I’ve volunteered in the writing center of my daughter’s preschool classroom on as many Mondays as possible this school year. I hadn’t been there since January 11th, but I knew it was time to take it up a notch. After all, my daughter and most of her friends are able to tell true stories about their lives. I’ve been reading Engaging Young Writers: Preschool – Grade 1 by Matt Glover, which made me realize it was time I figured it was time to nudge them forward by having them tell a story across pages. In other words, I was going to have them start making books today.
Last night, Isabelle was not pleased when asked what I was doing with her and her classmates. First, she didn’t like that I was going to read a book aloud during circle time. Second, she didn’t like that she was going to have to tell a story across pages. “I don’t want to do it,” she declared.
“This is the kind of work that writers do, Isabelle. You’re going to give it a try tomorrow.”
“I don’t want to,” she said.
“Why?” I probed.
She looked at the three-page book I created. “It looks hard.”
“You can tell a story across pages. We’ve done it before at home. I’ll be there to help you.”
She didn’t look convinced.
* * * * *
This morning, we talked about what might be a good topic for a story on the car ride to school. She came up with sledding in our neighbor’s backyard the weekend of the blizzard. Once we got to a long stoplight, I helped her rehearse the story by telling it to me across her fingers. She said, “First, I put on my gear. Next, we walked to Ms. Lori’s backyard. Finally, I went sledding with Daddy.” It was a little spare, but it was a great first attempt.
“Write it!” I declared.
* * * * *
I read Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and talked with her peers about all of the great storytelling they’ve done in their journals this year. Then, I told them it was time to do what the authors of books in their classroom do: make books! We reviewed the thinking/drawing/writing chart. Once all of them thought of a story to tell, I had them go knee-to-knee and eye-to-eye with a partner to tell their story aloud. I listened into a couple of conversations. I noticed some of the kids were writing bed-to-bed stories in the air just to come up with a third thing to tell. When I brought the class back together, I reminded them that their books should have three parts that were related. I wasn’t convinced, after the minilesson, that today would be successful. Alas, I wanted to see what they could do with some gentle nudging once they came to the writing center.
When each child arrived, I had him/her retell the story to me across their fingers. Then, I had them touch each page of their stapled book to tell me what would go on each page. From there, I they drew their pictures. Finally, I either added the words for them (on sticky notes) as they told me the story aloud or they wrote their own words.
I made Isabelle go through the same process as her peers even though I knew the story (and knew she rehearsed it in the car). I was a little disappointed that she changed it around from her initial telling of it in the car. However, in an effort not to put words in her mouth, I scribed exactly what she said.
The only thing I did do was have her go back and add more detail to the second page where she and my husband walked to the neighbor’s house. We looked back at Knuffle Bunny and noticed how Mo Willems had pictures of Trixie and her Daddy walking through their neighborhood so the reader could understand where they were. She had a tough time drawing a house, but with a little practice, she was able to make it look like a house. (BTW: Those dashses are hers. I drew a house with dashes that she had to trace over on scrap paper. For some reason, she thought she should draw the dashes prior to drawing the solid lines of the house.)
* * * * *
I’m thinking I’m going to do a few more weeks of telling stories across pages. By mid-March, I’m hoping to give the kids the option of telling stories in their books or writing books that tell a lot about something (Glover, 2009, 20). I think that choice will be interesting to see play out once the kids get more comfortable with writing across pages, rather than writing on one page, which is what they’ve been doing in their journals this year.
I’ve accepted — although I don’t love — that my arms, tummy, and thighs are not as taut as they were in my 20’s. They may never be “perfect” again since plastic surgery frightens me. Therefore, instead of paying attention to calorie counts, I prefer to look at my exercise stats from the month that’s passed with pride rather than regret.
- Elliptical: 9 sessions for a total of 366 minutes.
- Pilates: 7 sessions for a total of 305 minutes.
- Swimming: 7 sessions for a total of 2 miles.
My friend Michelle Haseltine has been encouraging her Instagram followers, many of whom are her students, to take “snowfies.” A snowfie is a selfie that shows what you’ve been reading or writing during these snow days.
Today is my daughter’s second snow day off from school. Thankfully, I’ve been able to work on the copyediting of my manuscript this afternoon while she’s been sledding at our neighbor’s house. Therefore, I paused and took a snowfie while going through the copyedits of my forthcoming book, Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts. (I AM ALMOST FINISHED, which is awesome since the my changes to the copyedited manuscript are due back to Stenhouse on February 5th.)
After I posted this on Instagram, I realized my computer screen looks blank. Trust me, it’s not! The lighting is off!
I hate to say it, but that’s all I’ve got for today. As much as I’d love to write a real slice of life story, I have to get back to editing my manuscript.
We took Isabelle for her annual well-child checkup this morning. We were delighted she’s grown three inches since her four-year-old well-child checkup considering more than half of the dinners she’s eaten in the past year have consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches! (Not for nothing, but they’ve been served on wheat bread with a vegetable and fruit on the side. I guess that helped.) In fact, today was the first time I’ve ever been visited her pediatrician where I haven’t come in with a notebook page or Evernote note filled with questions and concerns! Today, my husband and I had two questions, both of which weren’t significant enough to write down. And let me tell you, that felt awesome!
But here’s what really felt good:
Isabelle’s pediatrician handed this prescription to her towards the end of the visit. He went through every bullet point in an effort to explain what the words meant. He told Isabelle she needs to get eight or more hours of sleep at night. (Check! She gets about 10 hours/night.) Next, he stated she should eat five or more vegetables and fruits daily. (Check! On school days I know she gets this amount. Weekends are another story, but everyone cheats a bit on weekends, right?) Afterward, her pediatrician told her she shouldn’t have more than two hours of screen time a day. Then he interrupted himself, recalling Isabelle told him the only two shows she’s allowed to watch, and said he knows she doesn’t watch much TV. (So… check! Case in point — Isabelle had an hour of screen time today: a half-hour of “Sesame Street” followed by a half-hour working with me on speech apps on the iPad.) Next, he reminded her to play for at least one hour a day. (Check! This kid plays more hours than I can count.) Finally, he reminded her to never drink sugary sweetened drinks. (Check! We don’t bring soda in our house.)
I chuckled aloud. “Dr. B., Marc and I aren’t perfect parents — at all. But I’ve got to tell you, this prescription makes me feel really good.”
He smiled,”You’re definitely doing an above-average job on these things. Keep it up!”
“Thanks,” I replied.
We spent a few more minutes talking with him about typical five-year-old concerns (which test our patience daily) before we checked out. This evening, as we were bickering with Isabelle about the merits of going upstairs for bedtime, I looked at the script again. Sleep, produce intake, limited media time, lots of play, and no sugary drinks. We may not have everything figured out, but five years in, I have to say, I think we’re doing pretty well.
Like many Mondays this school year, I found myself in Isabelle’s classroom yesterday morning. And like many Mondays I’ve volunteered in Isabelle’s classroom, I talked to Isabelle yesterday morning about what she was planning to write in her journal. She came up with a story idea (i.e., visiting someone’s sukkah a few months ago), but that was it. I told her that stories have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then, I demonstrated by telling her a story, across my fingers, that had a beginning a middle, and an end. Afterwards, we practiced her story (about 10 times!) until she felt confident enough to do it on her own at school.
I did a minilesson during her class’s circle for the past two weeks. I used this chart in my minilesson:
Isabelle did not request to come to the writing center first yesterday. About halfway through center time, she joined me at the table. There was another girl there who was actually writing words independently. She was curious about her classmates letters on the page, but also seemed frustrated she couldn’t write her own wordsI can’t write words!” she told me before starting the drawing for the story we discussed in the morning.
“I can’t write words!” she told me before starting the drawing for the story we discussed in the morning.
“Tell me, ‘I can’t write words yet.'” I retorted.
“I can’t write words, Mommy!”
“You will learn how to, Isabelle. That’s the next step. Today you’re adding words by telling me the story and then I will write them for you. I want you to say ‘I can’t write words yet.'” (There’s nothing like shoving a growth mindset down your kid’s throat, right?)
She complied. “I can’t write words yet.” Then she opened her marker and started drawing.
Once her drawing was complete, I labeled it with small sticky notes. Then, I made an audio recording of her on my phone.
This version wasn’t quite as detailed as the one she recited at home in the morning, but I was delighted by it. (Especially because she used the word finally in her story to signify the last thing she did.) I also reminded her, after I finished writing her words on the sticky note, that she was a good writer because she went through the writing process by thinking (and talking about her story), drawing it, and having someone add the words.
“Will you be embarrassed to be seen with me if I wear this hat to pick you up at school?”
“Are you sure? It has ear flaps.”
“I think you look cute!”
It was settled. My daughter thought the ugly hat I grabbed at LL Bean was cute on me. Therefore, we got in line and purchased it.
Fast-forward to this morning, aka: the first day I actually wore said-hat.
Giggles ensued once it was on my hat, even though it was not clipped on the bottom.
“What’s so funny?” I asked Isabelle.
“Is it my hat?”
Even more giggles.
