Love Lessons for My Daughter

Brynn is only seven weeks old, but she has already had a lifetime’s worth of lessons via the books she’s been read.  Here is a list of the books and what I hope they convey to her brand new brain:

   The Red Wolf by Margaret Shannon: BE CLEVER.  In this book, Roselupin is a princess who has been imprisoned in a tall, stony tower by her well-intentioned but misguided father, the king.  He wants to protect her from the wild and dangerous world, but in doing so, he also removes her from the joys of life as well.  On her seventh birthday, however, Roselupin receives a surprise present: a chest full of balls of wool with a note that says, “Knit what you want.”  That night, she knits herself a red wolf suit, speaks some magic words, and is transformed into a giant wolf that bursts from the tower into freedom.

There is more to the story, and a surprise ending to boot, but the central idea I hope you take from it, Brynn, is to be resourceful and clever and to use the tools available to find solutions to knotty problems.

  Goodnight Songs: Illustrated by Twelve Award-Winning Picture Book Artists by Margaret Wise Brown: BE MUSICAL.  Your father gave me this book for Mother’s Day this year in anticipation of your birth.  It is a collection of poems written by the author of Goodnight Moon and is illustrated by several different authors.  A CD comes with the book, but I’ve never listened to it.  I like to read the poems and make up my own melodies for you.  Music has played a huge role in my life, and I hope that you pick up on how important it is to have some form of beauty in your life.

  Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (Big Bright & Early Board Book) by Dr. Seuss: BE CONFIDENT. “Think left and think right, think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”  Most people would say that this is a book about thinking and creativity, but I really like the part of the message about trying.  I’d like you, Brynn, to grow up knowing that you can do almost anything if you only put your mind to it.  Effort reaps rewards, and it’s not just about how smart you are.

  Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You : Dr. Seuss’s Book of Wonderful Noises (Bright and Early Board Books) by Dr. Seuss: BE SILLY.  Moo, buzz, boom boom boom, dibble dibble dop your way through life, Brynn, and don’t worry a fig about what other people think.  It took having kids of my own before I finally learned this lesson, but I hope you learn to have a silly, wonderful time dancing through life.

  The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams: BE REAL.  “‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’”

Oh, Brynn.  This will be one of the biggest challenges of your life.  To be Real.  People will make fun of you because they are jealous and call you names because they are insecure, but they are little people in the end and can never change who you are as long as you remain committed to this idea of being Real.

  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle:  BE ENGAGED.  I’d love for your life’s mantra to be “What do I see?”  I used to have my Seniors do a ten minute writing on a quote that says, “Being bored is an insult to oneself,” and I can’t help but agree.  Everything in life has the potential to teach you something, even if it’s what not to do, so keeping your eyes open and taking time to think about what you see is one of the most valuable lessons I could teach you.

  I Love You Through And Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak and Caroline Jayne Church: BE LOVED.  Find a few really good friends and a best friend for a partner and you won’t go wrong, Brynn.  They make life worth living.  And always know how loved you are.

Your first month and a half in books, Brynn.  Be happy, girlfriend…

Love,

Mama

My Mother-in-law Must Really Dislike Me

farts in the wild

My mother-in-law must really dislike me.

On her last trip to visit, she came bearing books for my almost-three-year-old son Luke.  The book that stole the show?  Farts in the Wild: A Spotter’s Guide.

Yes.  She bought my son a fart book.

And he LOVES it.

This little gem details farts from the smallest creatures (goldfish) up to the largest creatures (elephants), with eight lovely additional animals in between.  It could be slightly educational as it also provides facts and stats about each creature’s farting habits, but that’s not what Luke likes about it.

Off to the side of the text is a panel with ten little buttons on it.  Oh, yes.  Push the buttons and you will hear a sample of the corresponding creature’s fart accompanied by the creature’s distinctive call.  The goldfish blubs, the cat meows, the elephant trumpets, but they all fart.

A preschooler’s dream.

A parent’s worst nightmare.

And yet…

As I watched Luke play with this book on day eight (yes, I was definitely counting the days), I realized he was doing something interesting with it and not just pressing buttons randomly anymore.  Luke had his music player next to him, and he had This Old Man on repeat.  As the song played, he pressed the number that the singer sang.  Woah, I thought. That’s kind of cool.  And on day nine, I watched Luke unfold his fingers one by one, counting as he pressed the ten little buttons.  Woah. That’s even cooler!

In true preschooler fashion, Luke turned an otherwise annoying toy into something pretty cool.  And, as an added bonus, without any outside help, it became something educational.  Authentic, self-directed learning at its finest.

So, even though I’d rather not hear animal farts all day long, I do have to admit my own lesson learned about the amazing capacities of children and the endless possibilities of books.

I’d love to hear about how your child repurposed an old or uninspired book.  Please leave a comment!

