the author Cindy Middendorf cites research that shows, “Not all children who struggle with early reading skills have poor oral language, yet nearly all children who have poor oral language will struggle with early reading skills.”  This was repeated for me again at a literacy conference when the speaker mentioned that 70% of struggling third grade readers have poor oral language. I structure my Kindergarten schedule to do all I can to encourage oral language and vocabulary development.

But parents have their children for five years before they enter my classroom. So how does one raise their child to be a wolverine loving shark fanatic instead of a shoulder shrugging I don’t know-er?

Talk to your child from the day he/she is born. Have conversations with your child even before they can answer back. Use real words not baby talk. Talk about your day, where you are going, what you are doing. As your child begins to learn words and speak coherently then the fun really starts.

Read to your child. Read to your child. Read to your child. I cannot say this too many times. Read to your child from the day he/she is born! The earlier you start with books the better.  Baby books are full of fun vocabulary and pictures. You may not be reading a story but you are engaging your child in language development.

Once your child is ready to sit for an entire picture book, a gloriously rich world of literature is available for enjoying.  Picture books tell beautiful stories and often use more advanced language than you would think. One of my favorite lines is from Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin

Duck was a neutral party, so he brought the ultimatum to the cows.

I was reading this book to my son when he was two!  Now, I’m not saying he understood every word but he understood the general idea of the story and was exposed to some pretty fantastic words!

Reread the same books to your child (if they aren’t already demanding you to do so). Children love familiarity and predictability. Children learn through repetition, gaining something new each time they hear the same story. If you really get tired of reading the same book over and over then try introducing another text with the same characters. The characters in books become your child’s friends and it is fun for them to hear another story about familiar friends.

Let your child speak. Once a child has some words then encourage them to use those word and don’t let them get away with pointing and gesturing. Before my younger son was verbal he would gesture to his mouth when he wanted his binky (pacifier). When he was two and specifically requesting the motorcycle binky, I knew it was time for him to give up the binky!

And remember children should be seen and heard!

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Wordless Wednesday: Fog

Linked to Live and Love…Out Loud Wordless Wednesday

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Where I’m From

When I started this blog last June, I had no idea where it would go or how long it would last.  As I tried to find a wider network of women bloggers I stumbled upon the SITS Girls website. After lurking around the site for a while I registered for the Bloggy Boot Camp in Denver thinking it might be fun and I might learn something.  My ticket served as a great inspiration to keep writing and blogging. If I was going to a blogging conference then I had to be a blogger (well in my mind anyway).

Saturday was a blast! The speakers were well-spoken, funny, and informative.  I’m still processing all that I learned, but mostly I realized how much I have yet to learn about the blogging world. As a newbie, I opted for the writing breakout session rather than the business oriented one. The writing exercise was to create a poem using a template inspired by  Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon. Mama Kat (one of the SITS Girls) led the activity and decided to use the template as one of her writing prompts this week.

So here is my attempt at explaining where I’m from.

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I am from dog-eared books devoured over and over, from Snuggle scented sheets, and flashlights under the covers.

I am from swinging on a tire under canopied trees in a marshy wood with tall frondy ferns and hold your nose skunk cabbage.  From the sweet smell of freshly mown grass making me sneeze. From happy yellow forsythias, proud purple lilacs, and sprawling green pachysandra on a sunny spring day.

I am from the pink and green Holly Hobby bedroom full of Nancy Drews and kitten posters down the hall from the fancy blue living room you dare not enter. From the kitchen table at dinner covered with books and newspapers and all you hear is the clatter of forks on plates and the flutter of pages turned.

I am from new pajamas on Christams Eve and dimples in my shoulders.  From Scholzes and Muellers and Prokops.

I am from the loud yellers and the nervous hair twirlers and the step off the curb ankle sprainers.

From you’re not getting up until you eat your string beans and stop reading under the covers and go to sleep.

I am from genuflecting and incense and feast days. From hard wooden pews, creaky kneelers, and starchy wafers struck to the roof of my mouth. From questions I dared not ask.

I’m from the Bronx but not the Bronx. I’m from liverwurst on rye, potato pierogies and lasagna with a side of garlic bread.

