Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas and Wintertime Stories

We've started decorating for Christmas around here.  Hadley and Harper are more than willing to help me decorate which can be fun but also makes for what I am realizing will be a permanent amount of glitter over everything. 

One of the things that I am doing this year is reading several Christmas stories to the girls.  I thought it'd be fun to read one each day in December.  I set up a little countdown to Christmas banner:

and hung it on one of our counters.

Then I pulled all our Christmas books and put them in a festive bucket.

I found some at the library, too.

Hadley was very excited to begin reading last night.  She even put on her special Christmas pajamas.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday Letter - Snapshots

On Wednesdays, I have the opportunity to share work from a group of 8th graders at Goshen Middle School, in Goshen, Indiana.  Lisa Herschberger, a great friend and someone I used to teach with, is their teacher and she and I have the pleasure of talking about reading and writing with this group of kids.  This week, I want to share a project that they were working on called "snapshots."  Reading through them, it looks as though the kids took a magnifying glass to an important moment, or special memory in their lives: meeting a best friend, spending time in a favorite place, even getting in a car accident.  The pieces are outstanding.  Today, I'd like to share Teryn's.  When she wrote to me introducing herself, she told me she likes to read and write.  After you read her snapshot, you will see why.

The Barn
The sweet fragrance of hay reached my nostrils as I inhaled deeply.  Chickens clucked softly as they pecked at the soft earth no doubt in search of bugs. A soft gust of wind blew around me, whipping my dark hair wildly about my face, blowing the slight scent of horse to me.  I turned to survey the interior and my heart skipped a beat. There, standing in the light of the doorway was a sleek black mare, her milk chocolate brown eyes soft.  I made eye contact as I approached her slowly.  She stamped her large strong hooves and snorted softly.  She could crush my skull in an instant but I wasn't fearful, just aware.
"Shh-it's OK pretty girl, I won't hurt you,"I whispered in a soft voice.  I slowly stretched out my hand to stroke her soft, warm, velvety nose and I grinned.

"That's a good girl." I said and jumped about a mile as a small calico cat twined itself between my ankles, purring rather loudly.  I smiled.  I loved it there in the barn.

I was inspired by Teryn's writing, and thought I'd try my hand at a snapshot of my own.

A Windy Day
 We could hear the wind rattling the walls of our condo all day today.  I didn't think much of it until we were getting ready to take Hadley to ballet lessons.  She and I were having a clipped conversation regarding the kind of clothing she should wear outside.

"No, Mom.  I am NOT wearing sweatpants over my pink tights." 

Hadley is very proud of her pink tights as she is the rest of her ballet attire: a pink leotard with a glittery heart in the center, a pink tulle skirt, and pink ballet slippers.  She owns this outfit when she wears it.  She wasn't going to wear sweatpants.

The three of us walked down the stairs of our building - Hadley in front leaping down the stairs in true ballerina style, Harper bringing up the rear holding her toy sheep and cow - we looked liked a page out of a Fancy Nancy book.

When we got to the bottom of the stairs, and I opened the door to the outside, the three of us gasped at the wind's signature: gold, red, and orange leaves were all over the ground.  We couldn't even see the sidewalk or the grass.  Hadley crunched her way into the leaves, picking up one or two, and then stopped and looked up at the trees.

"Mama!  The wind blew the leaves off the trees!"

"I know," I said, noticing that her tone suggested the wind did the leaves a favor.

"They're ready for winter!" she exclaimed.  Her eyes were huge and she was smiling.

And then she began to run.

"That tree's ready for winter!  And so is that one!  Ooo!  All those trees over there are ready for winter!"  She was running and pointing and yelling, and she was so happy. 

Harper and I watched her run down the sidewalk in her ballet clothes pointing and screaming - a pink firecracker against the deep colors of autumn.  Harper started to run, too.  The sheep and the cow she violently insisted she take along thunked on the leaves, forgotten.  I picked them up and stuffed  them in my bag and began to run after my girls.  And then I was running with them; pointing out trees that are ready for winter and kicking up crunchy leaves with my shoes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Themed Book Club

On Friday the group came over and we read Feast for Ten by Cathryn Falwell.  I love this book.  It's a counting book, but it tells the story of a family preparing a meal for "ten hungry folks."  My kids love to count, and they love number books, but I have to be honest, looking at numbers over and over again can get boooooring!  So I appreciate when an author tells a story around the concept of counting.

Another mom was kind enough to take pictures while I read to the girls.

One of these kids is not paying attention......
I love this one.  I didn't know I still had my "teacher face" but leave it to Harper to make me bust it out.
It was effective, too.  You can tell Harper's terrified.

After we read the story, I had the girls take a look at the last picture where the family is sitting around the table sharing a meal.  I asked the girls what kinds of foods they noticed that were in the picture. 

 After we studied the picture for a bit, I told the girls they were going to create their own groceries lists for feast they'd like to make.  They each got a piece of paper, and glued pictures of food on it.

Here are Hadley and Harper's finished lists:
Harper thought Pledge or some kind of "dust be gone" product would be a key ingredient in her feast. 

Next, we made turkeys.

I realize they look more like teepees here, but what you're looking at is the turkey tail.  The girls made faces and glued them on the opposite side, and then glued legs on the bottom.

Look at Hadley giving me a courtesy smile.

We ended by doing a little "I am thankful for" project.  I told the group that one thing people do around Thanksgiving is talk about what they're thankful for. We started by making lists of things in our lives that make us happy. 

After they came up with a list of things, they glued them to a plate, and decorated it. 
Looking at this next picture, I realize it looks as though this child is falling.  One might conclude that I was too concerned with taking a picture, and so chose to take the picture then help this child.  The real story is that I'm not what you'd call a camera whiz.  I pretty much point and click and hope for the best.  It turned out that she was in the middle of laying down while I took the picture, however, I liked her project so I wanted to show it off.

Here's another one:
Here's Hadley's:

She didn't want to decorate her plate, but she came up with some good things (Goofy, chocolate milk).
I got this idea from Becky Higgins' Blog.    We didn't do the exact same thing, but I loved the idea and wanted to try it with my book club gals.

Book Club isn't book club without a snack, and for this one we had delicious pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  The mom who brought them over couldn't get them out of the container fast enough.  They were a huge hit.

While we're on the subject of being thankful, I'd like to say that I'm thankful I get a chance to do this.  It can be crazy and loud, and book club doesn't always go how I planned it. I wonder sometimes if it's more of an annoyance then something fun for my girls and company.  But after everyone left, and I cleaned up, Harper was taking a nap and Hadley and I were coloring together.  She said, "Mom?  Book Club is awesome."  I am thankful for that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review - Sesame Street ebooks

During one of our lunchbreaks when I was a teacher, one of my friends asked a group of us whether we thought listening to a book on tape could be considered reading. Someone made the observation that listening to a book on tape is listening, so it isn't necessarily reading.  This seems to be a fair statement, but after we nodded our heads in agreeement, we started to discuss all the books we listened to, and how much we enjoyed them.  I listened to books on tape during my trip to and from school, a 45 minute ride that gave me plenty of time to step into Garrison Keiller's Lake Wobegon, or  listen to another chapter of Judy Blume's Summer Sisters . There were times when I didn't want to get out of the car because I was wrapped up in what was going on in the story.

It might not be reading, but I think that we can still take away lessons from stories we listen to, as well as enjoy and relate to them.  So when I was asked to review Sesame Street ebooks, I immediately thought of my lunchtime conversation with my other teacher friends.  I would have my oldest daughter, Hadley, take a look at these books on our computer, but it wouldn't be the same as when she and I are reading a book together.  But that is OK.  These books provide valuable lessons for Hadley, and by letting her use them, I believe I'm giving her another kind of reading experience.

Here are some of my observations about the books Hadley looked at:

Hadley started with the book Get Your Grouchies Out: Feeling Happy.  As the words are read, they light up on the screen.  I noticed Hadley following along, whereas, when we read to her, she is looking at the pictures.  After all the words were spoken, Hadley took a minute to look at the picture, and then she'd click an arrow to turn to the next page.  When we read to her, unless she asks a question or makes a comment, we turn to the next page.  The Sesame Street ebooks give her the independence to look at the words and the pictures, then turn the page at her own pace. 

Get Your Grouchies Out: Feeling Happy is a vocabulary book read by Bob, a Sesame Street character on the show.  Hadley learned about words like "overjoyed," "elated," and "ecstatic."  Bob read a sentence that helped Hadley understand what the meaning was.  I think Hadley's favorite was the page with Cookie Monster on it.  He's saying he's ecstatic when he has a full plate of cookies.  She also liked learning "feliz" because it is a Spanish word.  Hadley loves learning Spanish words.

Hadley also took a look at My First Instrument and Big Block Party.  These are both longer stories, but Hadley paid attention the entire time.  I like that these ebooks focus on telling the story by focusing how to read a book.  The words are highlighted, Hadley can turn the pages, the story is read outloud.  None of the characters jump around on the page, or disappear with the click of a mouse.  There are no pop up bubbles or blinking lights.  I like this.  I like that nothing takes away from the reading of the story.

The other thing I found impressive about these ebooks is that there are different kinds of them.  There are vocabulary books, stories (like My First Instrument), and there are interactive books too.  Hadley liked Eat Your Colors which helped her pick out meals for Grover, Cookie Monster, and Elmo.  This book helps Hadley learn about eating a variety of foods.  It also helps her understand what a "sometimes" food is: like cookies or donuts.  I'm not sure she appreciated this lesson so much.

In Eat Your Colors, several Sesame Street characters are on a page with plates that need to be filled, and Hadley needed to figure out what was missing on their plate, and bring it to that character.

She would click on the correct fruit or vegetable etc., and drag it to the empty circles.  Hadley liked figuring out what each character should be eating throughout the book.

Watching Hadley read these ebooks reminded me of when I was a little girl, and my parents gave me a Cinderella read along for a birthday or Christmas present.  While listening to a record, I would follow Cinderella through her scary, fabulous adventure listenting for the "ding" to tell me to turn the pages.  Was it the same as reading with my parents?  No.  Nobody can replace my dad reading Uncle Remus stories to me and my brother.  However, sitting in my room and listening to a story gave me the opportunity to enter into it by myself; something that I believe is an important part of understanding and enjoying a story.  I'm glad these ebooks give Hadley a chance to do the same.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Birthday Game and Birthday Books

Because I have this need to be crafty, I wanted to make something for Hadley's 4th birthday.  I thought it would be fun to make some kind of game with a few books that Hadley enjoyed over this past year.  So I created the "Fancy Nancy, Frances, and Franklin Game."
Basically, you try and answer a question about Frances, Fancy Nancy, or Franklin, and if you answer correctly you get to move a couple of spaces.  Nothing too complicated.

Here's Hadley trying to decide which piece she wants to be.  You can choose from a picture of chocolate syrup, an apple, salt a pepper shakers, or a carton of milk.  Do I have to say what Hadley chooses every time?

Here are a few questions (that Hadley is pretty good at answering): Why can't Fancy Nancy go to Bree's birthday party? Why doesn't Franklin want an x-ray? What does Frances buy Gloria for her birthday?

Hadley seems to enjoy playing, and it's a fun way to remember some of her favorite books from the previous year.

Today my other daughter, Harper, turns 2, but I didn't make her a birthday game.  We did, however read Happy Birthday, Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein, and Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton.  Both fine party books, if you ask me.  Last night, Jesse read A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban to Hadley after she said, "I think I need to open Harper's presents for her because she won't know how to do it."  We told her she should let Harper give it a try first to which she replied, "OK, she can pull off one side, but I'll do the rest."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Round as a Mooncake letters arrive

Recently, I wrote a post about a little project Hadley and I did with the story Round as a Mooncake.  We sent out letters to friends in different areas, and in the last couple of weeks they have graciously replied.  Hadley was delighted.

We got out our United States puzzle, and I printed out outlines of the states that the letters came from. 

We got letters from Minnesota:
My friend's daugther, who is in Kindergarten, cut all these shapes out!  Impressive!
Another one from Minnesota:
My friend who made a "Book of Shapes" for Hadley is a former preschool teacher, and gives me lots of ideas for my Book Club.  Personally, I think she should start her own blog, but she just had a baby so I won't badger her.  I will say that I've known her since we were 5, and not only did we go to the same preschool together, but she was one of the only people I wasn't afraid to talk to at school.  And we sat next to each other when we graduated from high school, so it's neat for me to see my daughter looking at pictures of her daughter after all those years of growing up together.  My friends are dope, right Lisa?

We got a letter from Chicago:

Hadley was so excited to recieve this one because she just loves this little girl.  Here she is looking at a picture of she and Hadley at the National Zoo last year. 

We got letters from Michigan:

I love these because they're hand drawn. 

Our last letter is from Texas:

This is one of Hadley's very first friends.  We met him and his mom at our local library for storytime, and he recently moved away.  Hadley was over the moon when she got a letter and pictures from him.

What I liked so much about Round as a Mooncake is that while it is a book of shapes, Roseanne Thong weaved this concept into a story of a child noticing her surroundings and feeling good about them.  As Hadley got each letter, she had a chance to see her friends, and take interest in their surroundings.   And she had all sorts of questions for the children who sent her letters who she hadn't met.  She wanted to know how I know their moms, and it gave me a chance to tell her some stories about my friends, too.  So while the concept of learning about shapes might've been simple, the idea of noticing one's surroundings, being interested in them, and feeling happy about one's environment is a little more difficult.  I appreciate that I could introduce this idea to Hadley through a story.  I also appreciate the friends who helped me out with it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wednesday Letter - Wings

On Wednesdays, my posts will focus on my correspondence with a group of eighth graders and their teacher, Lisa Herschberger, who teaches English at Goshen Middle School in Goshen, Indiana. We will be writing about the books we are reading, and Lisa and I hope to model how to talk about a story in more ways then just summarizing what happened. We hope to post our letters to and from each other, as well as letters from the students.

This week's letter comes from Erica, a fellow Starbucks enthusiast.  She told me she likes to read more than she likes to write which surprised me because her letter to me about Wings was THREE PAGES LONG!  To me, it seems clear she likes to not only read, but write about reading.

I can tell Erica likes getting into a story's plot, and the characters, but she tells me she also likes to read to build her vocabulary.  She says she likes to have a "vocabulary cabinet."  I thought that was clever.  She also likes to read a series or a book over again because, "you notice different details, so it's like a new adventure every time."

Erica writes about the book Wings by Aprilynne Pike.  This is a book about a girl named Laurel, who thinks of herself as normal until she "wakes up to find that she is growing a flower out of her back. She is terrified because she can actually feel it, feel the petals and everything."

Erica goes onto explain that Laurel shares her flower dilemma with "her friend David, and he wants to help her learn why she has this on her back, and what he can to do help."  Meanwhile, there is another boy, "Tamani, a mysterious handsome boy who claims he can explain everything to her."  Sounds to me like the perfect recipe for a love triangle.  You got one guy saying he'll help you in whatever way he can, and another one saying he already knows everything about you. 

Erica writes, "I liked this book because it was interesting and action-packed."  She goes on to quote a scene where Tamani kills a troll named Scarface.  Interesting and action-packed, indeed!  She also liked the book because "it came with a little bit of romance."  She shared a scene with me that would make Edward and Bella fans very proud.

What Erica didn't like, was that she wanted the book to "go back and forth between the main characters' point of view."  She was hoping for more than one perspective on a situation, "like in Flipped."  I was very impressed that Erica used another book as an example of what she was talking about.  Having read Flipped I understand how fun it is to read a book with two strong voices to tell the storyI found that this was a great way to read the story and I think it gave me a better understanding of how two people can see one situation completely differently.  Erica was hoping to read the story from not just Laurel's voice, but from David and Tamani's as well.

I think Erica did a good job of not only giving a summary, but describing what she did and didn't like about the book.