Category Archives: Reading

Not In Vain

There’s a meme going around Facebook. Basically, if you click like on a post talking about the meme, the person who posted gives you the name of a poet. You post a poem from them. When my dear friend, Angie, posted, I liked her post –  even though I’d already done it once.

When she gave me the name, I knew immediately the poem I’d use. You see, after my parents got broke up, life felt really chaotic. For quite a long time. But not time at Grandma Ellen and Grandpa Parley’s house. For some time, I went over there fairly often. Grandma had lung cancer and she had to spend quite a lot of time in bed or otherwise being “restful”. And being there was, indeed, a much needed rest.

I spent so much time at her house, in her room. I can see still a good amount of it clearly. Like I’m there. In my mind, I AM there. Want to join me?

Step into the room. Across the room is the desk and on the floor, a scale. Turn to the right. You’re facing the bed. I think there was a window above the bed, but that detail is fuzzy. On the right side of the room is… a dresser?

But on the floor was a carefully organized box, with cutouts from cards and magazine and calendars and who knows what else. She used them to make these amazing books. I remember one that was a brown photo album, with writings and pictures and some of these cutouts. Sadly, my sisters and I were not always gentle with things. I wish I still had that book.

Look up. There she is, on the left side of the bed (well… if you’re looking at the bed – she’d probably say it was the right side of the bed), lying down, smiling. She always suffered through with an amazing amount of calmness. And against the wall is a bookshelf, with only a narrow space separating it from the bed. In that bookshelf, is a book.

Pick up the book. “101 Famous Poems”. The cover is yellowed somewhat and the book smells slightly musty. But the pages are fairly pristine. Open it. The poem you’re looking for will be a small one, on the left side of the page. Page 30, I think. You’re looking for Emily Dickinson. The poem? “Not in Vain.”

Grandma always loved poetry and memorizing things. With her help, I practiced repeating this poem over and over and over… and I still know this poem by heart, twenty years later.

“Not in Vain”

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

– Emily Dickinson

I’m not sure if my grandmother knew how much that meant to me, that I would remember it into my adult days, or how much my time there meant to me. What I do know is that her efforts to help one little girl were not in vain.

I still remember, Grandma.

I still remember.

Poetry Teatime. August 29, 2013.

Last Thursday, Kai asked if we could include Daddy in “Poetry Teatime”. Daddy was agreeable.

So Kai helped me taste the cookie dough make cookies.

Poetry Tea Time

And decorate the cookies.

Poetry Tea Time

We covered the table with our slightly fancy sheet “pretty tablecloth” and set places for everyone. We had the cookies and “Russian Tea“.

Poetry Tea Time

Then, we all took turns reading poems. Kai read the most. But we grown-ups read some.

Poetry Tea Time

Poetry Tea Time is something we learned about on the Brave Writer website. Traditionally, they do them on Tuesdays. That doesn’t work for us… our homeschool group has Park Days on Tuesday. So, we’ve done them a couple of times, mainly sporadically. I’m thinking, though, of having this be a regular Thursday thing – maybe sometimes with Daddy and sometimes without.

Kai was particularly enjoying a poem from a book called “BookSpeak!” that was about the beginning/middle/end of stories. He also read “Hippopotamus Stew“.

It’s quite enjoyable to sit down to some fun treats and a nice drink and just relax.

Talk About It. Don’t Skip It.

“I’m not a big fan of skipping passages while reading because you think your kids can’t handle it. If they can’t, don’t read the book.”

I posted this on Twitter this morning. I’d been reading a blog post about someone skipping parts of the Little House books because there were things she didn’t want to have to explain to her kids yet (this issue was violence related). I respect her right to do that – I know of others who have – but it’s not a choice I would make.

Likewise, I’ve read of people skipping/editing it because, let’s be honest here, there are some pretty racist parts. People always think of the parts where the Native Americans are featured, but there are other parts that bother me, too. Most of these are parts that bother me as an adult – I’m quite certain that, as a child, I didn’t understand what they were saying.

Recently, Kai and I listened to the audiobook version of “Little House in the Big Woods”. At one point, Pa is playing his fiddle and he sings a song about a “darkie”. I think I audibly gasped.

I know people who would have edited this part or wanted it edited out. I don’t. I don’t like that it’s there but these books were based on her life and that was “accurate” for the timeframe. They are part of the book and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be removed.

But they should definitely be talked about. These things aren’t exactly easy to talk about, but they SHOULD be talked about. I think it’s important for kids to know that this used to be common and why it’s wrong. I also think it’s worthwhile to talk to kids about the idea that this was not considered “wrong” or “mean” back then (at least not by white society) – but that it still WAS wrong. (And if this is really too uncomfortable to talk about, you could always start with Harry Potter – the terms “pureblood” and “mudblood” are excellent fictitious examples of racism. We’ve watched some of the Harry Potter movies with Kai and he’s listened to some of the audiobooks. When we hit the term “mudblood”, we stopped and had a talk about why that wasn’t nice and that people shouldn’t be discriminated upon based on their race or what family they were born into.)

If you can’t do this – if you can’t talk with your kid about the difficult subject matter in the book you’re reading – I honestly believe you shouldn’t be reading them that book. (With that said, I respect the right of others to choose differently for themselves – and, for the record, the post came from one of the blogs I love and read regularly and I think no less of the person who wrote it.)

I’m curious – do you edit out parts from books you read to your kids? If so, for what reason?


“Instead of Easy Readers” Series, Part Five: Some Final Thoughts

This is the fifth post in my series “Instead of Easy Readers”. Before reading this post, please make sure to take the time to catch up on anything you may have missed.

If you’ve read all the prior posts in the series, you know I’m not a fan of an organized reading curriculum. But maybe you’re still unsure and you want some backup. Just in case.

Quite some time ago, we bought Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We did not follow the program as suggested – it was useful for an order, but some of the way they do things was bothersome both to myself and Kai. They also have a writing component. Writing is not something Kai is particularly fond of doing unless it has a reason, so that part did not work for us. We skipped around with the lessons – Kai had no patience for being asked to sound out individual letter sounds (that was old hat to him by that point) and ended up really not getting very far. When I bought it, I was thinking that maybe having something more structured would be useful. The material in it is good stuff, as far as reading programs go. It was helpful enough, I suppose, and if you feel you MUST use something, this is what I’d suggest.

But, if you can trust yourself, your kid, and the process, I think you’ll find that – for most kids – learning to read can come fairly naturally. It probably will NOT look like what you may have experienced in school. It may come at a different time. It might seem like they’re making no progress and then one day, they read off something to you that makes your jaw drop.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series. I’ve definitely enjoyed working on it. I’d love to have feedback on the series – what you liked and didn’t like. And, please, if you have any thoughts or suggestions, go ahead and comment down below.

This is the fifth post in my series “Instead of Easy Readers”.

“Instead of Easy Readers” Series, Part Four: Hints And Tips

Up till now, in this series, I’ve had neat categories for everything. Today’s post will include a few more “general” hints and tips about how to help your child learn to read and how to make reading fun.

LET YOUR KID READ WHATEVER THEY WANT. No, seriously. I mean it. WHATEVER THEY WANT. Do not judge the material (other than to make sure it isn’t harmful to them). Think about this – what did you like more, that book you loved or the one you had to slog through in school because it was on the required reading list? Which motivated you more? I’m gonna bet it wasn’t the required book.

Meet an author, if at all possible. Luckily for us, right as the “Pigeon” books were becoming really popular in our home, Mo Willems came to the library in downtown Seattle. Of course we went. Kai met him. We got some books signed. We read them regularly. This helps make the books more real. It makes them fun and exciting. It helps cement them in kids’ minds.

Kai has word magnets and letter magnets. We use them write sentences on the fridge, spell out words, make sounds, etc.

Use environmental print. Point out words you see everywhere. From the name of the restaurant to the word “STOP” on a stop sign. Milk at your table or in the refrigerator. Labels of things. Point out words. Maybe even point out sounds within the words or similar words. Let them point out things to you.

We’ve done some sight words games. I have mixed feelings on these. Yes, they help with identification. Somewhat. But I don’t spend a lot of time with them because Kai often finds them boring. Your mileage may vary. We’ve done sight word bingo, sight word concentration, and sight word go fish. I will say that these have actually helped for us more when I included parents’ names, names of the cats, friends, family, things we like to do, etc.

One thing Kai and I use to do a lot – for a while, it was every day, now not quite as often – was use the foam letters he has in the bathtub to play word games. So, sometimes, I ask him to collect specific letters and tell him what order to put them in. It was his job to read them. This was mainly three or four letter words. I’d also have him change just one letter and tell me what the word said. Sometimes, I’d have him try out a few different letters that he picked out to see what, if anything, they said. We played around with word families. This was one of the most popular, most requested things we’ve done.

Sometimes we use the wrong word while reading. Kai calls this the “mess up a word” game. So instead of “I was reading this book,” we might read, “I’m potatoing this book.” When we do this, Kai will often correct us.You may find, as we have, that one word gets used over and over. For us, that’s potato. Kai giggles hysterically anytime we substitute the word “potato” for something else.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what I suggest if you’re still feeling a bit unsure.

This is the fourth post in my series “Instead of Easy Readers”.

“Instead of Easy Readers” Series, Part Three: Using Technology.

When it comes to reading and technology, there’s a big divide. I’m in the middle. I would rather be able to say “yes” to paper books and “yes” to digital stuff, including ebooks. This post will NOT be about whether one is better nor will it be “All About The eBooks”. Instead, this is a post all about using various non-book technologies, from books on tape (ahem, “books on CD” or “audiobooks”) to educational websites and everything in between.

We like to check out “Books on CD” from the library (we do own a few, as well). For picture books, they usually have sets including the book. Kai will listen to them with and without the book. We sometimes do this with longer “chapter” books, as well.

Likewise, we have an mp3 player hooked up to the clock in his room. We put audiostories on it, followed by music. I highly recommend the stories from “Story Nory” (available, btw, free from iTunes) and “Palace of Stories“. With Palace of Stories, we’ve so far only listened to their podcast, because it’s free, but I’ve considered a subscription.

We have the “Meet The Sight Words” DVDs. I honestly don’t know how much they help. They give exposure, I guess, but not really in a meaningful way. That said, Kai loves them. I find them annoying. The word appears on the screen (in fun, animated ways) and repeats itself. Over and over and over.

One of the MOST useful DVDs (as far as reading goes) that we have bought was, “Talking Words Factory“. Kai has watched this a lot. Within the first few viewings, his reading ability took off. I cannot say enough good things about this video. (Please note: there’s also a “Letter Factory” DVD by LeapFrog. It’s not bad, but it’s more useful for letter recognition than learning to read.)

We’ve also watched a lot of old Reading Rainbow episodes. We often get the book afterwards.

Scholastic has “Storybook Treasures” DVDs. Kai loves watching “The Story About Ping,” but they have several different ones available.

There are plenty of “read to you” sites. Whenever offered the option, turn on the words. Some of the ones we’ve used are BookFlix, TumbleBooks, and Disney Digital Books. Talk to your children’s librarian. Ask if they have any resources like these. We get our access for these through Seattle Public Library.

We pay for subscriptions to ABCmouse and Starfall. I think, overall, Starfall’s program is more in-depth (also works better for the older kids than ABCmouse does) but ABCmouse has what they call “The Learning Path”, which is sequential, whereas Starfall’s is not. We have both and we like the variety. ABCmouse is DEFINITELY more flashy. They also have a reward system involving tickets and Kai is particularly motivated by that. But Starfall has activities that are often more advanced than ABCmouse. I think you can get trials for both.

Kai also enjoys using the PBS Kids website. They’ve got some good reading games on there.

From time to time, I turn on closed captioning. I know people who do this a lot and it helps their kids. I think we’re getting to the point where it may become more helpful to Kai, but this is really best for kids who have some at least reading skills already.

I do not believe technology will be the death of reading. Instead, I believe technology – especially computers – will help people learn to read better and may, perhaps, change the WAY we read.

This is the third post in my series “Instead of Easy Readers”.

“Instead of Easy Readers” Part 2: Read to your child. Out loud. Every day.

“Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read.” – Mem Fox.

I honestly believe that most kids do not need a curriculum to learn to read. They may need suggestions and help. Curriculum? No. In many cases, curriculum, and those “easy reader” books will HAMPER learning. Your kid doesn’t want to read that, so they have no motivation to learn to read. They may even resent being forced to read something they don’t want to and that will make the learning process take longer. The best way you can help your child learn to read is to read to them. A lot. 

Get your hands on a copy of Jim Trelease’s “The Read-Aloud Handbook”. Read the whole thing. Follow his suggestions. Pick out books from there to buy or check out from the library. A lot of our “best reads” have come from there. I also find good suggestions for books on blogs, on twitter, on FB, and at the library.

I think reading right before bed – in bed – is excellent. It’s a nice way to get their attention, calm down, and have some time to connect. If you’re a two parent family, you should BOTH read. We do one book a night each with Kai. When he naps, I do two myself, if my husband is at work. (If I’m reading a chapter book to him, he gets to pick one picture book and one chapter or two chapters.) If you did this – if you ONLY read TWO books at night, but you did it every single night without fail for a year, you’d be reading over 700 books a year. Think about that.

It is never too early to read to your child. You could read to them the first night they’re alive and it would not be too early. It may take a while for them to understand all of what you’re saying, but then it is a habit and they’ll be used to settling in for it. (This, by the way, is a good way to develop attention span.)

With that being said, it is never too late to start reading to your child. If they’re ten and still struggling, pick something you enjoy. Ask them if you could read it to them out loud. Make it fun. Curl up in bed together or on the couch or make a blanket fort.

Make it a fun family event or tradition. I know one family who has a tradition of hot cocoa or cider in the cooler months and iced lemonade, blended ice drinks, or milkshakes in the warmer months. They usually have some sort of sweet food and will climb onto the couch or in bed or even just sit around the table and eat and read. And their kids are teenagers.  The other day, I was at the zoo and there was a homeschooling family one table away from us (not just a guess – Kai has played with the kids a couple of times). The mother was reading a chapter or two of a book to them during lunch. I couldn’t help but think how awesome that would be: mom takes you to the zoo AND reads to you during lunch.

Read it again. Yes, you may have read, “The Pigeon Finds A Hot Dog!” a hundred times. Read it again. Move your fingers beneath the words sometimes. Purposefully “mess up” a word sometimes and see if your child catches it.

Use voices – “silly” voices work particularly well with young children. If you can, use the SAME voice every time you read that story. I’ve been telling/reading “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” to Kai for… a really long time. Our littlest billy goat has a meek voice, our second billy goat has a normal voice, and the third billy goat has a big, strong voice. The troll in that story has a loud “crotchety” voice. Kai tells me the story sometimes and mimics the voices. He entertained an entire bus this way once.

Read books to your child out loud that there’s no way they could currently read to themselves. We’ve read several chapter books, our latest being “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” These books would take him FOREVER to read by himself (but not so long when a parent does it). But these are entertaining, long-lasting stories that have helped him learn to love to reading.

DO NOT STOP READING TO THEM just because they’re starting to be able to do it themselves. Kids like being read to. I have seen kids stop being willing to read because it means they no longer get read to. Don’t do this.

Read to your child. Out loud. Every day. If I could only give you one piece of advice on how to help your child learn to read, this would be it.

This part two of my “Instead of Easy Readers” series.

Part one was “Why I Hate Easy Readers“.

“Instead of Easy Readers” Series: Why I Hate “Easy Readers” .

Imagine, for a moment, that you are going to see a movie. You watch the trailer and it looks fabulous. So, you’re in your seat, the movie turns on, you’re excited, and… letdown. Most boring movie ever. Bad plot. Bad dialogue. Just bad all over. You’re then told, “Well, you know, you don’t know to PROPERLY watch a movie yet, so that’s why we made this move for people just like you! Once you can PROPERLY watch a movie – once you understand plot, dialogue, how to analyze a movie – THEN you can watch other, better, more in-depth, more EXCITING movies!”

“But, can’t I do that now?”

“No. We’re just putting simple simple stuff here for now. You have to be able to properly watch a movie, remember?”

“But this is BORING. I HATE movies like this. If THIS is what I have to see, I AM NEVER WATCHING A MOVIE AGAIN.”

“Too bad. This is what you get for now.”

You’d probably never watch a movie again.

And yet THIS is what we do to kids every day. We hand them easy reader books and expect them to like reading. I hear a lot of, “Well, it was effective. But my child was bored.” Of course they were.

Kai has a set of books that are “sight word” readers. One of the books is just “I see a ____,” over and over. Who cares? That’s boring. You’re talking to a kid who has had several “chapter books” read to him. THAT book will only frustrate him. (It did.)

Likewise, the dialogue in easy readers is often horrible. Nobody actually speaks the way they do in those books.

For these – and many other reasons – we’ve mostly left “Easy Readers” alone. We haven’t really used a reading curriculum, either.

I had originally planned this to be one post. After I started writing, it got very in-depth, so I’ve had to split it up. I hope you’ll join me over the next few days to read what I suggest doing instead of using “Easy Reader books”.

This is part one of my “Instead of Easy Readers” series.