From my grandmother crossing the Atlantic on a boat arriving St. Patrick’s Day 1929. And my grandfather landing in New York knowing only ham and cheese please. And my great aunts saving nickels earned at Horn & Hardarts Automat.

I am from faded Kodachrome Instamatic prints of birthdays, Christmases, Easters, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days and Thanksgiviging chronologically stuck in spiral albums with crinkly cellophane covers that are occasionally dusted, were saved from a flood, and rarely opened.

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We cannot fashion our children after our desires, we must have them and love them as God has given them to us. ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each. ~ Plato

I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it. ~ Harry S. Truman

Listen to the desires of your children. Encourage them and then give them the autonomy to make their own decision.  ~ Denis Waitley

Earlier this month I finished reading Jodi Picoult’s book, Nineteen Minutes. My initial response to her book focused on remembering Columbine and describing lockdown drills in schools. But as all her books do, this book has given me much food for thought.  What makes one child go over the edge while another does not? And for those sad individuals who are pushed over the edge why do some harm themselves while others harm many? Why is one child considered unique while another is considered odd? Why are some children targets for bullies while other are left alone? And finally, how did the mother not know that her child was in so much pain?

As a parent I wonder, when should you push and when should you ease up?  No, I’m not talking about giving birth, especially since I had two C-sections and have no idea what it means to push!  I’m talking about when are you fostering independence and maturity and when are you torturing your child? These thoughts were racing through my mind as I read the part where the mother of the teen shooter remembers sending her son to sleep away camp. He called the first night panicked and wanted to come home. She made him stay and recalls how he seemed very different when he came home.  When is it helping to force your child to do something they truly do not want to do and when is it harming?

This summer my older son decided he wanted to go to sleep away camp. We found a great camp, figured out the logistics, and he had an amazing time. He is my adventurous child. My child who has no fear of performing in front of the entire school or proudly telling people he dances ballet. My child who is friends with many different groups of kids.  My child who this morning went to school wearing a chicken hat on his head – a plush roasted chicken, complete with those fancy white footy things (that was his favorite part of the hat).  I am constantly in awe of his sense of humor, his empathy, his talent, and his self assuredness.

My younger son wanted to go to a camp like his brother’s but not a sleep away camp. He said he wasn’t ready. I told him he was old enough, but he said no. We found an alternative and he was able to go to a day camp that was more traditional – archery, zip lining, canoeing, etc. He had a great time. Now I’m sure he would have had a great time at the sleep away camp as well, but having been a child who refused to go to a sleep away camp I listened to him and didn’t force the issue.  But should I have forced it? A few years ago when he was resisting piano lessons, I made him begin anyway.  I knew he didn’t want to start  because he’s a perfectionist.  He wanted to be able to play perfectly from the start. Fortunately his teacher was able to teach him a few quick and easy songs and he was hooked.  Now he’s been playing for two years and loves it. I knew I could push him to play piano, but I chose not to push him with sleep away camp.

As I think about the conversation from last spring, I know I did not understand why my older son wanted to go to sleep away camp. OK, I did understand why. I just couldn’t relate to it. And I absolutely understood why my younger son did not want to go. Would it have been good for him to expand his boundaries and grow? Probably. But maybe he would he have been absolutely miserable and instead of moving out of his comfort zone he would have retreated. Sometimes I feel like it’s harder to parent my younger son because he is so similar to me.

My younger son has strong mathematical abilities, loves puzzles, is extremely conscientious and rule oriented – just like me. And like me he tends to have some anxiety and to view the world as black and white – very few shades of gray.  I love my younger son too with all my heart and I pray that as an adult he does not struggle with the same issues that I do. So I may push him a little harder than he’d like, but I’ll listen carefully for the trumpet of retreat.

I’ve been struggling all day with how to end this post. This book raised so many different questions and I addressed one small part. I do know that I don’t have the answers. I can’t even begin to presume to know the answers.  For now, I can strive to be the best mom I can possibly be by raising my children to be the best they can and want to be.

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I would love to hear your thoughts. For those of you with grown children – how did you know when to push and when to back off?

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