Reading Readiness

March 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm (Education & Learning)

What must it be like to be an aspiring reader with Elia in the house?  The kids and I are in the midst of reading the Beast Quest series, but Elia has gotten impatient with the pace I’m keeping, and she has read ahead of JJ and me.  JJ never says anything about it; he loves the time we spend snuggling and reading together, but I know he’s envious that Elia is now 6 books ahead of us in the series.

So what must it be like for JJ to have a barely-older sister who, at this age, can outpace us by over 700 pages in 5 hours, and consequently gets to know all the secrets of Avantian beasts before we do?  It must be frustrating for JJ to enjoy books as much as he does and watch Elia get to devour story after story, while he has to rely on me to read them to him.  At my pace.  Which is not slow by any means, but it is still not a match for his interest level.

JJ’s love of Beast Quest stories has renewed his interest in learning new words.  After asking me to point out recognizable words in the text as I read, he was motivated to take another look at the once-dismissed BOB books (rejected due to the stories being too uninteresting) so that he could, on his own, learn to read and never have to put down a book and “take a break” like I do.

Yesterday when I declared a much-needed break from reading and was met with the usual protests, I left JJ with BOB book #1 in his lap.  From the other room I heard pages turning and the sounding out of letters, words, sentences.  Mat sat.  Sam sat. Mat sat on Sam.  JJ made it through the entire book and was on to book #2, where he got stuck on a word, and Elia came over to help.

While Elia is a very patient and understanding teacher, JJ’s frustrations inevitably surfaced.  It is surprisingly difficult to sound out words like “the” and “of,” and he was getting an up-close demonstration of how easy words are for Elia.  He felt discouraged.  He quit.  He was quiet for a long time.  Upstairs, I sorted and folded laundry and listened.  I listened for the sounds of vowels and consonants muttered under his breath as he figured out what Sam and Mat were doing, but none came.

When I checked on him after about 10 minutes, he was alone in the room, still on the couch, with a closed BOB book next to him.  I knelt down in front of him and gave him a hug as he cried out, “Mom, I can’t read!”  We hugged and talked about how frustrating it is to learn hard things.  I offered him some encouragement by focusing on what he’s learned so far on his own (because I certainly don’t sit down and give reading lessons) and his love of being read to; his inherent enjoyment of great stories.  He’ll get there when his body is ready.

I trust that this milestone, like most others in child development, is about brain development.  And I rely on that trust as I consider what more I can do to help JJ find success in reading.  As I tossed the book aside and suggested we change the subject by mixing up a massive batch of playdough to pound, I drew on that reassurance and remembered stories I’ve heard of moms who had “delayed” readers; kids who struggled to pick up reading until they were 8, 9 or 10.  It can leave many people aghast to hear of kids not learning to read until such a late age, but these moms have all said that once their kids were interested and physically ready for it, reading just clicked into place without a problem.  These once-delayed readers are caught up with their peers, and they now enjoy reading more than kids who were pushed into it and prodded along the way.

It’s the joy of reading that is the key to successful literacy.

I also remembered what educator and author John Holt said about how children learn. “We learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to learn, and when we are choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which we will be learning…Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” In his book, How Children Learn, Holt goes on to discuss the importance of two things: not pushing kids to learn what they’re not ready for, and leaving children alone to work things out on their own.  For us, this means it’s important for JJ to want to read books on his own, and it’s important for him to work out the sounds and meaning on his own; the only help from any of us should be to answer his questions as simply as possible.

After a day that had been submersed in reading, we needed to take a step back; to forget about it for a while.  So imagine my surprise when, after we abandoned the BOB books for the kitchen, JJ declared he wanted to do, not playdough, but letter cookies instead.  He had some words in mind that he wanted to spell in the form of cookies. Despite my initial thought that we needed to take a break from letters and sounds until they became fun again, I was happy to go along with this activity because it was his idea.  And I can always count on cookies to make something fun.

I preheated the oven, grabbed some dough from the freezer and the bag of letter-shaped cookie cutters, and the kids worked on cookie creations of the names of their favorite Beast Quest characters.  Elia was working on one that started with an M, and we were all trying to figure out who it could be.  JJ ran through a list of all the characters he could think of that started with the letter M, but Elia had picked an elusive one.  When she was working on the second letter, A, JJ was able to rule out many of the names on his list, but he still couldn’t figure out which beast Elia was cookie-writing.  It was time for plan B.

JJ pulled our big Beast Quest manual off the bookshelf and turned to the pages that listed every beast in the series.  He was in the midst of scanning the list for M-A- when Elia informed him that her beast was in a new book; it wasn’t included in our manual from last year.  Time for plan C….he was going to figure this out yet.

The next stop was the computer, on which JJ opened a browser and performed a google search for “Beast Quest”, using one of our books for spelling reference.  He located the Beast Quest website and quickly found the list of newly published books, including Madara the Midnight Warrior.  A-ha! Both kids laughed and cheered at JJ’s success!  All I could think of was the amount of effort and learning and reading that occurred during that self-inspired research project, and that I hadn’t given one word of assistance.

Needless to say, after our language arts-enriched day, we abandonded our plans to go the library and just stayed home to enjoy our cookies and play some games. I was struck by the realization that learning, indeed, does not occur in the same way for every person.  That kids can learn without being taught.  That everyone has the motivation to learn what’s necessary at the time that is relevant and meaningful for them.  Not only will JJ learn to read in his own time, he will accomplish it himself and in a way that is as unique as he is.  His motivation lies in the continued joy of reading.

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Elia’s First Book; Age 5

November 21, 2010 at 8:13 pm (Education & Learning, General)

Elia has been working on a book for a few weeks, and she was so proud to finish it today!  She started it a while ago, and every so often she picks it up and writes some more in it; adding chapters as she thinks of new things to write. She usually writes on the floor, hunched over, hard at work.

She has completed it all on her own, even folding and taping the pages to get it into “book” format.  Here is her finished product:

“Pets–Around the World,” by Elia

Chapter 1

Hi!  I’m Elia and this is my hamster Moonbeam.  Moonbeam is a great hamster.  She is great at the circus

and the obstacle course I made for her.  She went to the circus and she did an act there.  She jumped the ring of fire and she didn’t touch the flames.  She also did a puppet show! At home I built a maze and she ran through it really fast.  (illustration of the outline of Moonbeam’s maze with an archway at the start and end, and Elia off to the side.) She was at

the start of the maze and then she was at the end.

Chapter 2

I was at the pet store and held a puppy!

It was so cute!  And soft.

Chapter 3

This is my dog Panga.  She is a great dog!  One day we went to the dog park

and she ran around and played! (illustration of Panga)

Chapter 4

Now for my fish–her name is Sky. She knows when I’m feeding her! (illustration of Sky in her bowl with food flakes all around)

I had a frog but it died.  😦  Her name was Sweetheart.

I love animals (“a” = animals)

(No subtitles necessary!)

The proud author:

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Amphibian Update

June 19, 2010 at 7:45 am (Education & Learning, Out in Nature)

We’ve had our aquarium set up for a while now, and as a follow-up to the “Growing Frogs” post several weeks ago,  thought I would post a few recent pictures of how our charges are doing:

This guy is a chronic escapee.  We just follow the slime trail to find him.

Here is one of the “grown-up” frogs.  It is hard to called them full-grown when they can sit on the vertical tip of JJ’s pinky!

JJ LOVES these little frogs!  He loves to pick them up, hold them, carry them and talk to them, and he is always so gentle.

Even the “sports” setting on my camera couldn’t capture this guy in motion…it’s like he moves via time travel.  First he’s in one place, then, quicker than the blink of an eye, he’s in another spot!

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Growing Frogs

May 25, 2010 at 2:50 pm (Education & Learning, Out in Nature)

This is our newest project; an amphibian habitat so we can catch, keep and raise a few tadpoles.  When I say “a few” I mean about 2 dozen.  At once.  The kids have been wanting to set up my old aquarium for a long time, and I just haven’t been ready to take on another animal-keeping responsibility.  We do already have a dog, a guinea pig, a fish, and some butterflies, and I just didn’t think I wanted to add any more.  But then I see how much fun the kids have catching things from the pond and bringing them home to observe, and I figured it wouldn’t be TOO much more trouble to set up and maintain the aquarium.  Especially if it can be fairly self-sustaining.

We spent the better part of yesterday setting everything up, and the kids scooped up a bunch of whatever they could find in the pond.

There are about 24 tadpoles of various sizes in there…some are just little black blobs, and others have already sprouted tiny back legs.

We like it when they smile at us with their cute black lips.

Added a couple of algae eaters…

…a bundle of green fuzz as a source of food and oxygen…

…and this guy. Just for good measure.

We’ll see what happens and how long this lasts!

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We Have Butterflies!

February 20, 2010 at 5:26 pm (Education & Learning, Out in Nature)

First, we got them as tiny baby caterpillars.  I did not think to take a picture right then when they arrived, but they were probably 1/4″ long. They came in a container with some kind of brown food at the bottom.  They lived out their larvae life in this container, eating away at the food source, rolling it into little balls, and spinning silk all over the walls.

After about a week and a half, they crawled up to the lid and hung upside-down.  They curled their heads up so they were touching their bodies, and in a day or two, they had formed chrysalids.

We moved the paper to which they were attached over into the butterfly habitat.  And in another week-and-a-half they hatched as new butterflies! Two were born yesterday, and another was born just this morning.  There were 5 caterpillars, 5 chrysalids, and so far we have 3 Painted Lady butterflies.  We’ll wait and see if the other 2 make it!  Here are our new

We placed fresh flowers in their house, so they can drink the nectar:

They also like fruit juice!

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