growing up · reading · routines

The Gift of a Quiet Morning

I’m big on putting myself out of a job because I constantly strive to help my kids become more independent. For instance, they’re expected to pack their own backpacks every morning. If they pack an ice brick in their lunch carrier, there’s a natural consequence: warm lunch. I don’t come to school to bring forgotten iPads, water bottles, or winter gear. It’s their job to make sure they’re ready to go.

But, that isn’t always easy. Our refrigerator’s water filter spigot dispenses water s-l-o-w-l-y, which leads to complaints.

I wasn’t in the mood for complaints this morning. Both kids had an early breakfast with Marc, dressed, and wanted to do their own thing.

Everything was tranquil. Who was I to disrupt the peace by demanding that they pack their backpacks.

I decided to ditch my normal expectations in favor of a quiet morning. I packed their lunches in their bags, filled their water bottles, and placed them by the door. Then, I went upstairs and applied my makeup in peace.

two backpacks + my cup of ice water

When it was time to leave, I asked both kids to come downstairs.

“By the way, both your backpacks are packed by the door. All you have to do is put on your shoes and coats.”

They were stunned into silence.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said in a kiddie voice.

Ari and Isabelle echoed proper thank yous, put on their shoes, then their coats.

As lovely as my quiet morning was, I looked at their backpacks and wondered if they’d expect me to do this again tomorrow. (Spoiler alert: This was a one-time offer!)

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easy reader · reading · slice of life

Does it feel “just right” to you?

“Does it feel just right to you?” I asked Ari who was s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g through Unlimited Squirrels: Guess What!? by Mo Willems when we read together this morning.

“Yah, it feels fine,” he replied.

“Do you think you’ll be able to understand the story if you’re miscuing this many words?”

Ari nodded, “Do not worry. It’ll be fine,” he said in a funny voice.

He slogged through the first few pages mispronouncing the word squirrel, despite repeated reading every time.

ARGH! I was beyond frustrated. It was taking everything in me not to comment.

By page 21, I noticed it was taking him too long to read through the book. There was no way to talk about the text to make predictions or do any other comprehension work since he wasn’t self-correcting his errors when I asked, “Does that make sense?”

“Listen, buddy. Let’s talk about just-right books for a second. Does this book really, REALLY feel just right to you?”

“I guess not,” Ari replied.

“It’s okay to read books with challenging words. I do that because that’s how I learn new ones. But sometimes, there are books I must abandon because the amount of unfamiliar words weighs me down. This book is taking you a long time to get through… and you have to go to school soon. Why don’t you get an Elephant and Piggie book you haven’t read yet instead.”

Ari looked defeated. I added, “Just because this book isn’t just-right for you today doesn’t mean it won’t be soon.”

Within two minutes, Ari returned to the couch with I Will Surprise My Friend? As he read, I noticed he:

  • Tracked the print with his eyes only. He didn’t use his finger a single time.
  • Determined that the bubbles in the middle of the book were not speech bubbles but thought bubbles.  He modulated his voice to almost a whisper. When I told Ari I couldn’t hear him, he replied, “But they’re thinking it, so I’m whispering.”
  • Made predictions and was able to discuss the text at the end.
  • Missed five words in the entire book.

By the time we finished, it was three minutes past the time I roll away to bring him to school. We rushed to put on our shoes and coats and exited the door two minutes later. (We had ten minutes to go until the bell rang.)

“Hey, listen, I want to say something to you,” I said to Ari as we headed towards the car.

“What?” he said, tossing his backpack onto the seat.

“I want you to know that just-right books aren’t punishment. They’re meant to help you become a stronger reader. You get to pick what you want to read, and you can read it in a way that feels good. Can you understand that?”

“Yeah,” Ari replied.

As we drove away, I reminded him that he started reading Elephant and Piggie books on March 1st. “Today is the 27th. How many days have passed since March 1st?”

“26,” Ari replied.

“Right. So in 26 days, Elephant and Piggie went from being a little challenging to being a series that’s just-right for you. I feel the Unlimited Squirrels series will be just right for you in about a month.”

“Nah, probably a couple of years,” Ari lamented.

“Does that make sense?”


“I think it’s reasonable to think those books will be just-right for you really soon. All you have to do is keep reading and believing. Can you do that?”

“I can,” Ari replied.


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Jewish · raising strong girls · reading · slice of life

Read from Right to Left… and Hold the Vowels!

Isabelle and Marc met with our rabbi to review Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah speech. At the end of lunch, the three of us talked about it. That led to me sitting with her and to some level of frustration that she’s still unsure of what happens in her Torah portion. (Click here to learn what a Torah portion is.) In Isabelle’s defense, it’s a challenging Torah portion! I tried to capture what Isabelle was trying to articulate about the big ideas, but I could tell she just wanted to be done with it. (I can’t blame her.)

The yellow sticky notes cover the block-printed Hebrew with vowels and punctuation.  This helps Isabelle focus all of her attention on the text in the left column that looks most like a Torah scroll.

After a half hour, we set the speech aside. It was time for Isabelle to review her Torah portion. As she sat there, chanting from Torah perfectly, my heart swelled with pride. Here is my kid, diagnosed with Dylexia a few years ago, reading from the Torah. Why is this such a big deal?

  1. Direction: Hebrew is written and read from right to left, which is the opposite of English.
  2. Letters: The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters that look nothing like the English alphabet’s 26 letters.
  3. Vowels: In Hebrew, the vowels are represented by marks below the letters. But here’s the thing, the vowels are MISSING when you read from Torah.
  4. Punctuation: A chumash is a printed-book version of the Torah that contains punctuation. A Torah scroll lacks hyphens, periods, etc. to help the reader.
  5. Font: A Torah scroll doesn’t have an easy-to-read, block-print Hebrew. Instead, it is written in K’tav Ashurit, a calligraphic form of Hebrew. (It doesn’t jive with what I would consider an accessible font!)
  6. Chanting: The right-to-left, hard-to-read, vowel-and-punctuation-missing words are supposed to be sung… to a particular tune! The trope marks are given to people when they’re learning the Torah portion, but those are also missing when one reads from the Torah scroll. (You can read about the purpose of the trope marks by clicking here.)

It is a lot for any kid to prepare for the day they become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah! The challenge is even more significant for a child with Dyslexia because all of the things they rely upon as support in English are GONE when they read from the Torah.

YET, despite all of that, Isabelle learned her Torah portion in a month. All we do is practice it together a few times a week. She is ready!

Now that her speech is done, it’s time for me to write mine. I’ve been putting it off since I’m overthinking how I want to structure it. That said, the speech won’t write itself, so as soon as the SOLSC is over, my next writing challenge (i.e., condensing all of my pride into a three-minute speech) begins!

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books · reading · slice of life · travel

This Week: Audiobooks!

I downloaded several audiobooks we could listen to as a family the night before we drove to Connecticut. After reading all of the summaries to Isabelle, she selected The One and Only Bob. Marc and I were pleased since it’s narrated by Danny Devito.

But Ari didn’t want to listen to it. He didn’t want to listen to any audiobooks. We encouraged him to don his headphones and play a game on his iPad. But a few chapters into the book, Ari made his displeasure with the audiobook known. His protest led to us turning it off so we could dial down his complaints.

Fast forward to today. We are driving home from Connecticut. Isabelle is listening to Wishtree while following along with a paperback version. Ari, tired of doing whatever he was doing on his iPad, asked for an audiobook. I let him select from the ones I downloaded onto his iPad last week. He picked Henry Huggins.

Ari has been listening to Henry Huggins for nearly 45 minutes. He won’t eat lunch because he keeps staring at his iPad’s Libby screen while he listens to the audiobook. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful relationship with audiobooks?

Maybe, just maybe, he won’t protest the next time we want to listen to an audiobook on a family road trip.

As for me, I’m off to read my book while Marc drives us home!

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growing up · reading · slice of life

How Many?

Ari is a fabulous helper in the grocery store. He seems to know where nearly every item we buy regularly is at Wegmans, which is a huge help to me since my husband is the primarybWegmans shopper in our family.

One of Ari’s favorite things to help with at the store is weighing and labeling the produce. I noticed he was taking longer than usual at the scale this weekend. I walked over to him and asked, “Did you forget the code?”

“No,” Ari replied.

“How come you’re still standing there?” I asked Ari quizzically.

“I think it’s asking me how many… but I’m not sure,” he replied.

Now that Ari is becoming a reader, he recognized the extra step the scale promoted when it wanted to price by item, not weight. In that moment, Ari realized he needed to input how many mangoes were needed before he was able to print out the produce label. But he wasn’t entirely sure if that’s what he was supposed to do since I wasn’t right by his side.

“You’re right. It says how many. Go ahead, count how many mangoes you have, enter it, and then—”

“Press print!” Ari replied.

The combination of Ari becoming a reader while helping is such a gift.

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accomplishments · Jewish · reading · slice of life

Yasher Kocheich

At the end of the final leg of “The Amazing Race,” host Phil Keoghan says something like:

(insert number of continents/countries), (insert number of cities), (insert number of miles), you are the official winners of The Amazing Race.

I started tearing up as Isabelle neared her Torah portion’s final verse. Isabelle chanted her entire Torah portion, without vowels, aloud to me for the first time this afternoon. While I’ve been working with her on all of the parts of it, this was the first time she chanted it from start to finish. I was verklempt.

I wanted to be like Phil and say to her:

Isabelle. You’ve learned 18 prayers, 3 sections of your parsha from the Torah, and have triumped over a Dyslexia diagnosis while doing it. You are ready to become a Bat Mitzvah!

But I knew Isabelle wouldn’t handle my kvelling well. Instead, I gave her a big hug, several kisses on the head, and said, “Yasher Kocheich. You did it. It took you less than two months to master your Torah portion. You are ready.”

She scoffed and pushed me away.

Chanting her parsha!

“Look at me,” I said.

Isabelle gave me the side-eye.

“Please look at me,” I asked.

With eyes bulging, Isabelle stared at me and said, “I’m looking at you.”

“You did it! You’re ready. Why won’t you let me be proud of you?”

“I’m not done,” she said.

“But you are. You learned all of the prayers and your Torah portion. You don’t have to practice daily anymore. Three times a week will be more than enough for the next few months.”

But she stomped off to get a snack.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I still have to work on that thing,” she replied.

“What thing?” I asked.

“That thing I have to say,” she replied disdainfully.

“Your D’var Torah? That’s not a big deal. It’s a couple of minutes long. Rabbi Jack will work with you on that, and Rabbi Stacey will help.”

“It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a lot of work.”

“And you will get it done, just like everything else. It’s short, no more than a couple of minutes long. You’re going to get it done.”

Isabelle made a face at me, grabbed herself a snack, and sat down at the table. Her reaction made me realize that even though I thought she had reached the finish line, she doesn’t see herself as there yet. Close, but not on the mat like the contestants on “The Amazing Race.” Perhaps, once she crafts her D’var Torah, she’ll feel finished. Or maybe it’ll be at the end of the service when we wrap up by singing “Hatikvah.” Only time will tell. But in the meantime, I AM SO PROUD OF MY DAUGHTER!

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reading · summer reading

A PSA (of sorts) About Summer Reading Loss

Call this a public service announcement. Call this a cautionary tale. Call it whatever you want. I’m sharing this experience with the hope that it will help someone in your life.

This morning, I sat my math-loving child down and explained to him that we needed to review his sight words, which he’s refused to do since mid-May. (I allowed this since I’m not from the you-must-read-before-Kindergarten camp.) I said, “Ari, you start Kindergarten this month! I know we read books together every day, but I need you to work with me for ten minutes per weekday on reading between now and the first day of school.” He agreed — reluctantly.

Many of you have heard of summer reading loss. It’s a real thing! It’s the reason why I used to go head-to-head with Isabelle in the summers preceding third grade when reading was challenging for her. (Nowadays, she reads for an hour a day without a fight. THANK HEAVENS for that!) Yet, it’s something I didn’t worry about for Ari since he wasn’t reading yet. That said, I was shocked when I compared the number of sight words he could read today versus the amount he was able to read in mid-May.

Am I worried? No. I know Ari will get all of those words back — and maybe more — if we work together for ten minutes/weekday between now and the first day of school. But seeing the number of words he couldn’t recognize gave me pause about the amount of time it’s been since he read decodable texts to me, did word work, and played phonemic awareness games.

Throughout most of my childhood, I put off summer reading until mid-August. (We started school after Labor Day. Talk to me in person if you want to hear me rant about this.) It wasn’t until later in life that I loved to read because it was difficult for me growing up. So, if you have or know of a child who hasn’t found books they’ve loved this summer, help them find something they want to read. Remember: graphic novels and audiobooks count as reading!

books · reading · slice of life

Parenting Fail (or maybe it’s a win)

I knocked on Isabelle’s door. Rather than saying come in, Isabelle said, “Why do you have to keep bothering me?!!?”

I hadn’t even spoken to Isabelle since she went to her room at 10:07 AM to read for an hour. It was 11:20 AM. (For the record, my mother-in-law, Linda, knocked on Isabelle’s door around 11:10 AM to find out what kind of sandwich Isabelle wanted for lunch. I asked Linda to do this so I guess Isabelle viewed this as me intruding on her.)

“We have to leave for your swim lesson in 20 minutes.”

“Ugh, why are you bothering me? I’m trying to read!”

I looked at the timer on Isabelle’s iPad which she fiddled with after she paused her audiobook. I noticed it said 46 minutes were left.

“Did you just start reading? What we’re you doing this whole time? I left you well over an hour ago. I need you to help me pack towels, get on your sunblock…”

She growled at me and turned back to the Libby app. She looked back down at the printed copy of The Witches and proceeded to ignore me. “I started reading at 10:07, Mah-mee! I just messed up the timer when it went off.”

That pretty much checked out. Isabelle must’ve accidentally reset the time for an hour when it went off at 11:07 AM.

“Why are you acting this way?” I asked. “You could just ask me for another minute to finish the page. You have a swim lesson at noon and you aren’t even close to being ready.”

This went on for another 30 seconds at which point I told her I’d be back in five minutes and — at that point — she’d have to go downstairs to get ready.

Five minutes later, Isabelle didn’t get up from her book. By this point, I raised my voice and implored her to get ready.

By 11:33 AM, Isabelle still hadn’t left her room. At that point, I went in, took away the iPad and said, “I am thrilled you’re reading longer than an hour because your book so is good, but you need to get ready NOW. Sunblock. Shoes. Ugggggh!”

Isabelle stomped out of her room and walked downstairs to finish getting ready.

After watching her move at a snail’s pace downstairs, I said, “Meet me in the car or else I’m going to be taking myself for a swim lesson.”

I needed to cool down because I knew I wasn’t going to do that. I let out some frustration in the garage and then took some deep breaths in the driver’s seat while I waited for Isabelle to come out of the house. While breathing deeply, I realized Isabelle wasn’t being non-compliant just to stick it to me because she is 11 and a half (and that’s what kids this age do). No, no… she wasn’t moving from her reading perch because she didn’t care about reading for a certain amount of time just to say she’d read. Nope. She was ENJOYING her book so much that she didn’t care about the time!

Well, crap. I’m the jerk, aren’t I, I thought. Now she’s going to associate her first time reading longer with an argument… what have I done?!!?

This evening, I discovered Isabelle has 37 minutes left in her book. I’m assuming she would’ve finished it if time had permitted.

Isabelle finally got into the car at 11:46 AM. (Good thing I always set our roll time earlier than it needs to be.) As I backed out of the driveway, I said, “I realize now that you were lost in your book. I’m thrilled for you. Are you enjoying this book?”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Isabelle replied cooly.

“Wonderful! But listen, the way you yelled at me as soon as I knocked on your door made me feel bad. I know you were being bothered again, but you could’ve said, ‘I just want to finish this page or chapter and then I’ll come down.’ You didn’t do that. I yelled back at you and then you yelled at me some more. Both of us did a lot of shouting and that’s not cool. We can both do better.”

“Okay, I know,” she replied.

“So, reading the paper copy of the book along with the audiobook is really helping you enjoy the books you’re reading more, isn’t it?” I asked.

“It is,” she said.

I have begged her to listen and follow along with her eyes since November when Colleen Cruz suggested this at the TC Dyslexia Institute. As much as I wanted to do an I-told-you-so, I resisted.

I didn’t need an apology for her giving me an agonizing 25 minutes. All I needed was the knowledge that she was finally able to get lost in a book. (Maybe she needs to start reading a wee bit earlier now that she’s fancying reading because it’s a bit easier.)

This evening, just before shutting Isabelle’s bedroom door, I said, “I love you. Let’s aim for being better versions of ourselves this week. I think we can both do better. Sleep well and sweet dreams.”

To that, I got a “Good night, Mommy. I love you too.” I guess all had been forgiven on both ends.

food · reading · recipes · siblings · slice of life


Ari’s half-birthday is approaching so I’m going to be baking a half-of-a-cake cake with him. Thing is, his half birthday falls during the week so in-between homeschooling, trying to get work done, and writing, I’ll be baking a cake tomorrow. Knowing this is going to make for a TIGHT day, I thought it would be a good idea to have all of the ingredients — except for the ones that require refrigeration — laid out on the counter tonight.

Thing is, the mise-en-place-the-night-before idea came to me while I was cooking dinner — a new recipe — this evening. Therefore, I couldn’t read off the list of ingredients to Ari, who knows where most things are kept in the kitchen. Even if he cannot read the ingredient names, he knows the difference between even more obscure ingredients, such as the look of the regular cocoa powder and my dutched cocoa powder. What he doesn’t know, by sight, is the difference between bittersweet and semisweet chocolate bars.

Isabelle knows where nearly none of the ingredients or baking tools are kept. BUT, she can read! So, I enlisted her help to read through the ingredient list to Ari so he could gather everything up and place it on the counter. They were quite the pair!

Everything is ready to go, waiting for us, for the morning. I cannot believe I’m going to start baking at 7 a.m. (Because our homeschool day starts at 8:00!), but that’s the plan… as of now.

homeschool · reading · slice of life

Make It a Snap Word

I learned about orthographically mapping irregular words when I attended the TCRWP Dyselxia Institute. They provided us with a routine for mapping irregular words. A few days ago, I tried it out with Ari. So far, we’ve mapped three sight words that he’s found tricky: here, said, and is.

The shutter is about to click!

This morning, during lowercase handwriting practice, I noticed Ari putting his hands up to his temples after he wrote the word here.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m taking a picture so I remember how to write this word,” he replied.

“Didn’t you already take a picture of it last week?” I pondered.

“I did. I’m taking another picture of it so I can really remember,” Ari said.

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