“That’s great. YOU told me I looked cute in this hat!”
“You look silly.”
Yeah, I know I look silly. But it is cold outside. Cold as in 19°F, but feels like 8°F. My 28 year-old self would die if she saw me walking around with this hat. I never would’ve been caught dead walking around Manhattan in something this ugly! But my 38 year-old self doesn’t care. My ears are warm. If my ears are warm, then I’m happy — no matter how silly I look.
Yesterday was “Good Riddance Day” in Times Square. The premise of the event was simple:
[D]estroy any unpleasant, embarrassing and downright forgettable memories from 2015 and pave the way for new memories in 2016.
Unfortunately, I left Manhattan 18 hours before the event began. Quite frankly, there were a few things I would’ve liked to say “good riddance” to if I had been able to attend yesterday’s event. (Click here and here for two examples.)
On Sunday afternoon, I pulled a muscle while getting onto a rather high horse on the Central Park Carousel. The searing pain that ensued felt like the cherry on top of 2015. And while I was able to walk away (in pain) ten minutes later, I was annoyed. Later that afternoon, while Isabelle and I were washing our hands in a restroom, I was shocked by my reflection in the mirror. I’ve aged this year, I thought. My skin isn’t radiant like it was back in March. just a few weeks after I started a gluten-free diet. Then I noticed my hair. It is grayer — so much grayer — than it was when 2015 began. I didn’t dare look down at my waistline. I didn’t even want to go there. Instead, I turned away from the mirror.
On Monday afternoon, around the time people were shredding their forgettable memories from 2015, I made a phone call to my hair salon where Isabelle and I were scheduled for haircuts this morning. I asked if there was any way my stylist could find the time to put a gloss in my hair before or after my haircut. A few hours later I received a voicemail back from the owner. If I could come in a half-hour earlier, then my stylist could make it happen.
I hustled Isabelle out of the house this morning. I explained that Mommy was going to do something extra at the salon today. After I explained what hair color was, Isabelle had a question.
“Why?” she said simply.
Why? Hmmmm… What could I say that wouldn’t disparage myself while telling her the truth?
“You know how Mommy has had to have surgery twice this year?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“And you know how I still haven’t been feeling well?”
“Yes,” she said again.
“Well,” I paused. “It’s been a hard year. I want to have a fresh start for the new year. See all these gray hairs?” I pointed to my head. She inspected and nodded. “Well, I don’t want to see them for a few weeks.”
Once we arrived at the salon, I learned a gloss alone wouldn’t cover my grays. My stylist suggested a demi-permanent hair color, which doesn’t contain ammonia. It only lasts for 24 shampoos, but this kind of hair color blends away the gray while bringing out one’s natural color. Perfect.
My hair was cut, then colored. Isabelle’s hair was cut while my hair processed. Isabelle sat calmly under the hair dryer while the color was rinsed out of my hair. As soon as my hair was dry, I leaned towards the mirror. I couldn’t see a single gray hair! Not a single one! It felt as though the past eight months of my life had been erased from my head. Even though my skin wasn’t a glow and my body isn’t as svelte as it once was a year ago, I felt so much better when I looked in the mirror. And right now, that is enough.
My stylist walked over to me while I checked out. She reminded me to book extra time for coloring my hair in March. I thanked her for the reminder but assured her this would be a one-time thing. (NOTE: After a horrendous experience with a Sun-In type of product in 1992, I endured a double-process and highlights once my roots became unsightly. I haven’t touched my hair with dye ever since I went back to my natural color in early 1993.) My grays are a part of me I typically don’t mind. Sometimes I even lovingly refer to them as my wisdom streaks. However for the next month, I’m forgetting about those grays and all of the heartache they represent.
However for the next month, I don’t see those “wisdom streaks.” Covering up my gray is part of my plan to pave the way for a better year in 2016. I’ll reveal the other part of my plan, which I began working on earlier this month, over at Two Writing Teachers next Thursday when I share my One Little Word for 2016.
Earlier this evening, I read Terje’s post over at Just for a Month. She closed her post with a wish to her readers:
Health, peace and beautiful surprises for 2016
Health, peace, and beautiful surprises. I could go for all three of those things in 2016 and beyond. And that is what I wish for you, too, in the year to come.
Over the years, I’ve espoused the benefits of a “Things I Can Write About” List, which comes from the work of Davis & Hill, on Two Writing Teachers. As I reflected on the last few times I’ve been into Isabelle’s preschool classroom to help out at writing time, I realized that she claims — in class — that she doesn’t know what to write about. I know she isn’t serious. She has plenty of stories inside of her. However, she’s claiming this as a way of getting negative attention. Therefore, I decided to combat this trend, if you will, by preempting it.
