10 Favorite Board Books #TeacherMom

As I geared up to attend two back-to-back baby showers, the familiar gifting dread gathered. I’ve never enjoyed shopping, and my practical taste never looks very cute in pastel tissue paper.

Just when I was about to go the gift-registry route, it hit me. Books. BOARD BOOKS! I might not be able to pick a onesie that gets me terribly excited, but books have me geeking out on a regular basis.

In the past, many board books have tended to just be sturdier versions of regular picture books, sans several pages. Or else they have consisted of overly syrupy or didactic text paired with equally uninteresting illustrations. In short, most board books just haven’t been fun to read.

But as long as babies tend to be skillful paper-shredders, we need board books, and we need ones that will make parents and babies actually look forward to storytime together.

Here are ten of my current favorites:

The Epic Yarns books by Jack & Holman Wang (and especially the Star Wars books for my Force-loving family) are delightfully unique. Each page consists of a photo of a detailed set crafted out of wool, along with a single word to capture the essence of that moment.

All Board! National Parks: A Wildlife Primer by Kevin & Haily Meyers is perfect for all parents who want to cultivate enthusiasm for the outdoors from the cradle. Each page takes you to a different national park, also featuring animals found in that location. I also love how the last page displays their animal tracks.

No list of board books would ever be complete without Sandra Boynton. Moo Baa La La La has delighted all three of my kids with its bouncy tempo, hilarious farm animals, and of course, pigs singing instead of oinking. The “No, no, you say, that isn’t right!” with enough high-pitched expression even gets the infant grinning every time.

Angela DiTerlizzi published Some Bugs a couple years ago, and I was delighted when the board book version rolled out last year. It includes every one of the delightful original pages filled with gorgeous illustrations and fun rhymes. Given the spare text, it includes a surprising amount to learn about bugs, too!

Jennifer Adams’ BabyLit books have me especially geeking out. They are the perfect way to introduce young readers to classic literature as they share passages with gorgeous illustrations. I’ve read most of them at my local library, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Midsummer Night’s Dream top my list of favorites.

Ashley Evanson’s Hello, World books, such as this London Book of Opposites, are fresh concept books with a colorful view of the most iconic features of cities around the world.

Eric Carle‘s books are classics that aren’t diminished in board book form. I don’t see the cadence of Brown Bear, Brown Bear ever wearing off.

A is for Atom by Greg Paprocki is a nostalgic walk down memory lane, both with the ideas that defined the 50’s, and the mid-century-styled illustrations to match.

Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Buarino and Steven Kellogg is one more classic treasure that will never get old. My kids love guessing the animal to match the rhyming clues as the baby llama talks with various animals to find his mama.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Let Them Fail” Is Not Uniform #TeacherMom

The benefits of failure are becoming more and more widely discussed. Perfectionism is getting the boot it deserves. Messy learning is finally gaining the acknowledgement that it’s due. And I’m thrilled!

However, I’ve noticed another trend along these lines that’s of a little more concern to me, though it can be tricky to spot.

To me, it’s in the form of these signs. Or in the form of comments that take stories like this one & declare that this is how it should be for all children to teach responsibility.

Like I’ve said before, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these signs or with this story. In fact, in many circumstances, these are great examples of allowing our children to fail in order to help them grow.

 

What makes this tricky is that allowing our kids to fail does not look the same for all children for all circumstances. But sometimes, we make it look like it is.

Which is problematic because then you have parents and teachers who feel like weighing the circumstances is no longer an option–that they must always apply “tough-love” in order to allow their children to learn from failure. And that to do otherwise is an automatic fast-track to entitlement.

It’s problematic because it sweeps away the messy process of working one-on-one with a child, leaning more in favor of one-size-fits-all policies.

And it’s problematic because it can get us focusing too heavily (sometimes still exclusively) on the behavior aspect of failure.

