The Third Teacher At Home #TeacherMom

I’ve often mentioned the importance of creating a rich environment to help invite learning (rather than relying on more contrived programs and flashcards that put learning on the adult’s timetable all the time). But like everything else, this has been a bit of a journey for me.

Weird fact about me: I have subscribed to the magazine Better Homes & Gardens since I was 13 years old. (A major influence on my continued loyalty was when they replaced a copy that my very helpful then-2-year-old had “put in the bathroom.” ie, watery toilet grave. I still hope that email with my pitiful story and request for a new copy is pinned to some break-room somewhere).

So while I’m nothing even close to an expert on interior design, by the time kids came along, I had some difficulty consolidating my notions of home decorating with kid-friendly-play.

So for today, I thought I’d share today a little of what that learning environment currently looks like in our home. Some of the learning environment elements include…

Sensory Play

At first, I restricted access to all sensory play (like the box of beans below and play dough) so that they would need to ask each time they wanted to play, because who wants to spend days constantly cleaning this up?? But then I learned how wearisome this can be for all parties involved, which ultimately inhibits play.

I ended up replacing the box with one on wheels, storing it under a daybed where the kids can slide it out to play as desired; play dough storage became similarly accessible. As for picking up stray beans, it turns out the dog really likes them, so that helps with the mess factor. But most importantly, sensory play has become a more readily-available choice in our home.

…Book access

I mingle the toys with the books, and try to provide a cozy spot nearby (like the sheepskin rug pictured below) so that reading is always a convenient option. I’m also always shifting the way our books are organized and displayed (more on that in last week’s post).

when I saw this print by a local artist, I knew it needed to be framed near our books.

Open-ended play

I try to provide “toys” that have open-ended possibilities. Our loose parts toys (photo below) are one of my favorite ways to watch my kids’ imaginations fly, but another factor has been simply arranging toys together. Safari LTD animals near a school bus near wooden trays.

…occasionally setting up invitations to play

Leaving shelves open so that we can find new ways to invite play on their level has been helpful here. This little “dining area” has been set up for a while so my kids have largely forgotten about it by now, but it’s often the first thing visiting kids notice when they come over to play.

Design for togetherness

This has been perhaps the most influential element of creating a rich learning environment at home. I used to think that I needed to keep toys and books corralled in a corner so that the grown-ups could enjoy grown-up space. Now I know that when I integrate play into the design, I can cultivate more comfortable spaces in which everyone feels they belong, which in turn invites more shared play.

For us, this looks like no separate play room, plenty of seating for everyone use the space, and shared bookcases arranged so everyone has what they need on their level. But of course, the possibilities are endless and should be based on your family’s needs.

What about you? What are ways you provide that “third teacher” at home?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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.

What Happens When Programs > Books

When classroom literacy instruction starts to become completely overtaken by that literacy programs, do actual books start to get in the way? After all, reading a book takes more time. Selecting passages from actual books to share with students takes time. Talking about our favorite books (and building the culture that makes us want to) takes time.

And time is what we lack most as teachers!

Plus, when that program has mapped out tasks and “personalized” progress for every day of the school year, it seems our literary expertise starts to take a back seat to that very expensive program.

So what starts happening when programs > books?

Books seem like luxurious “extras” (you can get to your book when you finish the worksheet or level).

Books seem less efficient than the programs (we all know books have value, but if they’re not carefully scaffolding the reading development with every word, are they as valuable during class time?) 

Read aloud time starts to disappear (after all, the programs seem to encompass all the literary needs, not to mention time).

Programs are deemed more adept at identifying skills (at least, the skills most easily recognizable/test-able).

Kids talk less about the books they’re reading and more about the levels they’re on (it makes sense since all that time on programs suggests we’re more interested in getting them to the next level than we are about their reading interests).

No matter how appealing and adept a program might seem, we must be careful to seek balance and to protect our students’ love of books. As authors by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen write, “To see themselves as readers, students must also have opportunities to make decisions about what they will read.” p. 98, Pose, Wobbble, Flow. Pernille Ripp also writes eloquently on programs like Accelerated Reader & selecting literacy programs. Also this:

If books have started to be relegated to a sideline role in our classrooms, it’s time to ask ourselves how we can bring them back into our reading instruction in meaningful ways.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Self-Selected Bedside Reading, Co-Written With My Kids #TeacherMom

As educators, we know the importance of student-selected text. We also know the importance of setting up a reader-friendly environment (ie, organized books, cozy reading nooks, time to read, etc). So I’m not sure why it took me so long to apply these principles to my kids own reading spaces. Oh, we had lots of organized, accessible books throughout the house, but I mean the most important self-selected reading environment: the bedside!

Over the last several months, we have since rectified the problem. It hasn’t taken much: a flashlight here, a ledge shelf there, but OH, have the results been extraordinary. It resulted in late-night giggles, stories shared with the baby across the room, and altogether, growth in my kids’ sense of identity as readers. Here are some of their comments about their bedside reading spaces.

7 year-old’s bedside interview:

What’s your favorite part about your bedside reading space?

“I love that I get to turn on my lamp when I want to start reading. I also love that I get to have some pictures that remind me of books and fiction.”

What are your favorite kinds of books to have next to your bed?

“Chapter books because they always have a surprise for you in each chapter. I also like comics because they are funny and give me good dreams. I also like mystery books because they have big surprises at the end.”

How is bedtime different now than it was before setting up your bedside reading space?

“There was no mystery or comics or chapter books to give me good dreams.”

3 year-old’s bedside interview:

What’s your favorite part about your bedside reading space?

“To read under my covers.”

What are your favorite kinds of books to have next to your bed?

“Star Wars.”

How is bedtime different now than it was before setting up your bedside reading space?

“Now I get to read with my lamp on.”

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

When Texts Become Our Mentors — Really

What happens when we earnestly look to the text for learning?

I mean, really look to the text.

Not some sterile passage from a basal.

Not the occasional book that seems to coincide with our unit.

Not even the mandated whole-class novel, though I have heard merits on both sides (some pros here, cons here).

I mean full-blown looking to texts as our mentors day in and day out.

Starting out units immersing ourselves in books on every level and topic we can find (our school librarian was a saint in consistently helping me prepare for the immersion stage of our units).

Getting to really get to know the author–his/her style, favorite strategies, even personality — and then talking about what ____ is doing to make us feel or think the way we do?

Setting out each day for authentic discovery within the pages of the mentor text — which, of course, means we don’t necessarily know what our students will find?

Engaging alongside students as we also seek out examples of what we’re trying to better understand as readers and writers?

I have been on both sides of this approach to mentor texts. And I’d like to share a few before/after effects I observed in my students:

Before: 

  • I rarely, if ever, heard students refer to themselves as authors
  • The writing strategies we were trying to learn about usually felt much more abstract with little context.
  • As we inevitably turned to worksheets, our approach felt more contrived.
  • Students looked to me for each day’s literary learning.

After:

  • Students saw authors as people — people who were once kids like them that had to learn and hone their craft in the exact same way we were — which led to them referring to themselves as authors, too.
  • We made it our daily mission to seek out clear context within books.
  • The strategies we were trying to learn about felt much more natural.
  • We all looked to the books for rich, co-constructed literary learning.

We become better equipped to find and share mentor texts when we read as much as we can as teachers. Whole language reading/writing workshops will also include plenty of examples of texts that coincide with each unit (One of the reasons I enjoyed Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series). But of course, there are also plenty of free online resources available, too! Here are a few:

Making the shift toward integrating mentor texts into our daily literacy learning has been pivotal for authenticity. After all, if we say it’s all about reading and writing books, shouldn’t books be our primary companions?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

3 Fabulous Rhyming Picture Books & Their Powerful Impact on Reading

A recent favorite read-along is the beloved classic, “Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. After just a couple listens, I would find my 3 year old chanting the phrases during make-believe play, marching up and down the halls.

This kind of small adoption into personal speaking and listening have a major impact on literacy development. From fluency to comprehension that words are made up of small sounds (known as phonemic awareness), rhyming and or lyrical books can be powerful for our youngest readers.

Here are three of our recent rhyming reads that have become instant hits with my kids:

A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Appelhans

This delightful tongue-twister immediately had me thinking of Dr. Seuss. I especially loved the gorgeous artwork as brown and grey swirls as fluidly as the wordplay. Incidentally, research shows that such tongue-twisters take the power of rhyming/lyrical reads up a notch when it comes to that above-mentioned phonemic awareness, so go ahead and check out “Fox & Socks” again with your preschoolers, too!

When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson

This one isn’t technically a rhyming book, but it is oh, so lyrical. Not to mention on the very topic that most young kids everywhere continually obsess about. “when’s my birthday? where’s my birthday? how many days until my birthday?’ launches a beautiful countdown to kids’ favorite celebration. My kids especially loved the birthday chart at the very end of the book.

Gone CampingA Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger and Matthew Cordell

This outdoors-loving girl adored this book the moment I had it in my hands. In delightfully varied forms of poetry, follow the story of Sam and Lucy’s camping trip. Individual chapters are particularly valuable as short reads to build fluency with your older students (see a discussion and specific strategies from Russ Walsh here). And of course, the handy reference at the back on rhyme, rhythm, literary devices, and poetic forms makes the perfect companion for any poetry unit.

What are some of your favorite rhyming and/or lyrical reads with your kids?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto