Saturday, May 31, 2014

Celebrating Literacy

In my house, we celebrate literacy every single day! Whether it's an early morning book read before rolling out of bed, or updating our menu board with our current meal's beginning letters, we celebrate the joy that comes from reading and writing.

As an elementary and adult educator, I am constantly engaged in reading and writing, so it's only natural that my young son would grow up in a very literate-rich environment. We have books and writing materials strewn throughout our home! There are numerous book baskets tucked away in little corners where my son can curl up and peruse them:

In our home office, which my son calls our "Library", there are three bookshelves holding a slew of books, ranging from the Classics, to poetry books, to Little Golden Books:

My son even has a reading corner in his room that provides him with a cozy little nook when he just wants to be alone with a book:

The Ultimate TMNT Room
To keep reading fun and exciting, I have two listening stations set up, one in my son's room and one in mine. Books on CD provide modeling of what good reading sounds like, as well as sound effects and music, all of which will help develop his own reading fluency:

My son can choose from book sets, such as the classic Peter Rabbit Library, or more interactive books, such as his Photicular Safari and Egyptology books (the photos are amazing!!!):

I often go wandering through the house in search of my son, only to find him immersed in a book, or two, or an entire basket :-):

As a matter of fact, as I sit at my computer writing this blog post, he is on the floor in our library reading a book:

And, these are just our reading prospects! I also provide my son with a variety of writing materials and opportunities; but today, we are just celebrating reading :-)

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

One of my son's and my favorite books is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

I chose to read it to him for my first Book-A-Day book. We love the whimsical and yet profound allegory of a librarian's memoir. The reciprocal relationship between the reader and a book comes through as Mr. Morris Lessmore, who once cared for his books, finds himself in their care. At one point, when the imminent goodbye is afoot, I choke up. 

My young son always places his little hand over mine and encourages me to finish. Upon finishing the story, he likes to revisit each page, at his own leisure.

There are so many layers to this picture book that each page feels like its own little story. If you haven't yet read it, please do! I would love to hear your thoughts about "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" :-)

Emergent Writing: What I didn't understand about writing development in the early years

Aside from the people I hold dear, my one passion in life is writing! I don't know if my love of writing was born from my love of reading, but books and poems have always moved me in a way that I hope to move others. Finding the perfect marriage of words, enough to convey meaning but not too many that they dilute emotion, has been a constant companion in my life, from childhood, to graduate school, to my career. 

So, when I became a teacher, I naturally wanted to share this love of writing with my students. My preferred grade levels have always been 5th and 6th grades because at this age they are able to engage in meaningful writing: stories, poetry, essays. When I took an extended break from teaching to be home with my young son, I thought I had given up my ability to work through the writing process with someone. I resigned myself to no longer being a writing teacher. 

Having very little experience with younger students, I didn't really understand or appreciate the writing processes in which they engage. I hadn't thought of letter recognition and formation as true writing. 

Now that I am raising my own child, I see firsthand how he engages in and manipulates the writing process! It has been such an eye-opening, humbling experience that I wanted to learn more about Early Childhood writing. Thus began my quest for research in ECE writing, or Emergent Writing. 

What I have gleaned so far is that emergent writing comes in many forms. Young writers engage in early writing exercises through scribbles and pictures. Through this exploration of the written word, young children begin to understand that "writing conveys meaning" (Mayer, 2007, p. 34). When I stop to think about it, hieroglyphs were some of the earliest forms of writing, so why wouldn't young children's scribbles and pictures be the same?

I have always known writing begins well before we put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. Intuitively, I have always understood that emergent writing comes in the form of, what the layman deems, incomprehensible marks and scribbles. What I didn't realize, though, was how meaningful writing development is in these early years! I am now beginning to understand the importance of providing consistent, authentic opportunities for my son to develop his love of writing!

I am eager to continue learning about the emergent writing process right alongside my son!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Heat Waves, Reveries, and Bologna Sandwiches

We are in the middle of, yet another, heat wave here on the Central Coast, and I absolutely LOVE it! Yesterday, I took my son and our dogs to the beach. I take them to a secret spot because 1) my son doesn't like the big waves, and 2) our beach is a dog un-friendly beach and dogs are not allowed to run around off-leash. Where we moved from, there were a multitude of beaches to choose from, all of which allowed my dogs to romp through the waves without restraint:

Now, we have a little secret spot where my aging dogs can still swim freely:

Fast-forward to today - it's so excruciatingly hot, I didn't feel like cooking anything for lunch; so, we settled for leftover cold pizza and homemade lemonade:

Of course, my son is perfectly happy with this choice:

As I sit outside with my little guy, I find myself lost in reverie, remembering lunch with my own Mom. If memory serves me correctly, this was my favorite meal of the day. The reason escapes me, but I do remember savoring these moments at home with my mother. Perhaps these memories are from my early childhood, before having to leave the safety of my home to go school. I cannot work out the details, though, because most of my childhood memories are jumbled. I don't have much chronological recognition, but memories related to taste and smell often come crashing back to me at the most unexpected of times! Today is one of them.

One lunch I particularly remember is a bologna sandwich on Weber white bread, ice-cold homemade lemonade (Aha! Here is the connection :-), and Frito's corn chips. A similar lunch today with my son would be a nitrate/nitrite-free Black Forest Ham sandwich on Gluten-free Whole Grain bread, ice-cold homemade lemonade, and Gluten-free Pita chips (I don't feed my son gluten-free food because he is gluten-intolerant, I just think it is a healthier choice).

Funny how life seemed so much simpler back then! Perhaps I will go out and buy a loaf of Weber white bread and good old-fashioned salty bologna today!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why I Celebrate Being a Mommy the Saturday Before Mother's Day

After laying my son down to sleep, I sit here reminiscing with a glass of wine, reflecting on why this day, the day before Mother's Day, is when I celebrate being a Mom.

I used to dread Mother's Day weekend! After years of trying, multiple miscarriages, and a failed marriage, the thought of having to start over at thirty-six (and-a-half) all but sealed my fate! Not only would I never become a mother, but I would have to endure Mother's Day weekend for the rest of my childless life!

Extreme, I know; but this was the mindset in which I found myself. I just could not make peace with the idea of never carrying a child, giving birth, bandaging a hurt knee, or soothing bruised feelings. How would I live a full and rich life, when there was a cavernous hole where a child should have been?

Mother's Day used to be like taking a stroll through a minefield; no matter how carefully I stepped or maneuvered, I was repeatedly hit by images of Mommy-bliss: moms lulling their babies to sleep, pushing giggling toddlers on swings, playing catch with enthusiastic T-ballers.

I hadn't always focused on the child missing from my life! A mere five years previous, I didn't even want children. My life was perfect just the way it was; I had a good-paying job, the freedom to come-and-go as I pleased, friends and family who enriched my life. But, hiding just out of my periphery was that mythical clock, silently ticking the years away; until, one day, the alarm bell went off! All of a sudden, and I can't really pinpoint the moment, the day, or even the year that it happened, I desperately wanted a child!

Once this alarm bell went off, it was as if my vision had cleared...narrowed...honed in on every mother and child that previously went unnoticed. Consider when you are in the market for a new car, and you have your heart set on one specific model or color; all of a sudden, you notice that make or color at every intersection (not that having a child is like car shopping, because it isn't).

After months and years of heart-ache, longing, and self-pity, after hearing friend after friend share their pregnancy news, trying to rejoice in their happiness but wallowing in my own grief, I had my own news! It came to me in the form of a tiny pink line one Saturday morning. It was the Saturday before Mother's Day five years ago that changed the course of my life. What had once been accepted as fate suddenly shifted to manifestation, because I was having the child I had longed for, dreamed of, and held in my sleep.

Five years ago this morning, I received the miracle I had been waiting years for...that one solid pink line! And, that is why I celebrate being a Mommy the Saturday before Mother's Day!

What do you Celebrate?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How Curious George Helps Me Be a Better Mommy

Curious George: the fun-loving, mischievous little monkey we all know and hope our children do not emulate! How long has this little guy been around?!? As it turns out, since 1941!

I remember reading his books when I was a child, so it brought me much joy when my young son took a liking to Curious George. I've been reading Curious George to him since he was an infant, maybe even earlier than that! As he has grown, his love for George has grown, too. He was so into this little monkey that, for my son's 2nd Birthday, I threw him a Curious George themed party (I'm a sucker for themed-parties :-).

Even now, two years later, we still love reading about George's silly adventures! Most recently, we have been reading the anthology books I found. So far, I've collected three anthologies, each with eight stories:

Some are the original stories written by Margret Ray, but most are recent compositions written in the author's style by a variety of writers. They all begin the same way, though: "This is George. George was a good little monkey, and always very curious". Every time we open to one of the stories, my son likes to read these dependably predictable opening lines.

As we snuggled in bed to read one this morning, I had an epiphany! I was reading "Curious George Visits the Library" (one of my son's favorites, so we have probably read it at least two dozen times) when I realized the true meaning behind these stories: children are inherently good and, though they do things that appear to be bad, these mishaps are really just a result of their desire to learn about the world in which they live.

Simple, I know! But, when George went careening down the library ramp on the book cart, and crashed into a muddled pile of library books, I thought to myself, "His love for literature and learning got him into this mess!" If my son had done something like this, my first instinct would have been to yell or cry out, "What have you done?" But, reading about this in a book gave me a new perspective: scolding George, or my son, could have a negative impact on their love for learning. I don't think the child would be able to discern that the problem is the resulting mess, but would rather associate the discipline with their curiosity. And, when we discipline a child for something, they will naturally and eventually repress that trait for fear of not wanting to get into trouble again.

Of course, I'm not advocating that children do not need structure and discipline because I most certainly believe they do. What I realized from reading Curious George this morning, though, is to tread lightly; look at the situation from your child's perspective to get a better understanding of why they did what they did.

I've been reading Curious George for most of my life, and it took being a Mom to really appreciate what this little monkey teaches us: there's a fine line between mischief and curiosity. I want to teach my son right from wrong, but not at the expense of nurturing this curiosity! Thanks George :-)

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