Agency Is Not Just For School #TeacherMom

After sharing my post on employing read alongs to keep my kids from movie-zombie-land for the entirety of Christmas break, a friend in my PLN reminded me,

I immediately knew she was right; while the read-alongs are enjoyed by all, my initial attitude centered more on my own needs than on my kids’. Of course, self-care is essential as parents, but when we consistently turn first to “keeping them busy,” we may miss opportunities to help them develop greater awareness, ownership, and responsibility over their own time–both in and out of the classroom.

All that said, as I started to consider how to bring this kind of autonomous personal planning to life for my 7, 3, and 1 year-old children, doubts sprung up in abundance:

What if they choose to watch movies all. day. long?

We’re still dealing with quite a lot of underdeveloped temporal understanding here–how can I entrust them to planning a couple of weeks worth of time?

What about good healthy stretches of unplanned time/boredom

What if my 7 year old plans a beautiful day and then sickness or other unforeseen events cause it to fall flat?

Where am I going to find the time to help her plan her entire holiday time?

But as I continued to consider my desire to apply my learning in all areas of my life (synthesize over compartmentalize), I realized that desire outweighed my fears.

Interestingly enough, at that very moment of resolution, and without any prompting from me, my daughter told me that she was off to write a list of fun things she might do. I took it as a sign–I grabbed some paper to create a calendar as she worked on her list of activities (which, I should add, included our read-alongs). 🙂

As we worked, an idea occurred to me to address the issue of temporal understanding: what if I measured to scale each day based on the number of hours she is awake? I measured the height of a day-square and then divided that by 12, as my daughter is usually awake for 12 hours each day. Then I made a little time ruler for her, with each line representing one hour:

When I explained it to my daughter, it was a huge light-bulb moment; she was so excited to have a way to make her concept of time more tangible.

We filled in some scheduled events we already had planned, and then I let her go with the rest!

As with most authentic pursuits in student agency, its scope ended up far beyond the original project, including mathematics, writing, speaking/listening skills, and self-management. My fears turned out to be either unfounded or minimal; there were no fights about watching movies all day long, we actually got to build temporal awareness, and there wasn’t any fussing when things didn’t work out.

Moreover, whenever holiday boredom hit, I was able to ask my daughter what she had planned for herself that day, which was always a positive exchange.

Once again, I’m so grateful for my amazing PLN for pushing my thinking and helping me stay accountable! Thanks, Olwen!

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Read Alongs Here to Save Sanity During Christmas Break #TeacherMom

Raise your hand if your kids ask to watch movies all day every day during holidays? Raise your hand if it has your sanity hanging by a thread within a few minutes?

via GIPHY

Enter read alongs! We already had a couple of these from CD’s included in picture books, but I decided to explore the audiobook section of our library as well to see whether my kids might enjoy them.

Parent win! Besides the blessed decrease in movie-begging, I have observed some unlooked-for benefits:

  • Opportunities to cooperate as they share the books while they listen
  • Opportunities for my older child to encourage print awareness with her brother
  • Discussions on expressions and vocabulary with my daughter as she repeatedly listens to Kate DiCamillo’s humorous “Bink & Gollie Two For One” (ie, “there are no winners here,” or “without question”)
  • Increase in our reading time as we can listen to stories while we eat meals
  • Impromptu dance parties (courtesy of the baby thoroughly enjoying the music that plays in the background of many of the books)

If any of these sound appealing, fire up some audiobooks today! In addition to checking out your local library, be sure to browse these free online options:

Storyline Online: High-quality read-alouds, often read by actors and actresses. I especially love that this one includes an app — makes it easier for me to play books over Bluetooth speakers so we don’t need to worry about huddling around a screen.

The Indianapolis Public Library Ready to Read CompilationThese books are well-laid out visually for you to browse and click, taking you to a Youtube video read aloud. There’s some overlap with the books available on Storyline, but there’s still a great selection of old favorites along with some great newer reads!

Just Books Read Aloud: This one has the largest selection of the three at over 700 choices, though you will notice that the quality of the read alouds tends to be lower. But if a child finds a treasured book, I doubt he/she will mind!

What audiobooks or sources have you found and enjoyed?

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What Happens When We “Let Kids In On the Secret” of Development #TeacherMom

It started with a conversation over birding. Having been raised to share love of bird-watching with her dad, my daughter was casually checking out a few species when she mentioned she wished she had her binoculars with her. That’s when I told her, “Did you know that some people can identify birds with other senses besides sight? If you were blind, what would you use to learn about birds instead?” This led to watching the video entitled, “Blind Birdwatcher Sees With Sound,” followed by all the other videos I recently included in an inquiry into the senses.

All this led to a fascinating conversation about the senses, absolutely packed with “aha moments” for my daughter. The baby video in the above-mentioned post particularly made us think together — we ended up talking about how important sensory experiences are for kids. That’s when she made the connection to why we call our bin filled with dry grain a “sensory box,” as well as other items in our home that she suddenly realized were deliberate choices based on her parents’ understanding of child development.

All at once, and to her delight, she was “in on the secret” on her own development as well as that of her brothers. She started to not only recognize but make suggestions to her environment when it comes to providing sensory experiences (particularly keen to share her pearls of wisdom on bettering her little brothers’ experiences). And quite apart from the learning element from it all, it has simply been a wonderful relationship-builder as well.

What does “letting kids in on the secret” look like at school? 

This phrase is regularly shared by inquiry educator Kath Murdoch. She writes,

“inquiry teachers have a transparent style. It’s not just about putting learning intentions up on the wall – they constantly ensure their kids know why they are doing what they are doing.”

In another post, she adds,

“We know that for many students, school is like a jigsaw puzzle…only no one has given them the picture on the lid of the box. We know now of course that when we hold on tightly to those secret intentions, when we fail to tell kids why they are learning what they are learning…when we take purpose away from the equation – we reduce motivation, engagement and understanding.”

Letting kids in on the secret might mean…

…letting a committee of kids design the next seating chart (after discussing the how and why behind it)

…regularly discussing learning standards/objectives and what they mean and how we get there (and how kids might help in the planning to get there!)

…having meaningful conversations about metacognition, and what specific strategies we seek to better understand our own thinking patterns and self-regulation

…teaching kids to recognize their own time-use and purposes, and then gradually providing them with opportunities to exercise agency in how they spend their time (such as in this Daily 5 example).

…frequently talking about the why behind everything we do!

What about you? What are some ways you have “let students in on the secret?” What has been the impact when you see students with a greater understanding of the big picture of school?

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How Did We Come to Playground Rubber Wood Chips? #TeacherMom

This was my inquiry on Google. Which then changed to “history of playground surfacing.” I earnestly wanted to know how we went from the sand and grass of my childhood to rubber mats and engineered wood fiber. Was it really, as comments on the currently popular image below would have us conclude, that today’s schoolchildren and their parents are over-protective “snowflakes?”

Turns out, there’s quite a bit more to the issue than nostalgia for the good ol’ days of tough kids and tough love.

An element that especially caught my attention was accessibility. In 2000, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed as a civil rights law to prevent disability discrimination. Sand and gravel do not allow wheelchair-bound children to access playground equipment. Suddenly, I find the nostalgia fading for times when public funds only served able-bodied kids.

The much more slippery slope here, of course, is safety. I know I look back at my playground-sand “rug burns” with some strange fondness, and I’m certainly the last to suggest that preventing all cuts, bumps, or bruises is of a higher priority than play and exploration (I tend to congratulate my kids on “battle scars” when they get hurt while playing).

But I see nothing wrong with taking measures to mitigate serious injuries, especially when they are brain-related. Consider these figures from the CDC:

  • 200,000 children under age 14 visit hospital emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries
  • 20,000 of these children are treated for traumatic brain injuries each year
  • The rate of hospital visits for traumatic brain injuries has recently increased significantly

While there are those that scoff at the fact that grass isn’t considered a safe playground surface, it’s important to remember that its “ability to absorb shock can be affected greatly by weather conditions and wear (via American Association of Orthopedics)–in other words, it becomes worn, compacted, and ultimately dangerous if you’re going to swing upside-down by your legs above it.

And again, it’s important to note that when we’re talking about brain injuries in children, it’s a serious conversation. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, “The assumption used to be a child with a brain injury would recover better than an adult because there was more “plasticity” in a younger brain.  More recent research has shown that this is not the case. A brain injury actually has a more devastating impact on a child than an injury of the same severity has on a mature adult.”

