activities of daily living · reading · slice of life

Memory of the Morning

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*.

Snuggled-up for our morning read.

*= 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.

reading · slice of life

Looking for Silver Linings

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).

Reading Andy Shane and the Queen of Egypt together before school.

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.”

Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.
reading · slice of life

Surprises

Sometimes Isabelle surprises me.

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.

reading · slice of life

Well, that was a surprise.

I knew I had to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to make it to the school I was working in first-thing this morning on time. What I didn’t know is that Isabelle would be up before me. I went into her room and gave her three options:

  1. Go back to bed. (I knew that wasn’t going to happen.
  2. Draw quietly in her bedroom.
  3. Read books.

At 6:15 a.m., which is when I knew she had to get going for the day, I walked back to her bedroom. It was dark. I expected to find her fast asleep. Instead, I found this:

Empty and Unmade

I gasped. Where was she?

Then, I saw a light streaming out from beneath her walk-in closet. I knocked lightly and turned the door handle. This is what I found:

This was the most unexpected and wonderful place to find Isabelle!

Well, that was a surprise. If anything, I expected she’d be doing artwork. Instead, she was reading When the Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. (Good choice.)

…..

Seeing as Isabelle had been awake since 4:40 a.m., I was convinced she’d crash early tonight. However, Ari was the one who got tired first, so I gave him his bottle, held him upright for awhile (since he now has a cough!), and then kissed him good-night. As soon as I walked out of his room — at 7:55 p.m. — Isabelle walked by his door.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m helping Daddy with your laundry,” she said.

This kid never helps with the laundry. “Why aren’t you in bed?” I asked.

These two can feel free to do the laundry anytime!

“I’m not tired,” she replied.

“Well, that’s a surprise,” I said. I turned my attention to Marc and asked, “Do you have everything under control here?”

He nodded.

“Okay, I’m going to go down and do some work in my office. I probably have a couple of hours worth of work to do.”

He nodded knowingly. Apparently, me needing to do work was not too surprising to him.

Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.
board books · reading · reading conveys love · siblings · slice of life

Turning a Corner

On Friday, Ari grabbed a board book, handed it to Isabelle, and said, “Read this book.”

“No,” she replied.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” I asked from the kitchen where I was preparing a side dish for dinner. “If your brother asks you to read him a book that you can read, then you read it to him.”

Maybe that shouldn’t have been my response, but it was. I understand reading is hard for Isabelle, but she has made enormous progress this year thanks to her classroom teacher pulling her a few extra times a week, the in-school reading specialist, and an after school reading tutor twice a week. So, honestly, I think my response was measured considering the anger I felt bubbling up inside of me when she told Ari “no.”

“Fine, I’ll read it to him,” she replied.

She read to him begrudgingly. Yes, she read the words, but there was no warmth. I said nothing. After all, she was reading to him.


Like many classroom teachers, I often told my fourth and fifth graders who struggled with reading to read aloud to their younger siblings. Little kids don’t judge. They don’t point out mispronounced words or when you miss a word entirely. Many times, I found that the kids who actually did read aloud to their little brothers and sisters improved at a faster rate than kids who weren’t reading aloud to anyone.

There have been several occasions when Isabelle has read aloud to Ari in the past couple of years, but she hesitates. I think she genuinely worries that he’ll say something if she doesn’t get the words right.


On Sunday morning, Ari asked Isabelle to read to him again. This time, she said “yes.” She read book after book to him on the couch. I shot some videos clandestinely. I asked her if I could share them (I was thinking with her grandparents.) since she read beautifully. She said “no.” This time, I didn’t fight back.

This morning, Isabelle doesn’t have school. I asked her to get dressed. She said, “I want to go and see what Ari is doing.” I didn’t argue with her since, after all, it’s a national holiday. AND, I knew Ari was reading board books on his bedroom floor.

