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.
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?!!?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, which is a festival that celebrates trees, is behind us. YET, I got “The Tree Song,” which I learned in Ari’s music class, stuck in my head this morning after I observed Isabelle:
Was she watching “CNN 10?” Nope, she already did that.
Was she playing a game? No.
Was she listening to music? Wrong again.
What was she doing? She was browsing for biographies to read on our county’s library website.
Why? Isabelle knows we’ll be transitioning to narrative nonfiction reading sometime in the next week and SHE wants to get prepared! She knows she’s responsible for picking people who interest her so she was on the prowl — before 8 a.m. — looking for just-right books. Isabelle doesn’t look at levels, which means she sometimes borrows a book that’s way too hard, but she takes it in stride. (NOTE: We do go to the library too. We just haven’t gone in the past week.) During the pandemic, Isabelle has come to enjoy researching books and reserving them with her library card. She uses the Apple Books app to see when new books by her favorite authors are coming out and to discover new books. It’s quite adorable.
Is this a big deal? YES!
Isabelle has Dyslexia, but over the years, she’s come to love reading. Gone are the days when she browses for books from a limited basket. Gone are the days that she yells when the “words are tricking” her — even though they still trick her. Nowadays, she self-selects books and tracks what she reads using Book Buddy. (Once she’s 12, I’m planning to introduce her to The Storygraph.) My daughter is living proof that a balanced literacy approach can work in concert with Orton-Gillingham. (That’s right. I’m in the both camp!)
I’ve grown a reader… with the help of her past teachers, past and present tutors, her speech therapist, and with the guidance of my mentors. It’s a beautiful thing to witness your child taking the initiative to seek out books, which is why I did a double-take this morning. I went back downstairs just so I could snap a photo since I wanted to preserve this moment.
Just like the tree in “The Tree Song,” Isabelle still has more growth ahead of her. I feel fortunate to be observing her growth as a literate human so closely this year. It is remarkable.
I’ve been using the “Getting Started” sets from The Reading House with Ari since he’s curious about letters. He loves sitting down to read the books alongside me. Today, I noticed he was participating more than usual with books A and B so I grabbed my iPhone and recorded a video of him:
I was floored by the way he traced the letters and approximated much of the text.
As much as I think it would be great for him to read prior to Kindergarten, it’s not something I’m pushing. He’ll read when he’s ready. BUT, it’s exciting to see him on his way!
Over the weekend, Isabelle read her 200th book this year. That’s right. HER. 200TH. BOOK. How do I know? Late last year, we talked about keeping track of all of the books she read from the very first day of the year. We started a Google Doc on January 1st. Every time she finished a book, I typed in the title, author, and illustrator.
Isabelle has been proud of her growing list. She always wants to know, “How many books have I read?” (Let’s be honest. She’s read more than 200 books this year. I couldn’t keep track of everything she read on Epic during the stay-at-home order. But don’t let that distract you from the fact that we’ve recorded 200 books in her log this year!) When she hit 100 books, she was pretty proud. She said she wanted to reach 300 by the end of the year. I told her that might be hard to do if she started to read larger books. Alas, she hoped she would and so she kept reading.
The book list has been incredibly helpful to us on our trips to the library. Isabelle has read several series this year. Due to availability, she’s sometimes read a latter book in a series before an earlier one. Therefore, having this list has helped her know the titles of books she’s read.
Earlier this year, Isabelle read all of the Humphrey books written by Betty G. Birney and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. Once she finished all of them, she lamented about moving on. I knew there were unillustrated Humphrey books, but I knew they were beyond her ability to comprehend independently. Therefore, I steered her to another illustrated series.
Last week, Isabelle and I were talking about what was next for her as a reader. Casually, I mentioned the Humphrey books. I asked her if she’d like to try the unillustrated books. She said she’d try them, but was worried they’d be too hard.
Yesterday afternoon, I walked into Isabelle’s room when she was two-thirds of the way finished with The World According to Humphrey. I asked her some questions to assess basic comprehension. I was fairly confident she understood the basics of what was happening — since the characters are the same as the illustrated series — but I worried she was in too deep since the reading level is an O (and she isn’t reading independently at a level O). I asked her to read the text aloud to me. When she did, I was amazed! The only thing she read incorrectly were three names. She didn’t miss any other words. In fact, her fluency was better than I expected on a book like that. I asked her a few more questions and was pleased.
Even though I am not convinced she’s comprehending the text perfectly, I know she wants to read these unillustrated Humphrey books. After years of arguing with Isabelle to just get her to read, and months of convincing her that she could read without a grown-up by her side, I am thankful she’s reached this milestone in her reading life.
It’s late. Bedtime, in fact. My memories from the day have glommed together. But there was a conversation Isabelle and I had from early this morning I remember. I don’t recall the exact words we exchanged since so much has happened between then and now. But I remember the essence of it so the transcript doesn’t matter. But first, the backstory.
Isabelle moves like a turtle in the mornings. Once we settled into our new house, I began to incentivize her with something she wanted — daily iPad time — in an effort to get her moving. The deal: she could earn up to a half-hour of iPad time before school if she could get washed up, make her bed, get dressed, and put her PJs in the hamper in 25 minutes each morning. That incentive seemed to work… for about two weeks. Each time she missed the 25 minute threshold to be in my room with a hair bow before she went downstairs for breakfast, we’d make a plan to read together once she finished eating. This was NOT a punishment. Rather, it was something we’d do together since I was laid up in bed with nothing else happening.