Mama’s Corner: The Thought of Raising a Girl–Revised

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So, my husband and I are expecting a baby girl any day now now have a baby girl (Brynn!).  To be frank, when I first found out that this baby was going to be a girl, I was scared shitless.

Sure, I’m female, but as anyone who knows me will attest, I’m not exactly normal, and the thought of raising a girl in this day and age seemed like a Herculean task.  So, I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do: I started reading.  I read The Feminine Mystique, Mighty Be Our Powers, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Rescuing Girlhood, and Pink Brain Blue Brain.  I read blog articles, sought out girl-power websites, and perused newspaper op-eds.  I talked to other moms and dads of girls.  Next to none of it helped.  In fact, the picture seemed even bleaker than before.  Mass marketing, pigeon-holed pink and purple clothing, insidious commercials, Disney princesses, risque clothing for first graders?!  How do I raise a girl in such a gender-specific world? At last, I gave up reading.

And I thought, instead.  I thought about all of the little girls that I know.  Even with a small sample size, I know girls who climb better than boys, who are more physical than boys, who love cars and trains, and who still wear pink.  I thought about the little boys that I know.  I know boys who read better than girls, who speak better than girls, who have tea parties with their grandmas, and who still love cars and trains.  I also thought about all of the confident, self-possessed, intelligent young women and men that I met in my eight years of teaching.  Young women and men who bucked the stereotypes and pressures of high school cliques and were purely and simply their own people, true to their ideals and their goals for themselves.

In the end, I took to heart the two bits of advice that I could glean from all of the reading and talking and thinking that I did.

First, every child is unique.  The most obvious epiphany ever, right?  Even my own son Luke is not like any other boy we know, so why would I expect to think of my daughter any differently?  She will be unique.  Her own person with her own agenda, just as Luke is.  Following her lead will be my joy and privilege, just as it has been with Luke.

Second, talk.  The idea that open communication is the key to, well, pretty much everything.  If I talk to my daughter about the shows she watches, the clothing she wears, the idols she adores, then I have the chance to help her become a critical consumer of the world.  And teaching her (heck, both her and Luke) to think instead of just blindly follow is, I believe, my most important job as a parent.

I never thought I’d say this, and I know the people who know me well are going to laugh at me, but for maybe the first time in my life, I’ve decided to keep it simple.  Raising a child is difficult enough as it is, right?

Reading Tip: “Can You Find?” The Most (Annoying) Amazing Reading Game

It’s late.

It’s been a long day.

All I want to do is read a few books with Luke, say goodnight, and put him to bed.

No can-do.  Luke wants to play “Can you find?”

I want to be annoyed that I’m going to have to think when I’m drop-dead tired, but I just can’t bring myself to be.  Because here’s the thing: “Can you find?” is an amazing game.

Essentially, “Can you find?” is our personal version of “I Spy.”  It began as a curiosity when Luke was about 16 months old and he began pointing to letters when we named them.  It quickly morphed into a fantastic way to communicate with Luke before he could speak himself.  We would ask him to find letters, numbers, colors, and shapes.  Despite sounding like we were quizzing him, Luke genuinely loved the game, and our proof is that it has persisted through a year and a half, has changed to meet his needs, and he still loves to play it.

Here are a few of the stages we have gone through with “Can you find?”

“Can you find….”

  • letters
  • numbers
  • shapes
  • colors (straight colors: red, green, yellow, etc. and then shades of color: light blue, turquoise, dark green, etc.)
  • words (started with known words, but quickly moved to unknown words–great for learning phonics and sounding out words)
  • directions (left, right, up, down, top, bottom)
  • other descriptive adjectives (long, short, big, small, skinny, fat, etc.)
  • emotions
  • unusual objects

The biggest benefit we have seen from playing “Can you find?” is the rapid vocabulary growth.  As we have to stretch our descriptive powers, Luke learns tons of new words.  We have progressed from “Can you find a yellow two?” to “Can you find three little tiny pink fish with spikes on their backs?” It also helps him hone his observational skills and provides us with a great game to play while we’re waiting in line out in public.

Here are a few of the books that Luke initiated “Can you find?” with:

For numbers:

  1, 2, 3 to the Zoo by Eric Carle: Inside the hardcover edition, the numbers 1-10 are repeated in different colors.  Luke STILL loves to play “Can you find?” with these numbers.  We’ve had to get very creative with our descriptions to avoid going insane: “Can you find the yellow two that’s farthest to the right?”  “Can you find the blue and purple number 45?”

For letters:

  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Chicka Chicka Book, A) by John Archambault, Bill Martin, Jr., and Lois Ehlert: For letters, nothing beats Chicka.  Luke loved playing “Can you find?” with the page where the letters all fall out of the tree and are a jumbled mess.

For colors and other descriptive adjectives:

   The Pout-Pout Fish (Pout-Pout Fish Adventure) by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna: For colors and other descriptive adjectives, Luke discovered Pout-Pout Fish.  On the first two pages of the book, there are a whole bunch of fish and other sea creatures surrounding Mr. Fish.  Luke LOVES finding the various creatures.  We can’t even read this book all the way through anymore.  We get stuck on the first two pages.  Annoying or amazing?

For objects and colors:

   Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug! by Mem Fox and Laura Ljungkvist: For objects and colors, this book is a new one that we just discovered.  Not only are you trying to find the ladybug (she’s pretty well hidden!), but there are all sorts of other items to identify as well.

And for “Can you find?” with words, Luke really enjoys looking at the inside of the dust jacket flaps.  The flaps are usually written for adults, so the vocabulary is more varied and more difficult than typical picture book fare.  It is here that we have seen his decoding ability and phonics knowledge soar.

Happy reading and finding!

–Erin (blog Mama)

 

Dear Dada, Read With Me: Why Dads Reading With Boys Is Important

Dear Dada,

Did you know that you’re more important than Mama?  Wait, Mama!  Before you go on strike and refuse to take me to the Mirror Park tonight, let me explain!  When reading with me, you, Dada, are more important than Mama.

Shoot.

There she goes.

Well, Dada, this letter is for you anyway.  I’ll talk Mama down later.  A hug and a kiss and she’s putty in my manipulative toddler hands.

So, Dada, check out these facts and stats:

  • Boys are trailing behind girls in reading, according to a 2010 report by the Center on Education Policy, which called this lag, “the most pressing gender-gap issue facing our schools” (www.greatschools.org).
  • Last year, only 40 percent of college graduates were male.  Many education experts believe this difference is linked to poor reading habits and literacy skills that boys developed in the elementary and middle school (www.greatschools.org).
  • The job market has changed.  Before, there were employment opportunities for boys who didn’t read or write well.  Now, jobs for unskilled workers have been outsourced (www.greatschools.org, Acredolo and Goodwyn 2000).
  • Few boys entering school call themselves nonreaders, but by high school more than half do (www.ala.org).
  • If reading is perceived as feminized, boys will go to great lengths to avoid it (Smith and Wilheim 2002 in http://www.ala.org and http://www.guysread.com).

These are just a few of the alarming facts that I found about boys and reading.  After digesting them, my next question was, “What can be done to encourage boys to read?”  That’s where you come in, Dada.  Here are some ideas that the experts have suggested:

  • Get caught reading.  Obviously, children watch everything their parents do, so to cement a reading culture in a family, it’s important for kids to see both parents reading books.  But for the best, long-term benefits, boys especially need to catch dads and other male role models reading (www.pbs.org, http://www.forbes.com, http://www.greatschools.org).
  • Read aloud.  Reading aloud to children starting in infancy helps them learn to love stories, relish the positive, peaceful interaction with you (thus creating a positive link with books), and build a critical foundation for later reading (www.pbs.org, Acredolo and Goodwyn 2000).
  • Broaden definition of “reading.” Read more than just picture books with young ones and have more than just chapter books around the house for older boys.  Newspapers, websites, magazines (like Highlights and the younger version called High Five), graphic novels, joke books, how-to books, off-color humor books, “gross” books, signs, posters, non-fiction books (Cat in the Hat non-fiction books are a nice alternative to picture books) (www.pbs.org, http://www.ala.org, http://www.greatschools.org).
  • Have books available.  Lots of books.  A huge variety of books.  All over the house.  And not just stuck on shelves but lying around in plain sight against couches, on tables, and on low bookshelves so covers can be seen (www.greatschools.org, http://www.ala.org).  And not just children’s books, but adult books, too.

To be fair, you already do most of these things, Dada.  You really are the best Dada in the world.  Patient.  Kind.  Funny.  Smart.  And almost as handsome as me!  Happy Father’s Day!

Love,

Luke

P.S. Should we go find Mama now or wait until she’s finished her bowl of ice cream?  Wait?  Yeah, that’s probably best….

Sources:

Acredolo, L. and Goodwyn, S. Baby minds: Brain-building games your baby will love. (2000).

http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/vol10/SLMR_WhatWeWant_V10.pdf

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jordanshapiro/2014/05/13/kids-dont-read-books-because-parents-dont-read-books/

http://www.greatschools.org/students/academic-skills/6832-why-so-many-boys-do-not-read.gs

http://www.guysread.com/about/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/opinion/bruni-read-kids-read.html?_r=0

http://www.pbs.org/parents/best-books-for-boys/6-ways-to-encourage-your-son-to-read.html

 

 

“Reading is no doubt one of the most important academic skills a child must master to be successful throughout her life. Reading, more than any other skill, is the key to learning in every academic discipline. Whether the subject is math, science, or social studies, reading is critical throughout a child’s school day. And no matter how much potential a child has for these subjects, without good reading skills her opportunities will be limited. To do well in school, children must read well.”

–from Baby Minds by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn

 

No pressure, right?  The most important first step toward helping a child read well, though, is also the easiest: make reading fun!  Use sounds, use different voices, use inflection, and choose engaging books.  If you’re enjoying reading, then your child is most likely enjoying it, too!

Books Forever!

–Erin (blog Mama and co-author)

Reading Tip: Of Squeaky Mice and Growly Monsters: Using Voices to Engage Children in Books

“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.”  Christopher Morley (1890 – 1957)

Low, growly monster voices; high-pitched teeny tiny bug voices; scared, trembly voices; bad British accents; “whoo whoo” owl voices; hisssssing sssssnake voices; bubbly fish voices; squeaky mouse voices.  Mama and Dada do all of these and more when they read with me.  It’s quite entertaining listening to them contort their voices for my reading pleasure!  The best part is that they do all of these voices without a trace of embarrassment because they know that as soon as I hear a funky sound or voice I’m instantly hooked.

Here are a few books that work really well with voices, usually because they have multiple characters and each character needs its own distinct voice:

   I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt and Cyd Moore:  My first “voice” book!  Gorilla gets a low, monster voice with lots of “ooo-ooo, aaa-aaas;” alligator gets “chomp chomp” sounds with chomping arm motions; skunk gets a nasally “smelly” voice (“ewww!” with lots of nose-wrinkling); alien gets a fast, high-pitched voice and lots of “ewwws!” when he eats bugs instead of peanut butter; dinosaur gets eating noises; and the one-eyed monster gets a low, growly voice with “boom, booms!” to emphasize his stomping.  A favorite of mine from about ten months old to two years old.

  The Pout-Pout Fish (Pout-Pout Fish Adventure) by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna:  “I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face…”  What a fun book for creative voices: pout-pout fish gets a low, sad, slow, gloomy voice; clam gets a prim little voice; jellyfish gets a wavering voice pitched up and down to mimic undulating tentacles; octopus gets a no-nonsense, tough guy voice; and squid gets a lady-with-an-attitude voice.  I really like this book and have been reading it with my parents for well over a year now.

  The Gruffalo (Picture Books) by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler: Another fun book to read with multiple voices for the different characters.  Mouse could get a squeaky voice, but Mama usually reads Mouse in her regular voice.  Fox gets a very bad British accent (don’t ask me why–something about fox hunts among the royalty in British literature); owl gets lots of “whoo-whooing” and extended “o”s wherever they occur; snake gets a hissing voice with elongated “s” sounds; and the Gruffalo gets a rough, gravelly voice.  Using voices made this story more accessible for me when I may not have been quite old enough to entirely grasp the nuances of the very clever plot line.

  Gorilla! Gorilla! by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross: There are minor characters that appear briefly throughout the book that you can give voices to, but the two main characters, Mama Mouse and Gorilla, are the two that Mama focuses on the most.  Mama Mouse gets a high, panicky voice to mirror how stressed out she is being chased around the world by a gorilla, while Gorilla gets a low, gravelly voice, loud and emphatic for all of the “STOPs!” and kind and gentle at the end for the surprise twist.

  Bye-Bye, Big Bad Bullybug! by Ed Emberley:  A good book for starting with voices because there are only two kinds of characters: the Big Bad Bullybug and the itty bitty baby bugs.  Mama and Dada use their “monster” voice for the Bullybug (rough, growly, and low), and a high-pitched, almost whiny voice for the itty bitty baby bugs.  A good book for tickles with a fun surprise ending.

  The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss:  For spicing up this already awesome classic, Mama and Dada give unique voices to each of the main characters.  Mama and Dada’s voices differ a lot for these characters though.  For the Cat, Mama does a jolly, slow, deep voice, while Dada does a deep voice with a playful don’t-take-me-too-seriously lilt.  For the Fish in the Pot, Mama does an annoying, high-pitched voice that makes the Fish sound like it’s strenuously objecting to the Cat, while Dada does a gravelly, low voice using lots of inflection for the objecting.  Although Thing 1 and Thing 2 only speak a few lines, Mama makes them talk very quickly and frenetically, imitating how they dart and flit around the house with their kites.

Clearly, these voices are just suggestions.  The best voices are the ones that parents make up for themselves that they are comfortable with and can remember (just try using a different voice after a toddler has heard and liked another!).  Act silly and without embarrassment: the only one who will know what you sound like will be your child, and he or she will love you (and books) all the more for it!

Happy reading!

–Luke (blog co-author, age 2.5)