Ever-Evolving Book Environment #TeacherMom

Our books have seen a lot of different kinds of arrangements. And most of what I’ve shared here has been of the pretty kind:

Bedside reading:

Display for our books from the library:

Spring cleaning sorting by author, size, and collection:

Variety is key, and it’s not always super pretty. It’s all about access. Which means it should be ever-evolving, based on our observations of our kids’ shifting needs. And access wins over pretty every time.

This might look like…

…pulling out books from our tightly-packed shelf onto the display area with the library books to remind our kids of gems they’ve forgotten.

…giving them their own shelf to organize favorite books (and to keep them safe from book-shredding little brothers for now).

…letting them go to town arranging their own personal “library.”

What are ways you help encourage book access with your kids at home? How does that shift over time?

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She Just Asked Google To Remind Her to “Read All the Books On the Bottom Shelf” #TeacherMom

A few days ago, I overheard my 8 year-old adding her day plans to our shared daily to-do list (more on that here). Using the speech-to-text feature, amid other typical tasks, I suddenly heard her say, “Read all the books on the bottom shelf.”

Teacher mom that I am, of course I was delighted. 

But then I turned to reflect once more on our journey of her literacy:

The pressures I felt to ensure she memorized the ABC’s before kindergarten.

The way I felt like a failure as a teacher when she would not cooperate with my beautifully laid-out magnetic letter play.

The constant tension I felt between whether I should let her choose her own books or drill her on-level basal reader or sight-word flashcards to push her to the next reading level.

The nagging worry that I was denying her opportunities by turning down programs with the label, “proven to be successful in improving the reading skills of every student who participates.”

The way I wondered if I was wrong to yield to her book-making efforts over any worksheets that came home.

Yet amid all the angst, here we are to nearly the start of 3rd grade, and not only is she a fantastic reader and writer, but she’s adding items to her to-do list like “read all the books on the bottom shelf.”

It makes me wonder. Had I pushed all those academics and level advancement on her from my place of stress and worry, would she be making such choices for her summer? My suspicion is that had I pushed my agenda on my strong-willed child, she would want little to do with books today–especially on her “time off.”

It seems that those of us raising kids today are given every reason to believe that to trust our kids’ autonomy over their learning is tantamount to negligence. We are constantly bombarded with ads that offer promises of confidence in our children’s future success. We are so stressed by questions on whether we’re doing enough for our kids, that there is little room left for noticing the learning that quietly and naturally unfolds each day.

This is where I’ll share and re-share this quote from Brene Brown (see it also on Preschool, Kinder-Prep, & 3 Things Kids Need Most):

There is an abundance of learning and growing happening within our kids each day. Recognizing, embracing, and celebrating that from a place of love will always outperform operating from a place of not-enough stress and fear. Not because it will guarantee some future Harvard acceptance or a job on Wall Street, but because it will cultivate a lifetime of joyful learning.

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On Taking Their Learning Autonomy Seriously #TeacherMom

I watched him eagerly build. Forget that parking garage we’d given him; his backdrop for his car pretend play needed to be a magnificent double castle. It was clear that for him, his make-believe was thoroughly real and satisfying and rich.

And I wondered how often I have not recognized such pretend play for what it really is: self-constructed learning experiences.

Now, as I watch my kids play and explore and learn, I am filled with questions.

Do we recognize their fantastical play of equal or greater value than “real world” play?

Children use fantasy not to get out of, but to get into, the real world. ~John Holt

Do we see a child at play or a person constructing meaning for themselves?

Do we believe that play has its place, but that that place is still below drilling shapes, colors, and counting if the child has reached a certain age?

“Children naturally resist being taught because it undermines their independence and their confidence in their own abilities to figure things out and to ask for help, themselves, when they need it.” ~Peter Gray

Do we allow panic of “readiness lists” (for any grade or age) to override our child’s autonomy over what they’ve indicated they are ready for? 

And most personally relevant: will I avoid the same mistake I made with my oldest (from which her own stubbornness saved us both), assuming that unless I assert my agenda and timetables and learning, my preschooler will fail?

Even as I work to provide a learning environment, I will try to remember an equally, if not more, important role: to trust them enough that I take their own learning autonomy seriously.

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No Secret Parent Business Either #TeacherMom

Ok, before you think my title means I’m advocating that we expose the Tooth Fairy & abolish bedtimes, let me clarify the phrase “no secret teacher business.” It’s a phrase I hear frequently from teachers like Taryn Bond-Clegg and Edna Sackson, mostly with regards to how we plan our precious time together. It’s about cultivating mutual trust and student ownership to show them they are capable of planning productive days.

So what are the applications here on the parent side of things?

Well, just a few weeks into summer break, I’ve found myself with frayed nerves under the constant onslaught of questions:

  • What’s next…?
  • What time…?
  • How long…?
  • How soon…?
  • When can we…?

Fortunately, right before I lost my mind altogether, I realized that I already make a daily list of tasks and scheduled to-dos in advance in Google Keep.

Better still, I realized there’s a fantastic feature in which one can invite collaborators. I immediately knew I needed to share with my daughter; though I confess that initially it was less about shared ownership and more about preserving my sanity (though it turns out the latter is a happy byproduct!)

Here’s what I noticed when I started sharing “the plan:”

  • An immediate drop in the above-listed questions (phew!)
  • An immediate increase in thoughtful discussions about how we spend our time.
  • Greater independence since it turned out she preferred consulting the Google Keep list to find out what’s next, too.
  • The beginning of actual collaboration — she started helping me with some of my tasks, crossing off items she knew were complete, and even adding some of her own to-do’s!

Inviting kids in on the plan is truly a win-win. When they realize that we trust them to be in the know, they will show us they are capable of truly contributing to the way we plan our time. Together.

