Book Club Ideas for Elementary Principals

I don’t know if my principal knew what she was getting herself into when she asked for book recommendations for her Principal’s Book of the Month list she’s launching next year. But I figure that after all the time enthusiastically devoted to this task, I should share here what I sent to her.

I started with author study recommendations. Because she is choosing 3 books each month — one for grades K-2, one for grades 3-4, and one for grades 5-6 — I shared a few authors whose works spans all these ages. Some don’t actually have chapter books out (like Peter Reynolds), but have picture books that I think would be just as suited for older grades as younger!

  • Kate Messner
  • Mo Willems
  • Laurel Snyder
  • Kate DiCamillo
  • Paul Fleischman
  • Peter H. Reynolds
  • Kevin Henkes
  • Peter Brown

Next I gave codes. PB=picture book; GN=graphic novel; CB=chapter book. Obviously, kids (and adults) of all ages need all three of these categories in their lives.

Now, onto the book recommendations! I was sure to note that many of these grade levels are flexible–I would fully endorse “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates” just as much for a 6th grader as a kindergartner. I also added video previews of the books wherever possible.

Grades K-2

  • All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold PB (great back-to-school read) video
  • We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins PB (hilarious back-to-school read that I’d recommend for all ages) video
  • Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett PB (simple, yet interesting story/word play that young readers can actually read themselves)
  • The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld PB (on emotions, self-expression, & empathy) video
  • Because by Mo Willems PB (a story that celebrates music, as well as all the cause & effect of inspiration & effort) video of the story behind this story
  • Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis PB (good nonfiction read that explores water & highlights vocabulary in interesting way–perhaps a good one to pair with other water conservation books for a month)
  • The Earth Gives More by Sue Fliess PB (book in verse that illustrates seasons, nature, and the importance of caring for earth–good April earth day read)
  • Fox & Chick: The Party by Sergio Ruzzier GN (accessible early graphic novel full of word play, inferring, and fun) video review
  • Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder CB (sweet early reader that has an enjoyable plot line of 2 brothers’ doings)

Grades 3-4

  • Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera PB (beautiful for any time of year and any grade: story in free verse of a boy’s immigration experience & adjusting to new language & environment) video
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson PB (another wonderful back-to-school book that I would recommend for all ages; finding belonging amid our differences) video
  • Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell PB (great for cultivating empathy & understanding) video review
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown PB (on cultivating creativity, problem-solving, & gardening) video
  • Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones PB (story in verse on persistence and and invention, with great word choice) video
  • Water Princess by Peter Reynolds PB (story of a girl going to fetch water for her family in an African country) video
  • Gone Camping: A Novel In Verse CB (each “chapter” is a different type of poem told from the different characters’ perspectives as they deal with unexpected setbacks, worries, & adventures of camping)
  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo GN/CB (fantasy with messaging that kids will find highly relatable–especially those who deal with divorce & custody issues–with plenty of humor in the mix) book trailer
  • How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher CB (nonfiction how-to that’a s lot of fun to read)
  • Fergus & Zeke by Kate Messner CB (a good easy reader chapter book with lots of illustrations and good friendship themes) 

Grades 5-6

  • The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy PB (story about rule-making, fairness, & voice, with some lovely Spanish phrases thrown in) video of author reading first part
  • The North Star by Peter Reynolds PB (beautiful story about finding your own path) video preview (The Dot & Say Something are others I would recommend)
  • Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm CB (strong & funny protagonist voice; historical fiction story of boy living during the Great Depression; his problem-solving, his fibs, and his sense of community) book trailer
  • Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown GN (engaging nonfiction of the process it took over decades to get humans to the moon)
  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl & Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier CB (moving and compelling fantasy/historical fiction of 11 year-old Nan trying to survive as one of Victorian London’s child chimney sweeps) video introduction by the author
  • Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley CB (hilarious realistic fiction as a boy who has trouble feeling sorry for himself accidentally ends up at a camp for “troubled boys;” themes on friendship & belonging) book trailer
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage CB (strong voice in a fabulously written realistic fiction/mystery. Best part is its the first in a series that kids will be dying to read for themselves) book trailer
  • The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson CB (Harry Potter lovers will love this fantasy read)
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly CB (realistic fiction told from the perspectives of the 4 main characters) 
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker (lovely and unique story of a pet fox that is returned to the wild; told from both the fox and the boy’s perspective)
  • Seventh Goldfish by Kate Messner CB (I actually wrote a review on this one that I’ll link here)

What book club reads have been popular across your school grade levels?

featured image: Dan Barbus

In Honor Of Teachers & Mothers

I just had to share this beautiful video in anticipation of Mother’s Day this weekend.

What exactly is the role of the teacher? SO much more than the conveyor of knowledge.

All of these roles are assumed by both parents as well, but it is tender to consider and qualify the many roles of a mother, especially since these efforts are usually upaid and uncounted. Teachers often face similar undervaluation. See Melinda Gates’ excellent recent piece entitled, “The massive, hidden costs of women’s unpaid work.” She writes,

“To care is human — and caring for children or aging parents should be an expression of love. It can offer us some of the most meaningful moments of our lives. But if it’s assumed that women will do all these tasks, then caring that should be joyful becomes a burden, and work that should be shared becomes isolating.”

Melinda Gates

Let us count these roles, these efforts, this love. It is beautiful, powerful work, and becomes more so when we really see one another for what we are providing for the world’s rising generation.

Happy Mothers Day & Teachers Appreciation Week!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What’s the difference between CARING for our health & WORRYING about our health, & why does it matter? #TeacherMom

My daughter and I got chatting about health yesterday. I told her that it’s important to care for our health, but that it can be a problem when we are constantly worrying about our health. I asked her:

“Can you think of an example of what it might look like when a person focuses on caring for their health verses worrying about their health?”

I was surprised by her response.

Thoughtfully, she replied, “I think exercise could be an example. Like, if you take care of yourself, you love yourself and want to help your body by exercising. But if you are just worried all the time, you might keep exercising way too much and get sick.”

Profound words for a 9 year-old. We agreed that if our primary motivation for anything is love — love for ourselves, love for others — we’ll probably be just fine.

This kind of thinking is fundamental to quality of life. Exercise is a positive concept, but when approached with fear/worry vs. love/care, the results (and the impact on our overall health) can be dramatically different. The same goes for relationships, food choices, and yes, even learning.

Helping our students get to the root of what’s powering their motivation each day is important. It is a self-regulatory shift with boundless possibilities for them to see their own worth — that they deserve to have a good education and that they can take intentional steps to move themselves forward.

This approach, of course, especially thrives in classrooms where teachers, too, are permitted the kind of ownership that fosters love/care over fear/worry.

Back to the exercise, I think it’s interesting to note that it’s easier to approach it in a positive way when we make it less of a burden. Specifically for me, this happens by embedding it into our transportation by walking or biking to our destinations (most of which are within 2 miles). Riding a bicycle is exercise that does not feel like exercise (it feels like fun), so it’s a wonderful way to foster joy.

How might we help our students see learning as a more joyful experience rather than a burdensome duty? What are ways we might initiate this discussion with our students? How might we cultivate a healthy approach to personal learning? Why does ownership make a difference?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

All The Books I’ve Shared, Gathered In One Place (plus 5 recent favorite nonfiction reads)

I just wanted to write a quick post to share that I’ve (finally) created a page where one can find all the book recommendations on this website. With how much I enjoy writing book round-ups, I’m surprised I did not do this sooner!

While you’ve stopped by, here are a few more reads we have enjoyed lately. I was surprised to realize when I made the above page how few nonfiction round-ups I’ve written, so here are our recent favorites from that genre:

Round byJoyce Sidman, Taeeun Yoo. Beautiful illustrations that get us thinking about what is round and why. An excellent inquiry text.

Birthdays From Around the World by Margriet Ruurs, Ashley Barron. Great text for helping kids comprehend similarities and differences across the globe.

Where’s the Baby: A Spotting Book by Britta Teckentrup. Really cute rhymes and even cuter illustrations. All of my kids (ages 2-8) delighted over finding the babies.

Living Things & Non-Living Things: A Compare & Contrast Book by Kevin Kurtz. Most accessibly nuanced approach to living vs. non-living that I’ve ever seen. “Not even scientists have a perfect answer.”

Power Up by Seth Fishman & Isabel Greenberg. My 8 year-old can’t stop musing about the power of her pinky ever since reading this illuminating book. Fascinating introduction to energy.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Fragility of Our Children’s Self-Determination #TeacherMom

Self-determination. We have such good intentions. We all want it for our kids, and I’m sure most of us (including myself until a recent check) think we’ve got it pretty well covered. But then life gets in the way.

We get in a hurry, we run out of supplies, we feel pressure that we then pass on to our kids.

I had two experiences recently to remind me just how fragile the development of our children’s self-determination can be. I’m sharing not because I know better now, but because I know that writing about it helps cement the lessons for me.

Lesson #1: The first happened when my 8 year-old was getting ready for school. Combining her school’s earlier start time with the fact that she’s one of those kids that needs a lot of sleep to function, I had felt justified in lending a hand as she gets ready. Specifically, as she would sleepily make her way down her bunk bed, I would grab her an outfit so she could quickly change and then move on to the next task.

But when she woke up unusually early one morning, I turned everything over to her — only to find that she no longer felt confident about her own outfit-choosing skills. She wanted me to tell her if I thought the clothing went together, and I wanted her to be able to choose without needing anyone else to validate her decision.

I was astonished to realize how my good intentions had gone awry. How I had sent an unintended message that I was not confident in her abilities. How quickly she came to depend on me for a simple decision. How my desire to help solve one problem had created another.

Lesson #2: The second happened with my 4 year-old. The details are less important, but he had started to regularly say something very sweet, and we were quick to tell him how nice that was (you know, positive reinforcement and all that). One day, when he said it again, and I did not offer praise, he looked at me, surprised and unhappy. Again, I was astonished to realize that my own good intentions were actually getting in the way of something good. What was once something for which my son had intrinsic interest was now diminished by the extrinsic strings I’d attached.

Our kids possess natural self-determination. They have interests, talents, and capacities originally driven entirely from within. But it turns out this self-determination is terribly fragile. As enthusiastic and helpful parents and teachers, we jump in with our encouragement and praise and assistance, which props up something that perhaps didn’t need propping up in the first place. Instead, it causes that self-determination muscle to quickly atrophy as we train them to look to the grown-ups, the “experts,” for guidance, instead of looking within to the original source of those capacities.

I feel like I learn more each day about how I need to “get out of the way” of my children’s learning and growth. Hopefully those lessons will stick a little better for next time!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How My Kids Use the Google Home Mini #TeacherMom

Someone gave us a Google Home mini last fall. I don’t really use it, but we thought the kids might be interested, so we set it up. I recently found out I can view all of its history, which I found fascinating. Here’s how my kids have put it to use, most of the time without my presence. “Hey Google…”

  • “…can we listen to music?”
  • “…what are fake flowers made of?”
  • “…what do you eat for breakfast?”
  • “…start a timer for 20 minutes.”
  • “…how do you spell…?”
  • “…what should I be for Halloween?”
  • “…where do wolves live?”
  • “…are tarantulas harmless?”
  • “…tell me a story.”
  • “…are you a robot?”
  • “…what are orangutans?”
  • “…do you eat donuts?”
  • “…can you play a game with me?”
  • “…do you have a sister?”
  • “…tell me a joke.”
  • “…what author wrote Amelia Bedelia?”
  • “…tell me a fairy tale.”
  • “…when do you unplug cords?”
  • “…when do you go fishing?”
  • “…where should me and my dad go for our date?”
  • “…it is 9:45. How many more hours until lunch?”
  • “…what kind of claws do jaguars have?”
  • “…what’s 12 times 12?”
  • “…are fairies real?”
  • “…what colors can dogs see?”
  • “…how do you say bear in Spanish?”
  • “…what do dragons eat?”
  • “...how long does it take to walk between home and school?”
  • “…is there a Santa?”
  • “…what was the first thing people made with electricity?”
  • “…how many hours are in the morning?”
  • “…is the blue whale bigger than any building?”
  • “…what are very good kid jobs?”

I love the questions almost as much as the fact that they can so readily find answers. What a marvelous gift it is to have a record of the questions my children have been asking over time.

How is technology impacting your children’s sense of inquiry (like their ability to find answers to questions even before they can read), access (like their ability to turn on music and timers), and connection with the world around them (like their ability to feel like the information of this age belongs to them, too)?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Why & How to Nurture Independent Kids Wherever You Live #TeacherMom

I recently had the chance to visit some very dear friends from high school in different parts of a neighboring state. Of the friends with kids, one lives in a suburban style area, and the other lives in an area that is so rural they only have one neighbor (their parents across the street). And I live in a fairly urban area. The differences made me realize that though the ways we might nurture kids’ independence can vary based on where we live, it is always possible.

Here are our examples. Thank you very much to my friends for sharing their experiences!

Rural: Alea, children aged 8, 6, & 3

“We try to involve the kids in whatever it is we’re doing (at an appropriate level). Dennis just brought our youngest home from letting her feed the bottle calf. He’s an abandoned twin. She then brought me the bottle to help her wash it out. Kids looove taking care of babies. Other examples include:

  • The kids also help pick which plants we’re going to plant and help tend & harvest the garden.
  • When it’s nice weather they play outside [on their own] for at least an hour in the mornings before it gets hot.
  • I keep the sippy cups/kid cups in a drawer and not in the cupboard so they can reach it themselves and get a drink from the fridge door.
  • Most days I let them pick their outfits
  • They have some “mandatory” chores but then there’s a “chore of the day” that they get to pick. In general rather than give demands we like to give options.
  • We have also been discussing how letting children have responsibilities fosters independence. Kids want to help with things and how many times do I not let them because “they won’t do it right”? I’ve been trying to let them do the things they can do… They may not wash the windows streak-free but surely I can let them have a rag and a squeegee and have at it …These are hard things for me, but I’m working on them!”

Suburban: Stephanie, children aged 4 & 2

“We live in a quiet, older neighborhood with a fenced backyard. Some ways that we like to encourage independence outside are:

  • Sending our 2 year old into the backyard alone to grab a toy and bring it to the front.
  • Letting our 4 year old play on her own for awhile in the backyard while we’re in the front.
  • Establishing boundaries for bike riding so our 4 year old can ride comfortably without wondering or being told she’s gone too far. 

“Other ways we encourage independence inside our home include:

  • Letting them pour their own milk, water, syrup, etc. The more they try the better they get and I love the giant smile they give me when they pour perfectly. Accidental spills are lessons, not cause for punishment.
  • Letting them serve themselves at meals. They scoop from the serving dishes on the table onto their plates, which lets them choose which foods from the table they want, and how much.
  • Letting them help with the cooking and baking. Our 4 year old is a pro at rolling out sugar cookie dough, using a cut out, and putting it on the tray and the 2 year old loves to stir and pour in ingredients.
  • Letting them do the chores such as vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes, sweeping, and raking. Our kids actually ask to help clean! Joining in on the household chores makes them feel like they are part of the team and are contributing to helping our family. I never redo any of their tasks so they always have a full sense of accomplishment.”

Urban: Mary, children aged 8, 4, & 2

We live in a townhouse development of about 60 homes, which is surrounded by a mixed development (single family homes, duplexes, apartments, etc) & close to our city center. We enjoy our proximity to schools, the library, the rec center, and our downtown, all of which we usually access by bike. We also enjoy our townhome common area in which we can send our kids to find playmates close by (and without worrying about driveways as the garages all face a back street). Some ways we work to foster independence based on where we live include:

  • Encouraging unsupervised play as much as possible. Occasionally one of the kids will run inside to report something important, but our area is dense enough that I’m never far away! (see post, “Where’s the Mom?” from last year)
  • Having our oldest to walk or bike to school 1 mile away (usually with a group of friends but occasionally she’ll be on her own)
  • Allowing our oldest to walk to a nearby bakery to pick up family groceries or to select a treat for herself. I love how this has helped her consider how much things cost & how to set a budget for herself.
  • Encouraging our kids to plan their own free time (and working to preserve as much of that free time as possible!) See “Inventorying a Culture of Agency at Home.”
  • Biking & riding transit throughout the city together to help my kids learn to feel comfortable enough plan adventures alone or with friends when they are just a bit older.

Wherever we live, opportunities for children to enjoy independent childhoods are in abundance. We can learn so much from one another as we support each others’ efforts to help our children feel confident, responsible, and capable.

What are ways you work to foster independence for children based on where you live?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto