Monday, February 27, 2012

My Quest to Become a Book Whisperer

Friday I made a trip to the Tysons Mall to go to The American Girl Store. Molly's birthday is this week and she had a few things on her birthday list. After picking up what I needed there, I made my way down to Barnes and Noble. I love book stores and was so sad when the Borders by us went out of business. I love to pick up the books, read the jackets, skim the first few pages, and just see what's new. I am also a big Amazon fan. At this moment I know there are at least three books in my cart but it is not the same as holding that book in your hand and deciding if you want to enter into this world that the author has created for their reader.

This past year I have read a lot of middle school literature and YA literature. When I was teaching second grade, I read aloud to my class everyday. I would read picture books about the upcoming seasons and holidays, I would read biographies of the historical people we needed to know, I would read chapter books beyond their reading comprehension but not beyond their listening comprehension. And I would talk to them. I would talk to them about the books. I would say, "This book reminds me of the time when I was little and...This book reminds me of the book we read last month...This book reminds me of the Kidpost we read together last week because...So read aloud was not just me reading and 20 kids just sitting quietly listening, we were all engaged in the book. We were all participants. Some people may not see the value in this, but every time a student makes a connection to a book, he is more likely to keep on reading, more likely to pick-up another book that reminds him of a  book he read before and enjoyed, more likely to read another book by an author he fell in love with.

Now as a stay-at-home mom, I am trying to get my own kids to become readers for life. When Shannon entered fifth grade, I started reading books that I thought she would enjoy. I was not as familiar with upper elementary books and middle school books as I was with the lower grades. But when you're trying to match a book up with your kid, it really helps if you read it yourself. I slowly started reading books and would pass them on to her. I remember reading Esperanza Rising and falling in love with the story. I then read Becoming Naomi Leon another story by Pam Munoz Ryan. I would read a book and put it in her room, read a book and put it in her room.

From this one small pile of books in her closet, I have read Charlotte's Web, of course, but also Savvy, Elsewhere, The Teacher's Funeral, A Long Way from Chicago, and Tuck Everlasting. All great stories.

Then a teacher friend recommended a book to me, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. I fell in love with this book! It is written by a sixth grade teacher and it is about how she gets her students to read 40 books by the end of the school year. Yes, 40 books! I read this book with a pencil in my hand. I underlined sentences and circled whole paragraphs that struck me as "AH HA" moments. I wrote down my own thought in the margins and thought about how I was going to apply all this in my own house as a mom and not as a teacher in the classroom. I loved this book so much that I went out and bought it for all my kids' teacher that year. That same year I was having a conversation with the principal and I asked her if she had read the book. She had heard of it, but hadn't read it yet. The week after Thanksgiving break, I got an email from her saying that she had just read it and that she recommended it to her staff to read it. I told her that there were at least three other copies of the book in the building because I had bought them.

Donalyn Miller's basic philosophy to get kids to read is that she reads what they read. She knows all the books because she has read them herself. She can say, "Joe, I read this book last night and it reminded me of you, I thought you would like it." She gets to know her kids. She knows what they like. She knows who likes sci-fi and who doesn't. She knows who to give a sports book to and who not to. She knows their favorite authors. And eventually as the kids start to read, she has kids coming to her saying, "Mrs. Miller, I just finished reading this book and I think you should add it to your "To Be Read" pile. Her students know that she has read a lot of books, so when they find one that they have read and she hasn't, it just gives them a great feeling.  She gives the kids the power to choose what to read. Choice is a powerful thing and in order to give kids a choice, her classroom is filled with books. And that is what my house looks like.


We have books in the basement.

I have categorized books...

...and I have bins by authors as well.

And you always need a comfy places to read.

So back to last Friday in the Barnes and Noble. Even though I have been trying to expand my knowledge of middle school books and YA literature, there are books or genres that don't draw me in. I am not one for vampires, slayers, and witches.

And then there is a whole section called Teen Paranormal Romance, shelves and shelves of Paranormal Romance. 

I then move on to New Teen Fiction and find Wuthering Heights there. Really, in the "New" Teen Fiction? Hmmm, is this book misplaced or is it a new publishing with a updated cover and they are hoping to get teens to read this classic?

 After my own quest to read more middle school books and YA literature began, I realized that I really love these stories and that more and more adults are falling in love with YA lit as well. What is it about these stories that we are drawn to? Last night I was up until 1 o'clock finishing The Hunger Games because Timmy kept asking me, "What are you up to?...What are you up to?" I wanted to finish it for him so we could talk about it but I really loved the book myself, this book that was published by Scholastic Inc., meant for young adults. 

I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin a few years ago and she talks about her love of kidlit and actually belongs to several book clubs that read kidlit for fun. There was a great article in the New York Times about this upward trend of adults reading kidlit and YA literature.

So after finishing The Hunger Games last night at 1 am, do I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green? I've read on a few blogs that his books are great.

Do I continue with Catching Fire so that Timmy and I can keep our discussions open?

But then I need to read this book that Ryan has started to read. He is my toughest one to get to read. Trying to find a book for him is difficult. So I really need to read this one so we can talk about it together as well.

 This is Shannon's night stand. A book that she has read a few times already and that is just fine by me.

And these are Molly's books that she is reading. She still loves her picture books but pushes herself as a reader to read the chapter books. Her recent find is The Molly Moon series.

This morning I was reading The Nerdy Book Club blog. A great blog if you are looking for YA lit and kidlit to read. There was a link to another website and I watched this awesome video about what is happening to our kids in middle school and high school in traditional English classrooms when it comes to reading compared to what happens when you surround them with books to choose from and give them the power to choose their own books to read. I think I watched it three times. I love the part when the kids make piles of the books that they read in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade compared to their 12th grade. The power of choice!!! You can watch it here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Day Just Moves So Much Slower

The Nealon Kids have been without electronics for one week now. This was the consequence for the flood in their bathroom that worked its way down to my dining room ceiling. No xbox, no wii, no tv, no ds games, no ipods, no computers. It really is amazing how plugged in we have all become. I have never had too many rules put into place about hours in front of the many screens that my kids have. Our routine has always been to come home from school and get homework finished and then read before they can go out and play...and "go out to play" is what my kids do a lot. My boys can spend hours and hours and hours in the driveway shooting hoops. It could be just one of them out there by himself working on his free throws, it could be two brothers playing one on one, and sometimes there maybe a foursome going on with the neighbors. Whole worlds have also been created in our backyard by boys with imaginations. Forts have been built with tree logs, walls have been raised with stones from the creek and endless battles have been fought with nerf guns until the yard looks like it has just rained bright orange darts. Molly still loves our swing set in the backyard and still asks Chris to push her even though she doesn't need that push any more. She will also spend hours in her playhouse...sometimes it's her house, sometimes it's her school, and sometimes it's her store, it just depends on where her imagination leads her that day. Then there are the countless hours of organized sports and activities: soccer, basketball, baseball, football, dance, piano lessons, horseback riding lessons, girl scouts. 

There really doesn't seem like a whole lot of time left in their day for electronics to play such an important part in their lives and yet they do. Three days into "no electronics" Ryan said, " The day just moves so much slower than it did before." I don't think he meant that as a good thing, but I thought that was a good thing. Why should we always be in such a rush?  Why should we always feel like every moment of the day we have to be doing something? Sometimes I think we should just "be" and not "be doing" something. 

So with all this extra time on their hands (and mine as well because I've been trying to keep the TV off and the electronics to a minimum during this) I have been trying once again to get my kids to read more. I realized for myself that it has been a while since I had picked up a book myself. It amazes me that we have to remind ourselves sometimes to do the things we love to do. So I told the kids to all bring their current book that they were reading to the dinner table to share. Some of my kids are always excited to share what they have been reading and some just give me the eye roll and just go along with it because it's easier than putting up a fight.

Dinnertime is sacred in our house. It is the most important part of the day. It is the only time during the day that we are all together, that we can share the events of the day, that we can relax and be ourselves and I try to make them teachable moments as well. This past Friday, Molly had a play date with a friend. First of all, Molly was very concerned about not being able to have electronics while having her friend over. I told her we would play it by ear and see what happens. Well, these two little girls brought home their science textbooks from school and spent the first part of the afternoon doing one science experiment after another. They had blue dyed water in ziplock bags taped to windows in the sun and bags taped to windows in the shade and then they went back every few minutes to see if they could see a change. They were in dark closets with a flashlight telling me if you shine the light on the black paper you can see stars,"Do you see them mom? Don't you see the stars?" "Hmmm, yah, I see them," I tell them. After they were done with experiments, they went outside and played tennis. No electronics needed. Then we collected food for a food bank for their girl scout troop. No electronics needed. Then the two girls went in the backyard and were on the swings with the boys for over an hour. No electronics needed. The phone rings and it was Molly's friend's mom wanting to know how everything was and if she had overstayed her welcome. I told her everything that they had done that afternoon and that right now there were four happy kids in the backyard laughing and giggling and having a great time. She said that that was great and again wanted to make sure her daughter didn't wear out her welcome because she always talks about the "Nealon Dinners" and that they are so much fun. The mom wanted to make sure her daughter wasn't stretching out her play date to stay for our dinner. 

Wow, I thought, someone is always talking about the "Nealon Dinners?" "Oh, yes," the mom continues, "she says the Nealons are just the funniest family. I just love having dinner with them." Now, to be honest, I really don't remember this little girl having too many dinners with us to make that much of an impression. But, I guess we did, and I was so glad that it was a good impression.  

 Yep...some of those "Nealon Dinners" maybe, "Stop, my side hurts too much from laughing so much," but then you have the mom that used to be a teacher with a Masters in Reading telling her four kids, "bring the current book you are reading to the dinner table." Sunday night was that night. Everyone brought a book and while we ate, each of us shared what we were reading. Timmy was rereading a LeBron James book. Ryan was reading a biography about Dr. Seuss. Molly was rereading a book that her teacher had read aloud to the class. Shannon was rereading a book about Derek Jeter. Chris was reading the Steve Jobs book. I thought it was kind of odd that everyone was reading a biography except for Molly. Ryan and Chris got into a discussion about Dr. Suess because Chris recently read a book about him as well. We talked about some of the same qualities that each of these people possess: perseverance and determination. Then it was mom's turn. I brought The Hunger Games to the table. I told them that I had started reading this months ago, got about two-thirds through it and then our busy life got in the way, I got side-tracted, and now wanted to finish it because the movie was coming out. Timmy's eyes lit up.

"I've heard of this book! My friend told me all about it and said it was a great book and I should read it!"

"Why didn't you say something to me that you wanted to read it?"

"I didn't know we had it."

Just the night before Timmy said he needed more books to read. Recently, all Timmy will read are sports books. They could be either fiction or nonfiction but they have to have some kind of sport in them. I've tried to introduce other genres to him but he wasn't interested and that's okay. This was the first time that he wanted to read a sci-fi book. After dinner was over, Timmy took the book and began to read. With no electronics to distract him, he got to chapter 4. The next morning he was in my room at 7:00 in the morning looking for the book. Another three chapters were read. Then, he was starting not to feel too well, cough coming on, throat starting to hurt, and he had a basketball tournament that lasted all day. By Monday night he was exhausted.  He stayed home from school. I felt bad for him. Here he was home all day with no electronics. Do I let him have tv back because he was sick? But Timmy never asked for it back. He lay on the couch all day and read and read and read. Why would I stop that for tv? Why would I feel bad? He was enjoying the book. A book that a friend told him about but a book that I brought to the table Sunday night. 

Sometimes there are things we do as moms that feel like we are banging our heads up agains a brick wall. How many times have I told you to hang up you coat? How many times have I told you to put you shoes away? How many times have I told you to wipe up the water on the bathroom floor? But if you keep on talking, if you keep on trying, if you have determination and perseverance, eventually we moms start to get through. I always have Dory's voice in my head from Nemo..."Keep on swimming, swimming, swimming." If I didn't bring that book to the table Sunday night, Timmy wouldn't have connected to it from the conversation that he had with his friend and he wouldn't have finished reading it in two days. Through the eye rolls, through the sighs, through the, "Ahhh, I don't have a book to talk about right now!" I will keep on swimming. Most night we just share our books. Most nights there are no great connections made, but every once in a while, there is a connection and I feel like I'm finally getting through to little book at a time. 

Now, if you please excuse me, I have to finish The Hunger Games so I can go see the movie next month. I think I have a date night planned with a special eleven year old.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What Happens When You Have Alligators in the Bathtub and The Great Flood of 2012

Alligators in the bathtub...this is what happens when you have alligators in the bathtub...a water damaged dining room ceiling...again. March 1st will mark our 9th year in our house and this will be the third time I will need to repair my dining room ceiling. The kids' bathroom is above the dining room and living room but water always takes the route of least resistance and so the water stains always end up in the middle of my dining room toward the wall near the kitchen. I've had a plumber come in to give me advice as to how to prevent this from happening again. Should I replace the linoleum floor? He said for the cost to put in tile, no, and if there is water on the floor it will still find a way to get in the walls.  Should I install shower doors instead of having a shower curtain? Again, his answer was no and I can't remember all his reasons but they sounded good at the time and so his advice was to just install shower splash guards on either side of the tub and to not take down the shower head because that could lead to potential water getting out of the tub.

Well, a hurricane hit the bathroom Tuesday night. Alligators and sharks were doing everything they could to beat the storm. When the storm was over...the water sat on the bathroom floor. Then another Nealon kid went into the bathroom, saw the results of the storm, teeth were brushed and nothing was said...and then the next Nealon and then the next Nealon and nothing was said. 

Well, the real storm didn't hit until Wednesday morning when the result of the storm the night before slowly made its way to my dining room ceiling while we slept. There was screaming, there was yelling, there was crying. And then there was more screaming and yelling and crying because I heard that phrase that I just can't stand. That phrase that I think bothers me more than any other, IT...WASN'T...ME!!! Really, that's your defense? You feel that the carpet is not just wet but saturated and you don't say anything? You see the water on the floor and you don't say anything? We've had this discussion hundreds of times about water on the floor and you don't say anything? I was mad. I was mad because of the water damage but I was more mad that all four of them knew there was water on the floor to the point that the carpet was now 5 pounds heavier with water and yet they didn't speak up. And then the "Uncle Peter" story was mentioned.

Uncle Peter is one of five Nealon Brothers and then there was Mary Ellen, the only sister. There are many, many  Nealon stories about what it was like to grow up in their house. Stories that have been told and retold over and over again. When the Nealons get together and these stories are told there is always laughter and it is always funny to listen to different points of view of the same story.

For school, Ryan had to interview a family member and he chose his Uncle Peter. One of his questions was, "What's one of your favorite, funny childhood memories?" Peter told the story of the time they were all in Michigan. There was a creek nearby and the boys went down to it to hang out. Mark was trying to fish, Peter was jumping from rock to rock and Chris was hanging out as well. Then Paul shows up and sees Peter jumping and says, "That looks fun, I can do that!" Well when Paul went to jump, Peter said, "Oh, no, I wasn't jumping from that rock. I was jumping from this one!" Which of course was farther away. So Paul jumps, misses and is now in the creek. The story is told that Paul must of landed in the one little part of the creek that was over his head because it wasn't that deep. Chris said that he told him to try and stand because he was only inches away from the edge. How deep could it possibly be? But when Paul tried to stand, he went under. Peter started running to get mom and dad but while he was running back to the house he stops and thought for a second. "If I go get mom and dad, then I'm going to get in trouble." A boy with this dilemma. He wasn't the first and he certainly wasn't the last. What does Peter do? Well, he starts to run back to the creek because he doesn't want to get in trouble but then he turns around and starts to run back toward the house to get help. In the end, he goes back to the creek and they are able to pull Paul out. Mark, who was still fishing, just looks over at them all and says, "Can you keep it down over there, you're scaring all the fish away."

So back to the dining room. The screaming continues..."Uncle Peter didn't want to get in trouble with his mom and dad and I know none of you want to get in trouble either but WHY DIDN'T YOU CLEAN UP THE WATER!!!" The screaming, "not a morning person to begin with" mom banned all electronics until further notice. But that won't solve my water damaged ceiling. Do I ban them from ever taking a bath? Do I take away all the toys that they love to play with in the tub? Do I ban them from the bathroom all together and make them take their showers in the basement bathroom? Chris already kicked them out of our bathroom because he was tired of the water on the floor and the wet towels on the floor so to use our bathroom, it's by invitation only.

I know it's just a ceiling and we can have it fixed...again...but I just had the painter here in November to fix it after having a water stained ceiling for about a year so the angry mom did come out.

Yesterday was a rainy day. The boys couldn't play basketball outside and so when they came home from school they were trying to figure out what to do without ANY TV, no xbox, no ds games, no wii, no phones, no ipods...they were lost souls at first. "Mom, what did you and Uncle Robbie and Uncle Brian do in the "old" days with no electronics?" And then the creative juices started to flow. Ryan finished reading a biography on Walt Disney. 

Timmy and Molly worked together to make this board game.

 Timmy pulled some books off the shelf and started rereading some old favorites.

Ryan made his own board trivia game all about the Muppets.

I found Shannon on the floor in the utility room creating something.

All Molly needed was a balloon and a tennis racket.

I also put them to work. My next house project is to paint Molly room. She no longer wants the pink paint that has been there since we found out we were having another girl 8 years ago. Her pretty wallpaper on the bottom needs to be removed. They have learned that things don't magically happen while they are at school all day. The magical fairy is MOM!!!

The only electronics that were allowed was the computer for homework purposes only. Ryan said, "Since there's nothing else to do, I might as well get my blog posts done for the month of February."

Timmy playing with bug toys.

Timmy and Ryan playing together with a paper basketball Valentine card.

Ryan asking his trivia questions at the dinner table. I think I was the Muppet Champion.

And what was Shannon creating in the Utility Room?

A jar to collect money for a Disney Cruise trip. I think in all the ranting and raving  that morning, Chris had said that vacation money would now have to be spent to fix the ceiling.

 This morning while trying to get Molly and Ryan out the door because their ride was almost here, I called up to Molly who was in the bathroom. She yelled back at me, "I'm almost ready, I'm doing number 2!!!" Timmy and I just looked at each other and then she came running down the stairs saying, "I was doing rule number 2, cleaning up my spit out of the sink." Shannon had taken a dry erase marker and wrote some bathroom rules on the mirror.

Have lessons been learn in the Nealon House? I think so. Will I ever have to have my dining room ceiling repaired again? Who knows? But what I learned, is that my kids can come up with things to do without electronics. They can work together to make a game. We can laugh as a family at the dinner table while answering questions about the Muppets. And someday, years from now, my kids will get together with their own families and tell the story about the great flood of 2012.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day

I hope everyone enjoyed their day yesterday. Here are a few pictures from our day.

Our school system banned candy from Valentine's Day  but I found these free downloads on Pinterest for Ryan and Molly. We could have jazzed them up a bit but we just didn't get to it, oh well. Molly's really "fit" her because she has a little joke or saying "Owl" always love you.

Ryan liked using the hot glue gun to glue his bugs to his cards.

Ryan's class had a Valentine's Day Party and so I made cake pops. I did get them pre-approved but one kid did say as he was taking his, "So we're NOT allowed to bring in candy but we ARE allowed have cake pops?!?!?" I said," Just be happy I got these approved for you."

Ryan checking out his cards.

After school, we were off to horseback riding. Molly started jumping today.

Dinner last night...homemade bread...

eggplant parmesan...

And this is Ryan's favorite...he would eat the whole plate if I didn't stop him.

Yesterday morning, Molly gave Chris a card she made herself on the computer with a picture of the two of them and she wrote, "I love you more than tootsie rolls!" Then she looks at me and says, "Ummm, see...I didn't make you one." And then she tells all the others to "look at all the treats DAD got us" that were sitting on the kitchen table. Really Molly?!? You think dad went out and bought you all your favorite treats? But then last night while I was making dinner, she gave me my Valentine.

Chris and I are really not big gift givers to each other. Valentine's Day in the past has been flowers and cards to each other...our anniversary is the Fourth of July and we get to spend every anniversary together as a family and again we really don't spend the money on gifts and we are both okay with that. We try to put the money towards "doing" something together rather than "having" something. 

But recently we have been at each other about something that I think many couples struggle with. As a stay at home mom, I think husbands think that there is all this time to get "everything" done and there just isn't. While I'm busy making Valentine's cards with Ryan and Molly, out shopping for their favorite treats, organizing a class party, making cake pops for the class party, going to the class party, spend two hours at horseback riding, get Timmy to basketball, then make a nice home cooked dinner for the family on Valentine's Day...the kitchen was a mess, the laundry didn't get done, my "new mail" box was filled with unread emails, the beds were unmade, and I can go on and on with my "Did Not Do Yet" list. It is an ongoing battle to try and balance the maintenance of our home and to do the things that I think enhance our home and our family. The origin of the word, maintain, means to "practice habitually," "to carry on, keep up." That's the problem with maintenance...I can't keep up, there is always laundry, there are always bed sheets that need to be changed and bathrooms to be cleaned but there will only be one fourth grade Valentine's Day Party for Ryan. And so if I have to choose between maintenance and enhancement, I will choose to enhance. 

Chris did good though this Valentine's Day. He knew I was feeling under appreciated and so even though we are not big gift people, this year I got this:

Hearts for love...
a turtle for our Kiawah trips...
and a house for making our house a home. He did good!

After he gave it to me, Ryan said, "But what about the fight?" I think it's okay for kids to see that mom and dad can disagree, have different points of view, try to explain to each other how they see things, in other words, to use the word of a ten year old, fight, but then they need to see how to get through it, see that you can listen to each other and then come to an understanding and that even people that love each other don't always agree.

I thought today would be a good day to share this enhancement.
A good friend gave this to me and it has certainly enhanced our kitchen. It's just a regular picture frame but we write on it with a dry erase marker. I've also seen Becky Higgins write about hers on her blog. I think she has one for each of her kids so that anyone in the family can write on that person's frame. We just have the one and it still serves the same purpose. Every now and then I wipe it clean and tell the kids that there is a clean board so if you can think of something to write, you now have the room. Usually there is something written by the end of the day.

If you want one, you can get it HERE.