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My Love/Hate Relationship With Perfection #TeacherMom

I’ve written before on how important imperfection is. Even shared an inquiry on perfectionism to help students investigate how to beat it. And this is one of my favorite Brene Brown quotes: “[Perfectionism is] a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

Despite all that, two events over the last 24 hours had me stop in my tracks in recognizing just how hard perfectionism is for me to quit.

#1: During lunch with my 3 little ones, my 8 year old asked if she could feed some of her pasta to her 1 year old brother. Before I could tack on my “be careful,” she added, “I’ll make sure I don’t make a mess!” Then I watched as she painstakingly fed him, fork in one hand, paper towel in the other; she also kept cooing things at him as she fed him like, “We don’t want to make messes, right?”

#2: Coming across Seth Godin’s post, “What do you aspire to be?” He writes,

“The problem with perfect is that when you fail, you have none of the other more flexible human traits to fall back on.” (emphasis added)

The two combined to shake my shoulders a bit with regards to how much I still cling to perfectionism. Turns out what I love about perfection (lack of mess) creates its own kind of mess anyway. Mess is where the learning happens for us all; denying that through thinking that “perfect=ideal” is destructive because it ultimately denies us the very experiences that make us more capable of connection, self-awareness, and empathy.

I think today, we’re going to make some messes at our house. Who knows, maybe we’ll cultivate some of those “flexible human traits” along the way.

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Mindful of the Messages We Send About Their Book Choices #TeacherMom

My 8 year-old has recently discovered how much she adores graphic novels. I don’t know why it took me so long to help introduce her to the genre; after all, I already knew how much she loves comics, and I could sense that while she’s a strong reader, she just isn’t yet ready for text-heavy pages. So the floodgates have opened:

Jennifer Holm

Ben Hatke

Ben Clanton

Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Raina Telgemeier

Dana Simpson

Geronimo Stilton

Even as we have enjoyed discussing each of these books (and laughing at how quickly she devours them), I can’t help but wonder: what if I held the common belief that comics “don’t count” as reading? What impact would that have on her growth as a reader? What impact would that have on our relationship?

Yet, when I consider my 4 year-old’s reading choices lately, I realize my response has been much less supportive. The reason? They all consist of massive encyclopedia-like texts that are just not fun for me to read to him. Books like:

Clearly, both my readers need equal support and enthusiasm from me in order to feel that their growing reading identities are valued and valid. I realize it’s time for me to spend as much time browsing the library shelves and placing holds for my son’s reading preferences as I do for my daughter’s, not to mention to embrace his bedtime story choices!

Only when we work to catch our sometimes subconscious responses can we find ways to do better to nurture our diverse readers.

What messages, good, bad, & ugly, have you sent to your kids over the years? How has that adapted? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

6 Gorgeous Picture Books Capturing Magical, Independent Childhoods #TeacherMom

One of my all-time favorite childhood books is Gyo Fujikawa’s “Oh, What A Busy Day!” What I found most magical about it as a child was observing all the ideas those kids pursued — without a single supervising adult.

As recently shared on the LetGrow site,

“Once upon a time, kids were part of the world. They were allowed to go places, do things, meet people. They were active.

For “active” now substitute “activities.” Kids participate in activities created for them, not by them. We take them, show them, teach them, protect them in a way that most of us — given the choice — would have rejected in favor of adventure.”

To me, this comes down to a major break-down of trust and community. Driven by our fears of all that might happen if we don’t do what is described above, we teach our kids that no one — not even our kids themselves — are worthy of trust.

That’s why I adore the following picture books. May they inspire you and your children to cultivate greater trust & recapture the magic of childhoods filled with healthy independence & adventure.

#1: Oh, What A Busy Day! by Gyo Fujikawa

Published in 1976, this picture book was ahead of its time with regards to diversity. It takes children through the possibilities of every facet of childhood, from make-believe, to fighting with friends, to enjoying the different seasons. I literally spent years trying to recall the author or title before I finally stumbled across our original beloved copy at my parents’ house — I immediately bought a reprint. Her own words describing how she felt about her audience sum up her beautiful work:

“In illustrating for children, what I relish most is trying to satisfy the constant question in the back of my mind–will this picture capture a child’s imagination? What can I do to enhance it further? Does it help to tell a story? I am far from being successful (whatever that means), but I am ever so grateful to small readers who find ‘something’ in any book of mine.”

#2: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes

This lovely read came from Colby Sharp’s recommendation. I loved it so much that I bought it for my daughter’s birthday book as it reminded me of her sense of adventure & creativity. Kids are shown the many dreamy ways they can enjoy treehouse goodness — even if they are still waiting on a tree.

#3: Windows by Julia Denos & E.B. Goodale

Go for an evening walk with a young boy as he learns about his neighborhood through his own quiet observations. I love the way this captures how much kids can notice about their communities when given the chance.

#4: Bertolt  by Jacques Goldstyn

A book that will speak to the introvert’s soul. A child loves spending time with his tree, Bertolt, more than anything else in the world. His quiet observations and problem-solving will win over the hearts of all that love to get some alone-time.

#5: Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran & Barbara Cooney

My friend Faige Meller first introduced me to Roxaboxen, and it has been a family favorite ever since! The Goodreads reviews are packed with nostalgia, but I think it’s important to note that kids haven’t stopped being capable of creating such a retreat. We as adults need to just get out of their way more often to let them make it happen. “Roxaboxen is always waiting. Roxaboxen is always there.”

#6: Raft by Jim LaMarche

A story filled with appreciation and self-discovery. Kids will love following Nicky through the woods as he comes to love a summer of solitude at his grandmother’s house.

What about you? What are your favorite reads that promote the independent and magical childhoods we are all nostalgic for (and that we can again support)!

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