I sat down with Isabelle in my office yesterday afternoon. I explained how many of my former students would keep written lists of things they could write about when they weren’t sure what to write in their notebooks. We combed through photographs from the last few months looking for ideas of things she can write about. Every time she found a photo she wanted to write a story about in her school-based writing journal, I downloaded it to my computer and inserted it into a Word Document. Once we reached ten photos, I organized them on two pages and printed them out.
“But I can’t write,” she admitted.
“You can’t write yet, but you know what makes a good story. Let’s go through some photos. Any time one of them looks like something you can write about, tell me. I’ll put it on a list called “Isabelle’s Things I Can Write About.”
She nodded, “Okay!”
We combed through photographs from the last few months looking for ideas of things she can write about. Every time Isabelle found a photo she wanted to write a story about in her school-based writing journal, I downloaded it to my computer and inserted it into a Word Document. Once we reached ten photos, I organized them on two pages, put a small line next to each one (That’s where the check marks would go once she wrote about a photo.) and printed them out.
This morning, I caught Isabelle eyeing the list as I made her breakfast.
“What are you going to write about today?” I asked.
“Dance class!” she replied as she pointed to the photo.
Sure enough, two hours later, Isabelle looked at both sides of the sheet. “I’m going to write about dance class, Mommy.” she declared.
“What about it?” I asked.
“Dancing with the other girls,” she replied.
“Okay, get started.”
I turned my attention to another girl sitting with us. Before I knew it, Isabelle was ready to tell her story. I wrote down what she said on a yellow sticky note. When she finished, I asked, “How would someone know you’re at dance class by looking at your picture? Is there a barre or something else that makes it look like dance class?”
“Hold on,” she said. She grabbed a few different markers and made some additional illustrations on the page. While she didn’t want to add more to her dictated story, I was delighted she went back to add more detail to her picture.
Once I finished working with all of her friends, Isabelle found her way back to the writing center. She had another story she wanted to write!
And here she is, checking off the spot on her Things I Can Write About list!
My daughter’s occupational therapist does a progress monitoring every 12 weeks. Today was the day to review Isabelle’s goals to see whether or not she’s met them, and to set new ones. We had a big decision: keep working with uppercase letters or set a new goal for lowercase letters. You see, my kiddo turns five next month (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN!?!??) so it’s “time” for her to start using lowercase letters in her writing. But… she’s not ready. At least not yet.
While she can comfortably write the letters in her name in uppercase, she isn’t as independent with letters that aren’t in her name. Even though it looks like she’s mastered the letters when she uses apps like Letter School, Ready to Print, and Writing Wizard, she hasn’t mastered making all of the uppercase letters on paper. Letter School is the best with the gradual release of responsibility, but the transference to paper isn’t there since a blank sheet of paper doesn’t remind you where your pen should go!
“Do you want to include lowercase letters in her goal now that she’s turning five?” Jena repeated.
I thought a little more. We push-push-push Isabelle so much. And she rises to the occasion nearly ever time. But this isn’t something I wanted to push yet.
“Can we put it off another three months?” I asked.
“Yes. But we should include it in her next set of goals,” Jena replied. “She’s going to need to know her lowercase letters once she goes to Kindergarten. We need to start working on them soon.
“Okay,” I said. I could live with that.
So instead of setting a lowercase letter goal, we set an uppercase letter goal that Isabelle would begin to copy words with a variety of uppercase letters. In fact, she started just moments after the goal was written.
Isabelle had colored a couple of pictures while I was speaking with Jena. On the back of the pictures, Jena asked Isabelle to write “To: Jena” and then she had to write her full name (first, middle, and last, which is a total of 23 letters!). It was a lot of work, but Isabelle did it with minimal complaints and a reasonable degree of accuracy. In fact, she was VERY proud of herself for being able to write all of those letters on the back of her coloring page. She even posed for a photo holding up her paper with all of the writing.
That’s when I knew we set the right goal. All kids need to feel successful. They need attainable short-term goals they can accomplish rather than being frustrated by goals that are too hard.
A lot can change in three months. And besides, being 5 1/4 isn’t too old — at least not in my book — to start working on lowercase letters.