Now, I support and appreciate approaches like Love & Logic. But it’s SO important to remember that relationships are complex and must be approached on an individual basis. What might be the suitable consequence for one child in one context might not be for another. Anything that encourages us to stop listening and start mandating should give us pause. 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto 

My #OneWord2017: Synthesis

Have you ever looked up the definition of compartmentalization? One Wikipedia it reads:

“Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.”

My translation: compartmentalization is driven by fear. And I’m done.

I recently came across a quote (and for the life of me, I can’t remember where it came from or who said it, so if you know, please share) that went something like this: “I’ve spent much of my life trying to compartmentalize it. I’m ready to try to synthesize instead.”

With each day since then, this notion has grown and swelled within my mind and my heart. And it makes my 2017 one-word goal an easy choice: synthesize.

The longer I reflect and write, the more I recognize the inter-connected nature of this world. I think this is the reason my favorite blogging days are my provocation and #TeacherMom posts.

For the former, I gather scraps of inspiring resources scattered across the digital world, weaving them into broader concepts. For the latter, I gather scraps of inspiring moments scattered across my days as a mom, weaving them into broader teaching principles.

Opportunities for learning and growth are everywhere. As I work to step back and mindfully embrace the ebb and flow of life — the diaper changes, the lunch boxes, the library trips, even the tantrums — it all starts to join into a larger tapestry.

As I synthesize instead of compartmentalize, the most precious principles in my life become more pronounced and accessible: authenticity, resilience, courage, compassion, kindness. Everything begins to work toward a greater, self-perpetuating whole, rather than getting piecemealed into an eternal, competing to-do list.

My word is synthesis. What’s yours?

A Little Less Filtered #TeacherMom

As our family settled in a few weeks ago to watch a show together, my toddler’s attention was captured by an icon for an National Geographic animal documentary. And that’s how we found ourselves learning about baboons’ alpha hierarchy and frogs’ defense mechanisms that night.

What surprised me most was how the show’s benefits for my son went well beyond simply learning about animal facts. It was the engagement. It was the conversation. It was the connection. As he soaked up every word and every shot, he asked questions, he placed vocabulary in context, and he play-acted out his observations.

This experience had me reflecting about two ideas.

The first is that we can more frequently go to the source for learning. With all the guidelines and curriculum and expert recommendations, we as adults often feel the need to contrive and filter to maximize our kids’ learning. It’s like we think that if we can pack in enough ABC’s and numbers and cooperation messages in one show (or workbook, etc), it’s like a multivitamin we can feed our kids to fill in the gaps of their education (and no, this is not to bash those shows–we love Sesame Street around here, remember?).

Yet the reality is, we don’t have to rely on such concoctions for learning. True, when it comes to science and history, we’re usually already many steps removed from the source–after all, it’s not like we can take a field trip to the Serengeti or World War II or the Moon. But, often thanks to modern technology and social networking, we can get ourselves and our children closer than ever (like leveraging Google Street View for virtual exploration, or following this Twitter account that narrates WWII in real time, or exploring this Interactive Lunar Guide by ESA).

The second thought: when we more directly allow our children’s interests to take the lead, richer learning follows. Learning is to be had wherever our students’ interests lead us. Like I said above, my son wasn’t just learning about animal facts. He was learning vocabulary, speaking and listening skills, and even pre-reading skills through his imaginative play.

More importantly, when we try to turn this on its head–that is, force student interest on our agenda for “learning”–the results are poorer anyway. As Marcia L. Tate writes in Reading & Language Arts Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites:

“…there is actually a physiological reason for whether students choose to comprehend instruction. The basal ganglia acts like a policeman that protects the brain from distracting input. Information that has been selected as worthy of being learned flows through fibers back to the thalamus and on to areas of the brain where information can be interpreted (Nevills & Wolfe, 2009).”

Of course, with a class of 30+ students, it is certainly a challenge to meet our students where they are in their interests, which is why boxed programs with promises for perfect differentiation and solutions to all our students’ reading comprehension needs are tempting.

While we’re going to keep on watching intermittent episodes of Sesame Street around here, in the future, it will be less about meeting some kind of learning quota and more about family entertainment. And I look forward to getting better at recognizing learning opportunites as they come through my children’s interests.

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Behavior, Santa, & Things Getting Complicated Real Quick #TeacherMom

Despite keeping the whole Santa/behavior thing fairly low-profile in our home, we worried our daughter was still internalizing it from various sources (school, movies, etc) pretty intensely.

Our fears were confirmed one day a few weeks ago as she expressed concern about “not being good enough.” She asked us whether other kids getting more for Christmas meant they were “good-er” than her.

Just to be clear, people. She wasn’t just worried about getting nothing (or coal) if she “was bad.” She had observed relative hauls among peers, and drew the logical conclusion that kids who get less simply aren’t as good as kids who get more.

If you’ve watched Pixar’s Inside Out, you’ll understand when I say that in that moment, all systems were in freak-out mode for a moment, and I’m still not sure if Fear or Anger were more in control. If you haven’t, let’s just say that the primitive mama-bear protective instincts were fully awakened.

And it’s why this tweet from Ada McKim got an amen from me:

Now, when it comes to behavior, I am perfectly fine with consequences, loss of privilege, follow-through, time-out–the works.

But we take great care in our family discipline to ensure our kids understand their worth is unchanging. She may make a bad choice, but she is not a bad kid. And because she is a good kid, we know she can make better choices next time.

Nothing–not a perfectly-behaved class, and certainly not Santa–is worth jeopardizing our kids’ notions of self-worth.

That’s why I believe that as parents and teachers, we must always be on the lookout for when our actions send unintended messages. Like when our praise gets understandably concentrated on the kids who are naturally more comfortable with speaking up. Or when our rewards become more about control than encouragement.

All of this is much easier said than done, of course–after all, I would never have guessed that my daughter’s interpretations of Santa had gone so far as to touch on economic implications, and I’m grateful she brought it up! We are all so different and complex. But as we continue to work to prioritize our individual relationships with our students, we will be more likely to clarify misunderstandings and grow mutual respect.

featured image: Christian Weldinger

Converting Frustration to Teaching Moments #TeacherMom

Last week, I asked my 6 year-old to get something from the car. I knew the item had fallen under the seats, so I added the instruction, “Make sure you look all over!”

She came back empty-handed, telling me it wasn’t there. Of course, with mom omnipotence (momnipotence?), I knew that item was indeed in the car and that she had simply not looked thoroughly enough.

Anyhow, I was ready to heave my usual sigh and go look for it myself when it occurred to me that “look all over” is a very vague and abstract concept for a 6 year-old. My mind jumped to an old-school Sesame Street episode featuring Grover we had recently watched:

I referenced Grover’s silly song about prepositions, telling her, “Try checking one more time, only this time, be sure to be like Grover and look ‘Around…over…under…and through’ all the seats.”

Though she did not end up finding the object during her second search either, she nevertheless took much longer and was clearly far more thorough (in the end I discovered it had fallen down into a remote and camouflaged corner).

As I reflected on that small teaching opportunity, I realized how often I take for granted what I think my kids ought to be able to do, yielding to frustration rather than teaching. In my classroom, I generally made it a point to help my students explicitly identify, “what does _____ look/sound/feel like” (ie, what does working respectfully in pairs look/sound/feel like?).

Yet there were still moments when I felt frustrated by shortcomings I felt my fifth graders should just know by now (penmanship, writing in complete sentences, group work skills). The reality was usually that they simply needed more modeling, more support, more patience.

I hope this #TeacherMom moment will help me better recognize those learning opportunities with my own children and my future students.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Top 10 Read Alouds for Upper Elementary from 2016

2016 has been an excellent reading year for me. I’ve renewed my use of Goodreads, enjoyed sequels in favorite series, and discovered a new genre I deeply enjoy (more on that later). My old lists of read alouds for upper elementary grades featured a lot of favorites I had read long ago (first list, second list), but not a lot of recent reads.

So to keep my recommendations fresh, and to help me keep up my momentum of reading more books, I want to start making a habit of sharing my favorites reads at the end of each year, starting today (note, these are not necessarily books published this year, but rather ones that I read this year). Hopefully this list will be timely for teachers looking for a quality winter-break stack (and for my own children and students down the road)!

#10: Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier, by Michelle Cuevas

This book had me tickled by the fact that, without the title, readers wouldn’t even realize the narrator was not, in fact, a living breathing member of the family for the first several chapters. Rather, he seems more like just a kid with a lot of problems with getting ignored. This is a genre that I’ve designated as “other-worldly whimsical,” a personally-defined subset of modern fantasy of which I find myself constantly wanting more. A hilarious yet profound read about belonging and self-understanding.

#9The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas, by David Almond

This book originally caught my eye because of Oliver Jeffers. I was delighted to discover that David Almond’s style very much parallel’s Jeffers’. Follow Stanley Potts as he discovers his destiny far from his fish-canning home. You and your students will enjoy themes of courage, confidence, wonder, rules, and conformity. Also one I’d classify “other-worldly whimsical.”

#8: The Magician’s Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo

The Magician’s Elephant felt like a lovely poem or perhaps a dream. “We must ask ourselves these questions as often as we dare. How will the world change if we do not question it?” Peter Augustus Duchene changes his world by asking the question, “Does my sister live?” Readers then follow him through an enchanting and mysterious tale of truth and love.

#7: The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Like the Pevensies of Narvia, Ada and her little brother are sent to the country away from war-torn London during WWII. There, they, too, discover a new world with their caretaker–one full of love, acceptance, and hope. This historical fiction will move and inspire your class.

#6: The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

This outdoor adventure-loving girl fell in love with this book the moment I read the words, “If you stand still in nature long enough, something will fall on you.” It’s just so–real. Peter Brown helps us ponder what might actually happen if an advanced A.I. robot found herself on an uninhabited island. How might she adapt to her surroundings? Would she be able to learn the language of animals? And would she–a man-made creation–be able to find her place in the natural world?

#5: The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or Three Magical Children & Their Holy Dogby Adam Gidwitz

From the fascinating approach to narration, to the way we are invited to truly access life in medieval times, this is a fresh and truly unique story. I especially loved the idea of “illumination” as opposed to illustration, keeping in line with a common medieval practice. Learn of three children whose powers have the entire kingdom–from the king of France down–in awe, fear, and/or admiration.

#4: The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner 

See my review here.

#3: Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

This is a tale of bonds that even miles and a war-torn country cannot break. Follow a story that shifts in perspective between Pax the fox and his boy, Peter.

#2: Lockwood & Company, The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

If you are looking for a series that will have your students begging for more, this is it (I actually read book 4 in the series this year, The Creeping Shadow, and am dying to find out when book 5 comes out!). Lucy and her companions, Lockwood and George, are teenage agents working to rid London of the Problem (a development in which ghosts return, wreaking panic and death among the living). Only children can see the Visitors, but Lockwood’s is the only company that consists only of children. It is a bit creepy, so you might want to run it by your students before choosing it as a read aloud–but if they aren’t too nervous, it will have them on the edge of their seats!

#1: Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage

I just finished reading the third and final book in this series (The Odds of Getting Even), and I loved every moment of it! Mo is probably the wittiest and sassiest 6th grader you’ll meet, and her best friend Dale is an equally loveable character. Follow the duo as they establish the Desperados Detective Agency and solve a murder. Packed with hilarious figurative language, mystery, and small town charm, Three Times Lucky is simply a must-read!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto