Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alone Time

We're very big on alone time here.  At least, I am.  And the children, either because they actually take after me, personality-wise, or because they simply parrot what they hear, claim to need their alone time, too. 

This is just fine with me.  To be honest, sometimes there is nothing better than hearing your 3-year-old reject your offers of reading her a book, playing a game with her, or doing art by saying "I need alone time now."

However, her friends don't feel the same way.  And one little girl, A, was quite upset when M said this to her recently.  (I told M she could soften the blow by adding, "But we can play together later.")  Luckily, A's mom is a preschool teacher and was not at all offended by M's words.  Better yet, she had a relevant book recommendation for me: Kevin Henkes's All Alone.

Henkes describes the joys of alone time perfectly: "When I'm alone, I hear more and see more...When I'm alone I look at myself inside and out." 

For those of you who think of Chrysanthemum, Lilly, and other mice with big personalities when you hear Henkes's name, this book will be a revelation.  With soft, delicate paintings (watercolors?), the illustrations are completely different from his bold style in those books.  The text differs dramatically too, both in tone and in its lack of plot.  Henkes certainly has more range than many children's book authors.  In addition to his mice books, he has books about nature (such as My Garden and Old Bear or A Good Day and perhaps Kitten's First Full Moon).  This one, however, is sui generis. 

My older daughter immediately noted the differences.  When I asked her which she thought came first, All Alone or the other Kevin Henkes books, particularly the ones about Chrysanthemum and Lilly, et al., she correctly guessed this one.  I wonder if this book was actually written first or merely published first.

This book is worth sitting down with, alone or with someone else who loves alone time.  I don't know any other picture books about alone time.  Do you?  And what is your favorite Kevin Henkes book?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Like Mother, Like Daughter, Like Granddaughter

Last weekend, I taught my daughter to play Scrabble.  Although she needed help, particularly with her spelling (she attempted "gud" and "tel"), I was surprised and pleased with how quickly she caught on to the crossword aspect of the game and the fact that all adjacent letters must form words.  For our first two games, we played without points, since I figured the strategy of placing words on high-scoring squares is a lesson for another day.

Below is a photo of our second game (I didn't think to take a picture of the first one!).  She did "fox," "keep," "tell," and "ho*l*d" all by herself!

Way more interesting for Mom than Candyland!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Toooo Hot

Sorry, but it's just too hot to post.  Too hot to think.  I spent last evening in an un-air-conditioned high school gym with perhaps 1000 people in it to hear my older daughter participate in her camp's song festival - it must have hit 120 degrees.

See you after the heat wave!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Game with a Twist

I love games but most of the fun, non-boring ones are still too hard for my kids.  That's why we were delighted to discover Toot and Otto, a twist on a childhood favorite, Connect Four.  Here, instead of creating rows or columns of red or black pieces, you have to spell your character's name.  A further twist comes because both names are spelled with the exact same letters - 2 Ts and 2 Os - Toot and Otto.  If you're not careful, you might spell your opponent's name!  While more of a strategy game, Toot and Otto also includes literacy elements.  My daughter received this game when she was 5 and it was a bit too hard for her.  After not having played it in several months, we picked it up today and it just clicked for her. 

What games do you recommend for beginning readers - which won't bore their parents to tears?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reading the Familiar

I'm not a teacher or a literacy specialist so my latest revelation is probably something that is taken for granted by those of you who are.  But to me, it was a real discovery.  My find - reading a familiar book enhances literacy skills. 

Before my child reached this early-reader stage, I would have thought that reading a book that she has heard read to her dozens, if not hundreds, of times would do nothing to improve her reading.  Many of us have had that moment where we think our toddler can read - after all, she's even turning the pages at the right moment! - until our bubble is burst when we realize that she has "merely" memorized the book. 

But for a child who has some reading skills, reading a familiar book has its place.  It helps the new reader make that connection between the sounds of words and their visual representation.  My daughter also reads with more expression and has a better grasp of the arc of each sentence and the story as a whole when she is already familiar with it.  When the book is new to her, she puzzles out each word individually and then sometimes gets to the end of a sentence confused, particularly if the sentence is complex.  That never happens when I read to her and it doesn't happen when she reads a book she already knows.

So, those of you who ARE experts (or, like me, play one in the blogosphere) - do I have it right or am I fooling myself?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Library Loot #8

What we currently have checked out from the library.

For the kids:

Not pictured: Something to Do by David Lucas, The Last Day of Kindergarten by Nancy Loewen, Miss Bindergarten Celebrates the Last Day of Kindergarten by Joseph Slate and Jellybeans by Sylvia Van Ommen,

For me:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Rewards

I like to think that reading is a reward in and of itself.  But when you become a parent, a lot of your beliefs (no child of mine will ever sleep in my bed!  no child of mine will eat pasta for dinner every night!) run smack into reality and reality often wins.

My daughter's school signed every child up for an online reading program called Raz-Kids to encourage children to read over the summer.  She was given a password and the program was customized to her reading level.  Each child's page has books which the child can read (and even record) or listen to, as well as take a quiz about the content upon completion.  The books are a mix of fiction and non-fiction and are not, in my opinion, either especially compelling or especially awful.

My daughter picked a book to read, not knowing anything else about the system.  When she finished, she took the quiz.  She was thrilled to discover that she got "points" for both reading (50) and taking the quiz (150 for getting every question right).  You can apparently "spend" the points on something, presumably something virtual, but the mere idea of points was enough for her to beg every night to read more.  But I think even without the points she would have been sufficiently motivated by the progress bar which shows her movement from her current level to the next level, the sheer novelty of recording the book and hearing it read back in her own voice, and the satisfaction of taking the quizzes. 

These type of rewards straddle the extrinsic/intrinsic divide, in my opinion.  The rewards are not tangible but they are visible.  She can see evidence of her progress and that is motivation enough for her.  At least for now!

What motivates your somewhat reluctant child to read?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Act It Out!

I'm sure you are familiar with children's book author Mo Willems of Knuffle Bunny and the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie fame.  I was too.  We love the Knuffle Bunny series but while we enjoyed Elephant and Piggie, we weren't in love with them.  Until now.

This past weekend, having taken four Elephant and Piggie books out of the library, we began reading them in a new way.  They are perfectly designed for acting out - they consist solely of dialogue and each character's lines are located in a different-colored bubble, making it easy to identify who is talking.  My daughter would pick up a book and, while it was still closed (so she couldn't see who had more words to read), pick which character she wanted to be.  When she drew a character with more lines, she groaned, but gamely read on. The next thing I knew, we had read all four books.  Success!  I have others in the series on hold at the library and, given Willems' prolificacy (hey, says it's a word, as are prolificness and prolificity), we should have more to look forward to soon. 

In the meantime, do you know of any other children's books that are primarily dialogue?  What does your child like to read aloud?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Together or Alone?

Annie of Annie and Aunt recently posted about the right book at the right time - introducing a book to your child when she is ready for it.  That post prompted me to wonder, as I commented there: Which books do you read to your child and which do you let her discover and read on her own?  There's something wonderful about reading a book yourself and feeling it is your private world and something equally wonderful, but different, about sharing a book with someone.  Is it selfish of me to intrude on that private pleasure because I want to participate in it, see my child's joy in it, take credit, even, for introducing a certain book?

Right now I read my daughter books that she is emotionally and cognitively ready for but cannot read on her own.  Soon, however, she will be able to read such books by herself.  And then, how do I choose which books we read aloud?

I remember my mother reading books to me that, if memory serves me correctly, I was capable of reading to myself - specifically, Little House on the Prairie and the All-of-a-Kind-Family books.  (Mom - feel free to let me know if that was not the case.)  But as a friend of mine pointed out to me, none of our mothers read Ramona to us when we were 5 or 6; rather, we read them to ourselves at 7 or 8.  Why are we reading these books to our kids at younger ages?  For me, at least, it is because I am so eager to share a beloved book with my daughter.  Is that a good enough reason?  Or am I depriving her of a different sort of reading pleasure?  Of course, there are enough books to go around, so maybe I am worrying needlessly, as I usually do!

Annie and Aunt solicited responses to my comment in their next post so please let us know what you think, either here or there!