Our cousin, Hallie, is a freshman at Penn State this year. (Well, she’s really Marc’s cousin, but I adore her so I claim her as my own!) Our fall got away from us so we didn’t make it up to Happy Valley until this weekend to visit. This was fun for us, but HUGE for Isabelle who’s been wondering about college. (READ: She’s had college on her mind ever since I made the mistake of telling her she’d go away for college when she turns 18. I said this six months ago. She was NOT happy about leaving home and brings it up often. About a month ago, Isabelle told me she’d only go on one condition. I had to go with her. Apparently, she thinks I’m going to commute to Penn State’s University Park Campus with her to get my doctorate while she gets her B.A. Somehow I think she’ll change her mind about this arrangement about ten years from now!)
It was fun to look at the college experience through Isabelle’s eyes while we were up at State College. Here are some things I observed by watching her.
1) Basketball places are fun places to dance! Isabelle embodied this quote from William W. Purkey at yesterday’s basketball game.
You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.
This kid LOVED the music from the band way more than she loved the actual game. She jumped around and danced every chance she had. She danced in her seat, in front of her seat, even on the stairway (which freaked me out since I was convinced she was going to fall down the stairs).
2) You can snack any time of day when you live in a dorm. Hallie showed us her dorm room, which she shares with a roommate who happened to be home when we stopped by. Isabelle was a little confused about why they were living together, without their parents. Once she realized they were both away for school and could go home on vacations, she turned her attention to their stash of snacks. She was amazed they kept pretzels, Goldfish, applesauce, chocolate, etc. in their room. Heck, she even managed to con her way into getting some pretzels from Hallie’s roommate. There’s a part of me that wonders — after visiting the dorm — if we’re going to find snacks stashed in her bedroom sometime soon.
3) You can eat ice cream whenever you want when you’re in college. Hallie took us to the infamous Berkey Creamery for a mid-afternoon treat. The Creamery serves gigantic ice cream servings! I have a feeling Isabelle overheard Hallie tell me that the dining halls also serve ice cream because Isabelle later asked Hallie if she eats ice cream every day. Hallie, who gets kids, quickly told Isabelle her teeth would fall out if she ate ice cream daily. Whew!
4) Lecture halls have fun desks. Hallie took us into one of her lecture halls that will accommodate over 400 students. Isabelle was fascinated by all of the desks and tried a few out. I don’t think she realized you have to listen to long, sometimes boring, lectures when you’re a student. Some things are better left unsaid.
5) The Hub is a fun place to meet people! We toured the student union, which is spacious and gorgeous. Isabelle took in the first floor. By the time we arrived on the second floor, she took it upon herself to meet and greet students who were working or chatting with friends. She must’ve walked over to 40 people and said, “Hi.” All of the students — even the ones who looked like they were deep in thought — were kind to her and said hello back. (And, yes, I tried to stop her from bothering people!) Some even asked Isabelle her name and struck up a conversation with her. She left excited about all of the new people she met.
6) Libraries are quiet places. We didn’t spend as much time as I would’ve liked in the library because Isabelle was way too excited to lower her volume. We left within four minutes of arriving.
7) Campus museums are only fun if you get to go inside. There are two lion’s paws outside of the Palmer Museum of Art. Isabelle dutifully posed in front of them, but once she found out there was a museum inside of the building, she raced to the door so she could enter. Unfortunately, we arrived there five minutes before closing so my child was utterly disappointed she missed out on a museum.
8) Sometimes you have to do things other people want you to do when you’re at college. We didn’t make it to The Nittany Lion Shrine with Hallie since we wanted to check into our hotel before we took her out to dinner. We went on Sunday morning since it was located about a minute’s walk from our hotel. Isabelle didn’t want to go since it was cold. Once we got there she wasn’t keen on waiting for the other families who were before us to pose for a photo. Finally, once it was our turn, she put on a happy face for the picture.
9) You eat brunch when you’re in college. We used to be big fans of brunch before we had Isabelle. Nowadays, we eat breakfast before 9 a.m. on weekends since we’re up with Isabelle by 7 a.m. Even though she was up early on Sunday, we didn’t check out of our hotel until 10:30, which meant introduced her to the concept of brunch. Considering her brunch consisted of chocolate, I’d say she was sold on the concept.
10) College towns are fun to walk around. Isabelle loved walking around State College. She especially loved going into the gear stores to shop for something. She walked away with a 50-cent magnet, which was a great deal for us even though she has nowhere to hang it! She wanted to keep shopping because (as she declared), “I like this town!” However, it was time for us to head home.
* * * * *
It’s hard to believe we were in State College for a little over 24 hours. We packed so much into our time there! We got to see our cousin AND Isabelle got her first taste of college life. While I have no idea where she will go to school, she left with a positive impression of Penn State. Perhaps one day she’ll think about going to college by herself without her old mom in town. Until then, I’ll plan on going back for my doctorate about 13 1/2 years from now.