A few minutes later, I overheard Isabelle’s voice reading books aloud to Ari. I tiptoed into the bedroom and took a video. Then, I took a photo (since I haven’t been restricted from sharing those) of Isabelle and Ari reading a book together. My heart was bursting when I noticed them surrounded with a pile of books.

reading · slice of life

Digging in the Heels Over a Mentor Text

I’m going into Isabelle’s second-grade classroom tomorrow morning during writing workshop. As a result, I asked her teacher what the kids would be doing so I could make a conferring plan. Isabelle’s teacher informed me the students are coming to the end of their information writing unit of study and that tomorrow’s minilesson is on content-specific language. She told me Isabelle was writing a book about Halloween. However, when I asked Isabelle to tell me what she was working on as a writer, I learned nothing more than what her teacher told me.

Since I knew Isabelle might have a tough time with using technical language to teach about her topic, I grabbed one of my favorite books, The Slug by Elise Gravel, to use with primary writers who are doing informational writing. I’ll never forget how the first class (of first graders) cackled when I read it aloud to them soon after it came out in 2014. I expected Isabelle would love it too.

She didn’t. Isabelle showed her disinterest in the text by refusing to look at the pictures, playing with a small piece of skin on her thumb, and keeping a straight face during the first few pages of the book (even when the slug, himself, uses the word snot). In fact, she seemed perturbed I was making her listen to a book. I was feeling frustrated but didn’t want to show it so I closed the book. I told Isabelle I was going upstairs and when she was ready, I’d be happy to read the book aloud to her.

Moments after retreating upstairs, Ari woke up and I became consumed with his needs. About 20 minutes later, Isabelle appeared in my room.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“What are you sorry for?” I asked.

“I’m sorry I didn’t want to listen to the book you wanted to read to me.”

“I appreciate your apology. But do you understand why I wanted to read that book to you?”

She didn’t. So I explained, again, that it was to help teach her something as a writer. I explained that books, not teachers, help me write better now. I explained how this book was funny and could also teach her how to teach her readers about her topic.

She agreed to go downstairs and try again. I grabbed my phone and took the kids downstairs. As I did, I noticed I had a voicemail from my husband. Odd. He was in his home office. I put the phone to my ear and discovered it was from Isabelle (who had called from our home phone to my cell). Go ahead and read the transcript.

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She’d left that message about 10 minutes prior to coming upstairs to apologize in person. I guess she figured out what to apologize for when she didn’t get me on the phone.

I’d like to say everything went well when we got downstairs, but it didn’t. Isabelle tried to employ more stall tactics. Once we finally made it through the book, I went back and quickly reread the pages that contained content-specific language. She didn’t seem to care.

{Sigh.}

Frustrated — again — I simply told her we’d be looking at the book together in writing workshop tomorrow. She said nothing. I don’t like being ignored, but I know when I’m not wanted too.

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I’m armed with my materials for tomorrow morning.

Four hours later, still feeling like I wish our interaction had gone differently, I sat down at my computer and typed up two mentor sentences. It’s my hope she’ll be more agreeable when her peers are in the same room tomorrow. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing.

slice of life_individual
Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.

reading · summer reading

Summer Reading Festival

Richard L. Allington’s research left its mark on me when I read What Really Matters for Struggling Readers when I was in graduate school. Perhaps that’s why I’m a  hardcore about insisting Isabelle read independently and be read to (by us) every single day. Exposure to lots of words and books matters!

I drove by the Governor’s Residence on Front Street nearly two weeks ago and saw something about a Summer Reading Festival. I investigated and learned the following:

A Summer Reading Festival at the Governor’s Residence (which I’ve wanted to take a tour of since we moved here)??? Count me in! However, I knew I would have to “sell it” to Isabelle since, as you may remember from earlier posts, reading doesn’t come easily for her. She continues to love being read to, but doesn’t enjoy reading independently. I can’t blame her. I wouldn’t enjoy doing something that was extremely difficult every day either!

Thankfully, an outing — just the two of us during Ari’s naptime — that would potentially include an art project was enough to entice her to attend the Summer Reading Festival.

We arrived around 2:45 p.m., but had more than enough time to complete all of the STEM activities and complete a scavenger hunt around the Residence grounds. On our way out, the librarians tried to entice Isabelle to sign up for their summer reading program. I was convinced she’d say no even when she heard there were prizes.

“What kind of prizes?” she asked. (Thankfully, she didn’t wrinkle her nose when they said books and the possibility of being entered into a drawing for a Kindle.)

“How much does she have to read to earn a prize?” I asked. (I cringed as I asked since I don’t think kids should be reading for prizes. However, if a kid — like mine — lacks intrinsic motivation to read, then sometimes an extrinsic motivator helps.)

“Ten hours,” the librarian said.

“That’s it?!!?” I was surprised.

She nodded.

“Isabelle, remember how we set a goal to read for 1,800 hours this summer when Mrs. H. sent home the optional summer reading log in May?”

Isabelle nodded.

“Do you remember how many hours you’ve already accumulated? We tallied up your progress yesterday.”

“Ugh, I don’t remember.”

“You’ve already read about 400 minutes since we started logging in late May, which is like…” my voice trailed off. I apologized for being a literacy, not a math, person, while I converted minutes to hours. “You’ve already read more than half of what the Library is asking you to read all summer!”

Isabelle smiled.

Moments later, Isabelle signed up for the library’s summer reading program.

On our way out, we experienced the bubbles coming out of MARCO, the library’s mobile van. I think my minivan would be way more cool to drive if it had a bubble machine. 😉

Of course, the legwork for tallying the books we’ve read for the library’s summer reading program will fall to me. Thankfully, the library uses an app, Beanstalk, to help.

 

Here’s a peek at Beanstalk, which is quite user-friendly. Every day, when Isabelle finishes reading two just-right books, one of us reads a nonfiction book (that she chooses) to her. Here’s a look at some of the titles we’ve recently finished.

What’s really good is that when Marc asked Isabelle about her day (when they were writing in her line-a-day memory book at bedtime tonight), she told him a lot about the Summer Reading Festival. I’m thrilled that she not only said she had a good time, but decided to write about it in her memory book as well.

Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.

Jewish · reading · slice of life

Charts, Charts, & More Charts

Adon Olam à la Hamilton
The verses are in blue, the chorus (or is it a refrain) is in red, and the repeated words are in purple.

Have you ever spent hours making charts only to finish and wonder:

Will these help kids?

Are these charts meaningful? 

I spent three hours making charts this afternoon. My hand hurts. But I’m hopeful the charts I created will be useful.

This school year, my friend Jenny and I are leading Junior Congregation Shabbat Services at our synagogue. Our mission: to make attending synagogue fun. Our daughters — both of whom are in first grade — got into a funk about attending Saturday morning services last year. As a result, we talked about taking action in the form of volunteering to lead Junior Congregation for our synagogue’s Kindergarteners through fourth graders. Granted, neither of us has done this sort of thing before. However, Jenny grew up attending Jewish day school and I have taught elementary school. Between the two of us, we should be able to handle leading Saturday morning services for children, right?

My daughter is an emerging reader in both English and Hebrew. However, I know she often feels uncomfortable trying to follow along in the prayer book. Seeing as other kids might feel the same way, I decided to make charts for every prayer we’re going to do with the kids this Saturday. I’m hoping to have time to add some relevant clip art to each of them before Saturday so that there’s a visual representation of each prayer’s meaning.

There was some joy during my afternoon of chart making. Jenny & I decided we’re going to sing the song “Adon Olam” to the tune of “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton.” I went a little overboard when creating that chart (so much so that I’m going to have to tack it to the wall since it’s too long for an easel). While I doubt our first go of it will be as joyful as it was in the video (below), I’m hoping the kids will take to it. It’s one both Isabelle and Jenny’s daughter love since it’s upbeat!

slice-of-life_individual
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ocular motor dysfunction · reading · slice of life · vision therapy

Trust Your Gut.

Anyone who knows me well knows I’ve been making decisions by listening to my gut for the past decade. Every time (except for one) I haven’t listened to my gut, I’ve regretted it.

My gut told me something more was at-play with Isabelle who has been having reading difficulties. Despite hiring a tutor and buying Elephant and Piggie books for at-home reading practice, my gut told me there was a bigger problem well-before Isabelle declared “I hate reading!” in late June.

Last year, Isabelle’s occupational therapist informed me she was having trouble with visual perception. Upon her recommendation, I subscribed to Puzzle Buzz and helped her with the hidden pictures pages. I thought she was making progress, but my gut still told me something was up. However, after she passed her most recent eye exam with 20/15 eyesight, I told the optometrist about the visual perception issues and trouble with reading. The optometrist referred me to a vision therapy specialist who we saw in mid-August. It was my hope I was spending money just to rule something out.

Nothing was ruled out. Instead, a diagnosis of Ocular Motor Dysfunction was given. I cried despite being happy my gut was correct — again. The treatment for OMD meant weekly vision therapy sessions and nightly vision therapy homework. The eye doctor reassured me that diagnosing this now would help Isabelle as she progressed in school. I continued to cry so she handed me a cheat sheet about OMD. Upon reading it, I quickly realized my six-year-old could be an OMD poster child.

I waited until the school year was underway for Isabelle to start vision therapy. She had her first session yesterday. This afternoon, I mapped out what our afternoon would look like:

After School Schedule
Click on the image to enlarge.

 

This doesn’t look horrible, right? I’m hoping it isn’t. In fact, the first, second, and fourth activities actually look fun. (The third one is tedious. I tried it myself. It’s challenging!)

 

IMG_9850
The third activity requires Isabelle to put on colored lenses that block out one eye at a time. She has to place dots in the center of each shape. (There are ~200 shapes in all.)

 

We’ll get through the vision therapy homework — and everything else — this afternoon. I’m more nervous about what happens three weeks from now. You see, in three weeks, Isabelle will begin having nightly homework. She’s been dreading it because she thinks it’ll be too hard. Now that I’ve created a schedule for how her afternoons will go, I am dreading it, too, since it means she’ll have virtually no free time after school. She’s six. That’s not okay. Kids need unstructured time to play after being in school for a full day.

I’ve been chatting with some of my TWT colleagues about homework for a while now. I’ve also been reading articles — scholarly and popular — about homework in the past six months. I plan to share some of my thinking about the impact of homework in the elementary grades soon. For now, please send positive vibes. It’s my hope vision therapy will be the key to helping my daughter become a confident and successful reader!

slice-of-life_individual
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accomplishments · OBSERVATIONS · reading · slice of life

Glimmer of Hope

Isabelle's reading tutor worked with her on Friday morning. Saturday got away from us and we didn't read together. (i.e., She was read to, but she didn't practice reading aloud.) Yesterday morning, I knew I had a battle ahead since the day after her reading tutor comes is always the trickiest practice day (since we have a new lesson to review). With every subsequent day, the Orton-Gillingham practice pages get easier. However, the day after is always — always — a challenge.

I poured myself extra coffee at breakfast. Once the bottom of the cup was in sight, I asked Isabelle, who was playing in the next room, "Do you want to read now or five minutes from now?"

"Five minutes from now!" she called back.

Of course.

I finished the last few ounces of coffee, knowing I would need as much energy as possible to get through our session. Not only were the Orton-Gillingham practice pages new, we were also starting a new Elephant & Piggie book.

When the five minute timer rang on my iPhone, I pushed myself back from the kitchen table, inhaled deeply, and called to Isabelle, "it's time to read together!"

As we settled in on the couch beside each other, I asked myself some questions:

* What if I didn't harp on her about keeping her tracker finger straight and underneath every single word?
* What if Iowered my voice every time she raised her voice in frustration?
* What if I hugged her and kissed her cheeks every time she thrashed her legs when the words tricked her?
* What if I didn't mention she was making reading take a long time by complaining?

I tried all of those things yesterday. I praised her as much as I always did, but gave her extra attention, in the form of love, every time she got frustrated with something in the binder. (She is practicing voiced th words this week — and it's HARD for her to say and read —
so there was lots of frustration!)

After five minutes of her usual antics, the amount of frustrated outbursts decreased. I think Isabelle had no idea of what to make of her mommy who was approaching the reading session as less of a teacher and more of, dare I say it, a loving mother.

By the time we finished the Orton-Gillingham practice pages, we decided to take a break before starting Let's Go for a Drive! Once we started the book, there were almost no complaints (except for one time when she got annoyed because I insisted she use her tracker finger on the page to help her reread accurately after two miscues of the word "the.")!

Yesterday was a small reading victory. Tomorrow might not go as well as yesterday went. But when your child struggles with reading, you'll take whatever glimmers you can get.