About two weeks ago, I noticed Isabelle stopped getting into my room 25 minutes after her alarm went off. At first, I didn’t question it since I enjoyed reading with her after she finished her breakfast. But this morning, after waking up 45 minutes before her alarm went off, Isabelle still didn’t make it into my room dressed for the day on-time. That means she dilly-dallied for 70 minutes!
Without asking “what gives?” I asked her what gives this morning. (I suspected I knew, but couldn’t imagine that the kid who just six months ago declared she hated reading could actually be enjoying reading.) When she couldn’t explain why it took her over an hour to make it into my bedroom to get her hair done this morning, I threw out my best guess… fully expecting to be wrong. I asked her if she was intentionally getting into my bedroom late to have her hair done so she could read with me instead of earning iPad time before school.
Do you know what she said?
YES! She said yes. In fact, she admitted to purposely coming in late so we could read together. I kissed the top of her head and told her she could’ve just spoken up and told me she preferred to read with me rather than earn iPad time. I don’t remember what she said, but she looked sheepish.
Naturally, we read together this morning before she departed for school. I didn’t care that she picked two too-easy books (one Poppleton and one Henry & Mudge) to read alongside me. Rather, we snuggled in bed, as we have so many mornings for the past month, and enjoyed two stories. Unlike most mornings, she allowed me to put my arm around her. She leaned into my body, resting more on me than on the pillows.
For anyone who has followed Isabelle’s reading journey, you know this day has taken a lot of hard work and tears. While reading isn’t something Isabelle chooses to do independently, reading aloud to me is now a preferred activity. I never thought this day would come. But it has and I am grateful*.
*= I told my husband I will have to start waking up earlier once I get back on my feet again just so I can keep reading with Isabelle before school. Hopefully the thrill of reading alongside me in the mornings won’t wear off once I’m fully mobile again.
Unless I’m traveling for work, it’s my responsibility to get the kids ready in the mornings. Before we moved, I promised Isabelle I’d drive her to school in the mornings this year rather than having her take the bus. Because I’m the one driving, school mornings became hectic once the year began.
But everything changed when I broke my ankle six weeks ago. Now, mornings involve my husband bringing me breakfast in bed before he leaves for work and hobbling around on crutches in an effort to get myself ready for the day (whatever that means).
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve tried to incentivize Isabelle to getting ready quicker in the mornings so that her grandparents have an easier time getting out in the mornings. If Isabelle is in my room, ready to get her hair done by 7:10 a.m., then she has the chance to earn iPad time. If she makes it back to my room with breakfast eaten and her teeth brushed by 8:00 a.m., then she earns a half hour of iPad time. She has earned iPad time nearly every day since I started this incentive program. Typically, Isabelle divides her time between JI Studio, IXL Math, and Rivet.
This morning, Isabelle didn’t earn iPad time since she it took her awhile to get out of bed and eat breakfast. However, there was still time to read. I invited her to crawl into bed with me and bring an actual book, rather than read from the Rivet app. After her teeth were brushed, she brought Andy Shane and the Know-It-All into my room. We were short on time, but for 20 blissful minutes, I followed along as she read a couple of chapters aloud to me.
By 8:35 a.m., I knew we had to finish since I like to make sure she’s at school when the doors open. I turned to her and said, “Do you know what the only good part of this ankle injury is?”
“What?” she asked.
“I can’t rush around in the mornings since I’m on crutches. Your grandparents are the ones rushing around. And while I wish it were me who was doing everything, there is something nice about getting to spend quiet time with you in the mornings before you leave for school.”
Isabelle smiled. I could tell she wasn’t sure what to say so I continued.
“That’s called a silver lining. I wish I wasn’t hurt, but if I’m going to be, I’m thankful for the extra time to spend with just you before you leave for school every morning.” Then I wrapped my arms around her, planted a kiss on top of her curls, and said, “Have a great day at school. I love you.”
Isabelle squeezed back and replied, “I love you too.”
Take this morning, for instance. After a rough start to the day, I found Isabelle reading books quietly on the living room floor. I asked her what she wanted for breakfast. She responded, “English muffin with cream cheese, please,” and went right back to her book. So, when it was time for her to come to the table, I was met with, “Not now, I’m reading a book.”
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to stop her from reading, but she needs to eat. So I invited her to bring the book to the table for breakfast. Unlike the other times I’ve made this offer, she opted to come to the table with the book. Despite the fact it was a book (one from the Katie Woo series) she read before, Isabelle was glued to it throughout breakfast. AND — she ate without any reminders, which is almost unheard of. Who is this child? I kept thinking to myself throughout the meal.
After school, and after Isabelle finished her daily reading, I called her over to my desk to look at her spelling words. I offered to make her a word sort. I thought she’d decline, but she said “yes.” I typed up all 15 spelling words in large font and then cut them into pieces. We talked about the word endings (-ed and -ing) and how there were at least three different patterns to the words. She found four patterns independently, but after having a calm discussion about the words, we discovered six different patterns since some words had double letters before the suffixes while other letters lost the e of their base word. Not once did Isabelle push back or argue with me. She stayed engaged the entire time.
School isn’t always easy for Isabelle. Reading and word work definitely don’t come easily for her. But today, she was eager to engage in both things on her own terms and with a positive attitude. Both were small, surprising victories on my journey of raising a literate human.