Monday, June 4, 2018

Raising a Reader

I haven’t been as successful as a mom as I would like. But I have succeeded in two areas. One is in the area of eating. My child is not a picky eater. She eats lots of food, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and we can take her to any restaurant and know she’ll find something to eat. As a picky eater myself, I’m proud of this. Second, my child is an advanced reader. At the end of kindergarten, she is reading at a first grade level. In fact, she is almost at the reading level goal for end of year first graders!

So how did I raise a reader? 

Be a Reader

If you don't read, don't expect your child to read either. Monkey See, Monkey Do is the rule here. So if you want your child to read, boost your own reading habits! We have bookshelves dripping with books in almost every room of the house (including hers). She sees us reading constantly. We take books on vacation with us for her and for ourselves.

Make Reading Fun

Read to them 

We read to her all the time. Even when she was a few weeks old, I read board books to her. I pointed to the illustrations. As she got older, I traced the words I was reading while I read them. I read a Mother Goose nursery rhyme book to her over and over, daily. I read to her all the time: at breakfast, throughout the day, before bed.

Let them move around

I let her move when she’s listening. On Saturdays, it’s not unusual for me to read to her for an hour or more – when we started Harry Potter all her waking leisure hours were devoted to listening to me read. But she’s a kid, so she’s not going to sit still and listen. And she’s not going to stare at a page that’s covered in text. So I let her rough house and play. I sit and read and she jumps around the room, colors, does crafts, or plays with a doll or two. I know she’s soaking in the story, even if it looks like she isn’t. Even at bedtime reading, I let her move freely around her room. Sometimes she spends that time constantly jumping off the bed. 

Push their reading limits

I read books that are beyond her reading capacity. Board books and Mother Goose gets old really fast. So as soon as I could, I upped the game. I started her on Dr. Suess when she was not quite 2 years old. We read A.A. Milne Pooh stories to her when she was just three years old. We started the Narnia books when she was four. She is almost 7 years old now and we have read the following books to her: the entire Narnia series, the entire Little House on the Prairie series, the first two Harry Potter books, the first three Wrinkle in Time books, The Hobbit, several Roald Dahl books, and the first two Anne of Green Gables books. It may seem too advanced, but kids love extended story lines. Chapters books are like serial TV shows. They end with a cliffhanger, follow the stories of multiple characters, and have distinct stories in each chapter. If your kid can follow a TV show, your kid can follow a chapter book plot.

Read classics

Classic books get that way for a reason. Yes, the culture and language of The Secret Garden or Narnia might be a bit odd to modern ears. But the stories are eternally appealing and understandable. And while you might think a book like The Hobbit is not really appropriate for a 6 year old, my daughter would beg to differ. I've read some of the books that are based on TV shows and movies, and let me tell you, they are crap. No kid is going to fall in love with reading by reading a badly written synopsis of a cartoon TV show. And you don't have to go old school. The Harry Potter series is well written and will become a classic. Your librarian will be able to help you a lot here. 

Pick fun books

Yes, we started our daughter with basic classics. Although she enjoyed Little House in the Big Woods, when we started Farmer Boy, we lost her. In fact, it took a year to convince her to listen to another Little House book because she was so turned off by Almanzo! So if your kid hates a book, don't force it on them. We moved on to Narnia after the Farmer Boy disaster, and she loved it. After we read through the entire Narnia series twice, we graduated to Harry Potter (just the first two books). When I started Harry Potter, she was on fire! Every minute of every day, she wanted to listen to Harry Potter.
We recently read Anne of Green Gables followed by Anne of Avonlea. She loves the characters, but at the end of Anne of Avonlea, decided against reading more Anne. She told me that Anne was getting too grown up. So we've stopped reading that series - I'm confident she'll return to it in a few years.
Another super favorite author of hers is Roald Dahl. We had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to her a couple of times. Now, some parents might shy away from Dahl, with the dark humor and violence. Yet she loves the books. In fact, she loves them so much that she is beginning to read them independently. They are just right above her reading level, but she enjoys them so much that she struggles through just for the satisfaction of it.

Make reading a reward  

I let her stay up past bedtime to read. Her bedtime is 7:30 PM, and we are pretty strict about that. She’s a night owl, and can easily stay up until 10 or 11 PM without getting irritable. So it’s important to get her in bed early so she has sufficient time to wind down and fall asleep. But for Christmas this year, Santa brought her a night table and lamp. I knew she was just starting to read, so I decided to give her an incentive to improve her reading. I gave her permission to stay up as late as she wanted, as long as she was in bed reading a book. It could be any book – challenging or simple. I often came in her room at 9:30 or 10:00 to check on her and would find her fast asleep face down on a book! She’s also learning how to self regulate the amount of sleep she gets.

Don't teach, just read

I explain some concepts, but not all of them. Many of the words in these books are far beyond her vocabulary. But the context explains them well enough. If she interrupts to ask what a word means, I define it. Or if it’s a foreign concept, I explain it. But generally, I just read along. Stopping to look up a word while reading interrupts the entire process for an individual. The ability to press on through the story and let the context define the word is good for reading comprehension.

I've inserted some links to articles that support or expand on these concepts, but basically this is my own strategy. I hope you find it helpful! Feel free to add your own successful techniques in the comments.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

My Mental Illness Makes Me Supergirl

I have a mental illness. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which is the best (or worst?) acronym ever. Like Supergirl or Superman, I get my powers from the Earth’s yellow sun. But in September, when the days get shorter and the sun becomes more oblique, I lose my powers, just as if Supergirl were back on Krypton. I lose my ability to sleep through the night, I lose my power of motivation, and I lose my patience. In other words, I get restless, irritable, and slothful.

People with SAD can use medication or light therapy (or both) to treat the symptoms. Light therapy is buying a really bright light and sitting in front of it daily for a certain amount of time. My “prescription” is 20 minutes of bright light in the morning and in the early evening. You can buy a light box, also known as a sun lamp, online from any number of sources.You cannot, however, get the same effect from sitting in front of a lamp with a high wattage bulb. You also cannot get the same effect by just going outside more in the winter, because the oblique angle of the sun means that winter light is less intense than summer light.

This spring has been especially difficult for me. While many people with SAD are most affected by fall, I find spring the be the worst season. I hate spring, I hate the month of March, I hate all the weather between January snows and May 80 degree days.

And I know that I “shouldn’t” use the word hate. I know I ought to use gratitude and acceptance to deal with the variables of spring weather, but this spring pushed me over the edge. It was a constant barrage of cold weather and cold rain and gray dull days. Then we had snow storms in March. Then it just stayed cold and wet and dull all through April, with freezes as late as April 20, which is VERY late for Raleigh, NC.

This past week has been different though. It has finally warmed up. The sun has been shining. And I’ve been able to sit outside and breathe fresh air for several consecutive days. I’m regaining my superpowers. And I finally feel like myself again. The world lays in front of me, a buffet of projects and opportunities and fun things to do. Weeding my gardens, planting flowers that will probably either die or get eaten by the wild bunnies in my yard, going on picnics and walks with my family, taking Sunday naps in my hammock, sweating poolside with friends, squinting at my computer screen while sitting outside a coffee shop, listening to birds greet the morning sun, watching fireflies ascend with the moon, all these things beckon to me. Even the ordinary tasks of life are easier: laundry, tidying up, cooking, meal planning, grocery shopping, brushing teeth: it’s all better when it’s warm outside.

It's later than normal, but I am Supergirl once again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Mandate of Inclusion

I have often heard people use the Bible to justify “putting out” a sinner from the church community. In Matthew, Jesus taught a form of conflict resolution: Confront the person, confront the person with a witness, confront the person in the presence of the church, kick the person out. In 1 Corinthians, Paul urges the church to turn their back on a sinning member.
But in today’s reading, 2 Corinthians, Paul has a different message: “Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.” It’s pretty clear that Paul is following up on the case he mentioned in 1 Corinthians.
We like kicking people out. The us v. them mentality is ubiquitous and deeply satisfying. We like bringing people into our club and we like pushing them out. We like joining and then leaving. I have heard far too many stories of churches kicking people out for their sins.
And this isn’t a hobby just found in the American Evangelical and Fundamentalist groups. Early church history is a long list of excommunications and double anathemas. Part of the spread of Christianity is due to the exiling of “heretical” priests. They went into the wilderness and spread the gospel.
I personally believe that the church needs to transcend this divisive mentality. As we prepare to celebrate Maundy Thursday, it would be good to meditate on the actual words Jesus spoke. Maundy comes from the same root word as “mandate.” Jesus gave us a mandate: to serve one another. To wash each other’s feet; in other words, to do lowly and humiliating service to everyone in our community. Jesus taught us very clearly that it is in abiding in Him that we will be identified. Not by who we exclude. But by our willingness to extend our loving service to every single person.

As always, I’m not bragging here. I write these words as a reminder as much to myself as to anyone else. Today I will strive to abide in God’s love, and I will fail. But God will always open Her arms back to me.