Of course, all precautions can be taken to an extreme — when we put kids at greater risk for childhood obesity than brain injury because we’ve so associated so much fear with rigorous play, for example, we still put them in harm’s way.

But when we wonder why things have changed since our own childhoods, we should remain curious, careful not to let our reminiscence stray into assumption and generalization.

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Noticing What Kids Can Do #TeacherMom

As I scanned the library cart of shiny new books, I noticed it: a brand new copy of “Leo the Late Bloomer” by Robert Kraus. With a wave of childhood nostalgia, I quickly added it to our bag, relishing the idea of sharing it with my kids for the first time.

My daughter picked it out for us to read over breakfast. But when I finished, that warm sentimental feeling I expected was no where to be found.

For those for whom it’s been a while since reading about Leo, here’s the gist of the story. Leo can’t read, write, draw, or eat neatly. His dad worries there’s something wrong with him and watches him closely for a while until mom convinces him to be patient. Then, when dad stops watching and some time passes, Leo blooms — suddenly reading, writing, drawing, and eating neatly. And that’s when Leo finally smiles, too (he’d had a morose frown throughout the rest of the story).

My daughter and I talked it over for a bit.

“…It’s like the author is saying that Leo couldn’t be happy until he could do everything the other kids could do.”

“…It seems like you go from not doing anything to suddenly being able to do everything.”

“…It makes it sound like the only  important things are reading, writing, drawing, and eating neatly.”

Then we started talking about other things kids can do that are really important, too. After throwing out a few ideas, we decided to write it down in a list. Here’s what we came up with:

I like her list. To me, these aren’t “consolation prizes” for not being able to read, write, draw, or eat neatly yet. It’s just a wider lens for recognizing what it means to grow up and finding ways to be proud of that growth.

I have a few more conclusions of my own to add:

  • It’s not that parents should just stop hovering in order to give kids space to grow; it’s that they should help create a joyous environment for learning and growth and then let kids take it from there.
  • It’s not where you are on a trajectory of growth; it’s that you’re on a trajectory of growth — and there are milestones worth celebrating all along that trajectory.
  • See this timely picture quote from George Couros’ latest blog post that sums up my last conclusion:
via George Couros

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Favorite Picture Books We Read in 2017 #TeacherMom

I once read that parents tend to show their kids only the books they personally cherished as children. And with the deep emotional connection we make with our books, it makes perfect sense. But, boy! are we missing out when we so limit ourselves (and our kids)!

I’m frankly astonished at the fact that new authors and illustrators manage to keep filling the world with simply wonderful books, year after year after year.

2017 was no exception. Here are my favorites so far!

#1: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

#2: Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares

#3: Triangle: by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

#4: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

#5: The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin

#6: The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

#7: A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Applelhans

#8: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

 

#9: XO, OX A Love Story by Adam Rex and Scott Campbell

#10: The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Putting 2 books on my list from the same author/illustrator duo in no way has anything to do with the fact that we attended their AuthorLink at our local library and got our copy signed and geeked out in general…ahem.

Bonus: Leave Me Alone! (ok this was published in 2016, but it got a Caldecott Honor in 2017, and is definitely worth mentioning again).

What have been your favorites? Please share!!

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The Magic of an AuthorLink #TeacherMom

A few weeks ago, our local library hosted Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen as they shared their newest book, “The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse.”

It was a 3-generational fan-girl geek-out.

Hearing authors read their own stories is always a treat…

…but having an illustrator demonstrating their process, too? For my young aspiring author/illustrator, it was nothing short of magical.

As we waited in line to get our copy signed, my daughter grew a little nervous. But as soon as we got up to the front of the line, she told Mac and Jon all about her large box of books she has created, and they told her to never get rid of any of them, no matter what anyone ever says (and that they still get ideas from stories they made as kids).

 

What I love most about AuthorLinks is it gives kids the chance to see authors and illustrators as real people. Suddenly, the idea of making a book isn’t some abstract fantasy, but one with concrete choices and steps and possibility. For this gift for my daughter, and for the gift for my future students with whom you can bet I’ll be sharing these photos and videos, I’m grateful! Thanks so much Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and authors everywhere who take the time to connect with kids.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto