Reading Reimagined

Teaching my kids to read has (so far) been one of the most rewarding – but hardest! – things I’ve done as a mom.

I’ve learned that reading is not automatic for every child. I wish I’d known that earlier, but that’s why I’m sharing this post. Some kids are reading confidently when they’re 5, just adding new vocab along the way. Some kids are working very hard at all of it until they’re 10. And everything in between.

Some children need very little guidance. They see the words and just take them in like a sponge. That was me when I learned to read. Other kids need really explicit instruction, especially in phonics. And phonics instruction is totally different from just reading aloud with your kids. It’s a whole methodology that you really do take step by step beginning with phonemic awareness when kids are young.

A can be ā or ä or short a (not sure how to make the breve mark on the computer)

S can be s or z

etc.

If a child needs a lot of explicit phonics instruction, it’s very different work from just sitting side by side and helping them through a book.

To help anyone on this journey, I wanted to share a few resources that I’ve used (or wish I had used!) to make things a little easier along the way. There are tons, literally tons, of articles online about the best ways to teach reading, textbooks on the subject, lots and lots of opinions (strong ones!), but in the end, it’s really about what works best for you and your child. It’s so great if you’ve never had to utilize any of these resources, if your child just picked up reading like riding a bike, but if you’re struggling, I hope some of these will be helpful.

**Note: I have not included the ever-popular BOB books which we used early on, but they’re great if your child gets into them.

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Confession: I got this book when my first-born was about 4, thinking that I would use it to teach him to read by age 5. When we started, I found the method confusing and I abandoned the book a few lessons in. What I realize now is that there were two things going on:

1) I didn’t realize that my son was going to be on the slower side of reading (I thought he should be picking it up faster if the book was working)
2) The reason the book was confusing to me is that I hadn’t needed much understanding of phonics when I learned to read, so it was like a foreign language and I just didn’t see how it could work

Now I wish that we’d kept at this book. And I’ll use it for my other kids.

Here is an article from the Atlantic that talks about this particular book. It was shared with my by a professional reading instructor.

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When it comes to more phonics instructions, I’ve really liked the books from Logic of English. I don’t incorporate their handwriting practice (although I think they have a really really interesting approach), but for learning the different phonograms, etc. from an early age, these are great resources (and they have little videos on YouTube that go along with this book if you aren’t sure yourself how to make the sounds!)

This program is pretty comprehensive, so you might want to check out their site and read more before diving in: logicofenglish.com

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Explode the Code! Reading really is a code and it’s fun to think of it that way when you’re teaching a child that’s having a harder time.

I didn’t do these with my first child, but I probably will with the others, especially if I see signs that someone may need a little more help.

You can read more about which program might be good for your child on their site: Explode the Code
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Readers that are engaging and in line with the child’s interests:

For my son this was Star Wars readers 🙂

I’ve really had to find ways to make reading fun to make it stick. Basically, I thought about what was most interesting to my child (e.g. Star Wars) and got readers based around that theme. That’s when reading really started to click. There are World of Reading sets of all different levels and all different themes. And many other titles as well – Penguin Young Readers, Ready to Read, Step into Reading, etc. They’re so many at the library, it’s only a matter of finding a theme or style that really engages the reader.

Recently I accidentally stumbled into a really good strategy for encouraging more independent reading. I began reading aloud a Nate the Great book, but couldn’t finish because I needed to cook dinner. My son was already hooked by the mystery, so he finished the book on his own right away. About 20 minutes of reading time that I didn’t have to enforce.

Reading/Writing/Spelling practice that correlates with the child’s interests:

Here’s another example that we’ve incorporated for writing and spelling that involves Minecraft. My son has loved going through these lessons. There are different levels based on your child’s age/grade.

Even if you’re not homeschooling some of these might be helpful to supplement in areas where your child is having a tough time.

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The following are some interesting reads for parents, about reading. It’s a fascinating subject and the way that the brain decodes the written word is really just amazing. It would have been great to read some of these before I started into homeschooling…

Note: I don’t necessarily espouse everything I read in books like this, but I find that reading widely on this subject just helps me better understand the landscape around the question: What is reading??
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Finally, other activities that have helped us with reading:

-Composing and reading letters from friends and family
-Composing and reading text messages from grandparents (maybe one of our favorite reading activities!)
-On-line games (oh screens, they’re sometimes very helpful!)

And, the very most important of all, reading aloud. I know it take a lot of time and energy (and often all I want to do is hide away in the bedroom and curl up with my own book). But these books forever changed the way I approached reading aloud with my kids. I can’t recommend them enough.

I hope this is helpful. Thanks for coming on this journey with us!

These links are affiliate links. If you wish to purchase from your local bookstore, please do so, or you can order online from Parnassus Books.

Learning into Light

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Hi friends,

Thank you for following along and for your encouragement. I wanted to update you that I’ve changed the name of the site and the corresponding account on Instagram, etc. So that’s why you’ll see Learning into Light now instead of Scuola a Casa.

Learning into Light just seemed to better illustrate the themes that are coming from this ongoing reflection of our family’s journey (and it’s a little easier to type and share!).

For me, so much of learning is about light. It helps me shine a light on my own biases and basic lack of knowledge about so much in the world. At the same time it shines a light on others’ experiences, other cultures, other worlds previously unknown to me.

Learning is a 🔦 that uncovers mysteries in the dark and also shows me when I’m way off the path. It’s a lot bigger than what happens in a one room schoolhouse! Learning is everywhere in everything.

I also believe that the more I learn, the more I love. And that helps me become more of the light I want to be in the world.

Thanks for coming along and being curious about learning that can lead us into….and turn us into…light. ✨

 

Favorite Books for Early Readers (that aren’t Dog Man)

List time again! I thought I’d post some of our favorites for early readers – kids who are just starting to read on their own, and want something more than picture books and easy readers, but aren’t ready for full-fledged juvenile fiction chapter books.

(And, nothing against Dog Man at all. We’ve read it. I just think it’s funny that every parent who asks me for recs for this group always adds ‘…but not Dog Man.’)

This is a tricky group of readers because kids can vary so greatly in age at this stage in the game…some kids are reading longer books comfortably by 5, others not until they’re 9. And that is OK. I am learning that it’s important to not get caught up in ‘level’ but to look more at what your kids will be comfortable reading (ability) and what they’ll enjoy reading (affinity).

Even these suggestions are all over the map in terms of what may fit your kid(s), so I highly recommend taking a look at them in the library first.

Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy, by Ben Hatke


For kids that really love a graphic novel series (ahem, Dog Man). I like this one because we love all things outer space and a strong heroine. Type is kind of small (and more like handwriting), just so you know.



The Bad Guys
, by Aaron Blabey


Fun fun fun. Another quality graphic novel series. Highly engaging and I’ve gotten great feedback on these when I’ve recommended them to friends.



Narwhal and Jelly
(series), by Ben Clanton

These are simple and sweet with great humor. There are four total in the series now and I love all of them! They make me laugh.



Princess in Black
, by Shannon and Dean Hale

We’ve checked ALL of these out at the library, and at first I kind of rolled my eyes at a blonde princess with a unicorn named “Frimplepants,” but now I totally get it. They’re fun for early readers, boys and girls alike, but my three year old daughter really enjoys them read aloud by her brother. And the boys get a kick out of the subtle humor (“Twinkle, twinkle, little — SMASH!”).



Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot
(series), by Dav Pilkey

Well, it’s not Dog Man, but this is the one series by Dav Pilkey on this list. I’m not even sure how many there are of the Mighty Robot series now (at least nine? we’ve only gone through #4). So here’s an option to keep those Dog Man lovers busy. These are ‘easier’ than Dog Man (and much shorter).

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Dory Fantasmagory (series), by Abby Hanlon


These are longer books but still manageable, and highly enjoyable! if your child is ready for them.



Zoey and Sassafras
, by Asia Citro


Here’s a neat series that I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago. An awesome heroine who is not white, tons of scientific elements, and really positive messages.



Dragon Masters
, by Tracey West

An enormous series (are there 14 of these? 15?) of short simple books about a dragon, a king, a wizard and an 8 year-old boy named Drake. From Scholastic’s Branches collection. We are really into dragons at our house right now!

There are so many more that I feel like could be on this list – I could just keep adding to it! There are also so many that I’ve heard a lot about and just haven’t read yet (Ivy and Bean, The Infamous Ratsos, Kung Pow Chicken, etc.). Seems like I’ll need to do a follow up to this as we keep reading more and more at our house (we’ve just started).

 



** Links are affiliate links. To buy local
(🙌🏼) you can purchase from Parnassus Books or your nearest bookstore. Thanks!**

Letters to Young (and old) Readers

I have finally picked up this book after wanting to for a long time. My friend, Julie, recommended it to me again this week, over coffee, and now it’s sitting in a place of prominence on my counter. It’s gorgeous. I’m going to savor it in little morsels. The first letter I read was David Whyte’s. He’s a favorite of mine because his book, The Heart Aroused, is what kept my love for poetry alive as an adult. I loved his letter.

A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader (edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick)

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You can add the book to your collection or buy it for a friend (I’ve done both!)

** I participate in the Amazon Affiliate Program. When you purchase through any affiliate links, I receive a small commission. Thank you for your support! **

Poetry for All

I’m a huge believer in poetry. Poetry for life, poetry for love, poetry to save the world, and so forth.

And I am definitely a believer that kids should have poetry, too.

Here are just a few of our anthologies from around the house. I really really love for beginner poets is Nesbitt’s One Minute till Bedtime. These poems could be read anytime, not just before bed, and are loved by all ages! Also a big fan of Firefly July, for the poems but also the gorgeous illustrations.

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Links to purchase these:

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Children’s Book

Thanks to Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN for having Christy King and me today to read our children’s book, Bartleby. The book is based on a bedtime story that Mark and I have told our kids, and I love sharing it. Also, proceeds from the book (as well as any of my creative projects) benefit our non-profit, Remember Me Mission, that Mark and I founded in 2011.

New Children’s Book…Coming Soon!

Finally had some free time in March to complete this special book, and I’m excited to announce that it will be available soon. Proceeds will benefit Remember Me Mission

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Bartleby is a special little barnacle you’re sure to love. He’s got a story about being content with who you are and where you land…

The amazing handmade collages were done by my friend (and my kids’ art teacher) Christy M. King. Check out her wonderful work and project ideas.

The book is in publication now and should be available Summer 2016.

 

Motherhood

Motherhood

If we are to dip our toe in the everlasting
it will be like the seagull who emerges
from the oil
to shake the slick from her feathers
and can’t.

It will be like her going back for more,
saying, “What were we thinking?” and knowing
we weren’t.

It will be like sinking.

Then someday we’ll rise from it,
as if from a chattering subway
into an empty station,
to hear God himself
whisper our name.

Poetry from Real Life

One poem about traffic. And one poem about stuff our kids say.

Traffic in Nashville

From now on there will only be one way
Into the heart of this buzzing city.

Did you hear? It is true.
All other roads have been dismantled,
Systematically—

A new initiative from the mayor’s office.

And now you must fuss and push this way
While the heat and exhaust beat down
And threaten to suffocate every breath of good will.

It would be better to be the one muddy wildebeest
Who might cross the river unmauled by alligators
Than to be needing something from the store at noon.

But still you press forward with the others,
Black, red, and turquoise, too polite to nudge bumpers.

Did you not hear? It is true. There is only one way now.
(And there will be many texts sent up from this very spot)

There is no other road in the city, save this one,
But you came here for a reason, with a dream, and
By God, you will get through to the other side.

Princess

You said I looked like a princess,
And it is such an honor
Coming from you,
You who does not yet know what a compliment
Or a jest is.

You said I looked like a princess
When I came out to make coffee
In my tired, baggy PJs.

You also said you wrote a song
That went like this:
“Pants up, pants down,
All around the town.”

And I think there’s real genius there.

Doctors, Please Don’t Forget Your Summer Reading

I finally got around to reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel The Signature of All Things this summer, and I couldn’t help thinking what I thought when I read Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and countless others. That is, “I hope doctors will read this.” I have not encountered many truer depictions of grief than what Alma Whittaker experiences when she learns of the death of Ambrose Pike:

There is grief below grief, she soon learned, just as there are strata below strata in the ocean floor—and even more strata below that, if one keeps digging…. There is a level of grief so deep that it stops resembling grief at all. The pain becomes so severe that the body can no longer feel it. The grief cauterizes itself, scars over, prevents inflated feelings. Such numbness is a kind of mercy.

What better required reading for physicians who daily attend to the victims of loss? I wish that the doctors who cared for my father at the end of his life had puzzled over Hanneke de Groot’s words on suffering:

“Well, child, you many do whatever you like with your suffering,” Hanneke said mildly. “It belongs to you. But I shall tell you what I do with mine. I grasp it by the small hairs, I cast it to the ground, and I grind it under the heel of my boot. I suggest you do the same.”

Hers is an exact description of how my father handled pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed just two weeks after the birth of his first grandchild, he only had six months to live, but never accepted his diagnosis. In fact, he denied it quite belligerently. But it didn’t mean he was ignorant or cruel. It would have taken an insightful physician to understand my dad’s grieving process, or at least a well read one.

Medical journals can only take one so far in becoming a great physician. There is an entire literary canon available to doctors in addition to their medical texts that can help them examine the deeper questions of their patients and ask better questions of themselves. Beautifully crafted characters and sentences can help all of us investigate the profundities of human experience. And physicians, as much or more than anyone, should be fluent in this practice. After all, it’s impossible to attend to the human body without eventually being baffled by an encounter with the human soul.

I hope that young doctors won’t leave behind a love for broad reading as they depart their undergraduate institutions to follow the rigorous path of doctoring. For an encounter like one with my dad, there may be only one sentence that matters.

Excerpts from Gilbert, Elizabeth, The Signature of All Things. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.