Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Reflections

Thanksgiving may be over but the spirit of Thanksgiving lingers on; a few things I’m thankful for – the week-long holiday from work, the ability to travel and spend time with family, stories told around the Thanksgiving table, the books read, good food, safe travels (surviving almost unbearable traffic!), a job to return to tomorrow morning, the children I’ll see bursting through my speech room door with their own stories and -

Flowers in our garden
Flowers on our table
Leaves in the birdbath

A morning walk with my husband
The rocky beach

Autumn foliage on the trail 
Sunlight on the headlands grass

I’m also thankful for readers who take the time to visit my blog.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Stuck on Books for Kids

StuckI had fun reading the book Stuck to my students this week. They loved Oliver Jeffers’ absurd story. It started believably enough,

“It all began when Floyd’s kite became stuck in a tree. He tried pulling and swinging, but it wouldn’t come unstuck. 
      The trouble REALLY began when he threw his favorite shoe to knock the kite loose . . . and THAT got stuck too!”

Things got a bit crazy when he threw his cat, Mitch and crazier still, when he threw the ladder into the tree. By the time Floyd sent a Titanic-sized boat flying, the kids were giggling with their own ideas –  “I’d throw the universe!” said one precocious first-grader. 

This book worked well as a speech activity. We talked about the sequence of events, cause and effect, answering “wh” questions and, for an articulation group, we thought of all the “l” objects Floyd could throw into the tree, like a lunging lion and a lady lounging on the lawn.

As often happens, one of my students wanted to take the book home. I couldn’t let him because it belongs to our public library but I suggested we take a look at our school library to see if we could get him a copy next week. Speaking of our school library, our librarian, Allison Brown, is a creative woman who goes to herculean efforts to keep the kids supplied with good books. Most recently, she created intricate paper stars to sell as a fundraiser so she could buy more books for our shelves. Here is the star I bought:

My students love our school library, but some kids, who don’t have any books of their own, wish they had a few with their names on the inside cover so I keep a shelf in my speech room full of give-away books. Most have been given to me and I, in turn, give them to my students. I know there are kids all over the world who don’t own a book but I was surprised to find out that this is also also true in my own community. I’m all for changing that, even if it’s one child at a time. 

I’m not alone in this quest. Our local bookstore, Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle's Children's Books, promotes books for young readers in a program called, “Book Angels.”  They collect the first names of children (along with their age and interests) who might need a book and display the pertinent information on a “book angel” so customers can become that angel and purchase a book for the child.

Over the years, I’ve had young students with grownup-sized problems: a mom lost to cancer, a father in prison, children abandoned by parents, homeless families, abused children. When life gets complicated, sometimes kids need a little help getting unstuck. Humorous stories often help that process, as do others, like those with characters children can relate to. I wish every child in the world had at least one book in which he could write his own name. There are worldwide organizations with that goal in mind. What are some of your favorite methods and organizations for getting books to children? I’d love to hear about them. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Trimester Testing & Kidlit Treasures

This has been a grueling week at school. I have 56 students and I love working with each one, but when report cards come due, that’s a lot of progress reports to write. And to prepare for those reports, I test each student to see how they’re coming along on their goals. It’s worthwhile; however, tedious for all of us.

On Tuesday, when I walked a first grade student to my room for testing, he asked if we could read the story about the kid with a really, really big voice. I wish you could have seen his excitement when he asked. He twirled once, squatted and hopped frog-like a few times and then started skipping backwards, all within about fifteen seconds. Landon does everything fast and when he is excited he speeds up. I hated to disappoint him, we’d have no time for a story, but all the same, I was happy to know he remembered Holler Loudly, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Barry Gott. I read it last spring when he was in Kindergarten - I’ll have to get it from our school library again.

Students asked for stories all week, trying to tempt me away from testing: I held fast and they were cooperative. When I went to the middle school, I tried to get language samples from my students to see how their speech and language skills were progressing. I asked about school and usually got one-word responses; I asked about home and got a shrug and a grunt from one student and not much more from others; I asked about friends and got a few side-ways glances so I turned the conversation to books.  That opened a floodgate of language so I got what I came for. One student told me about a book he is writing. He detailed the plot with such perfect articulation and skilled language, I found he is ready to graduate from speech therapy. I’ll miss working with him.

I may not have been able to read stories to kids this week, but at home, I was able to read about kids’ books. Earlier this week I purchased Mary Kole’s Writing Irresistible Kidlit and it reminded me of why I love reading to, and writing for kids. Take a look at what I found in this treasure:

“ . . . I also like to extol the sheer potential of children’s books:

They turn people into lifelong readers, planting the seed early.
They stay with kids (we tend to fondly remember books from our childhoods).
They help kids relate (books can guide kids through their own turbulent coming-of-age waters).
They inspire kids to become better, stronger, braver, more confident, more goofy, more artistic, more imaginative people.

                              Quite simply, kidlit changes lives.”

So true, and I get to see it every day!

A few weeks back, after I read Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex, one of my students came to my classroom, dragging her mother behind her. She wanted to show her mom the book we’d been reading. Esmeralda pointed to the illustration of Mac and explained to her mom, “This is author. He wrote story.” Then she pointed to Adam and explained his role in making the book. Finally, she turned to her favorite page and asked me to read it to her mom who was still learning English. We may not have communicated perfectly, since I can’t speak Spanish, nonetheless, Esmeralda clearly communicated her excitement over the book and her mother was inspired to get more books at home.

Next week my testing will be over, the progress reports will go home and we’ll get back to life as usual in the speech room. We’ll all be ready for a good story and I’ll be on the lookout for more to share with my students. Through those stories, I’ll be able to work on grammar, sequencing, articulation, and other language skills. More than that, I’ll be able to introduce my students to other worlds, other lives and inspire their own creative endeavors. And who knows where that will lead them, after-all, “kidlit changes lives.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Priceless Politics: Vote Duck!

You can’t turn on your radio, TV, or computer without hearing news about the coming election; not to mention, all the phone calls encouraging you to get out and vote. It is such a hot topic that I decided to bring it up in a speech and language group this week. What a great opportunity to build vocabulary, practice tricky speech sounds – like “v” in “vote” – encourage correct grammar all while emphasizing civic duty to my young scholars. So, I brought in the book, Duck for President, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin.

When a group of kindergarten students settled down around my classroom table, I asked if anyone knew the name of the president of the United States. One child looked around for clues and seeing the book in my hand, said with confidence, “Duck”.

“Well, no,” I told him, “actually, it is Barack Obama.” Then we had a nice discussion about fact and fiction. That fit in nicely with the subject of politics but I didn’t expand in that direction. Instead we talked about candidates, elections, and ballots then moved on to the book.

Duck charmed the kids but they felt Farmer Brown gave him too many chores. The cows had only to weed the garden and the sheep just had to sweep the barn, but Duck had to take out the trash, mow the lawn and grind coffee beans. The unfairness of it ruffled their feathers, as well as Duck’s,

      “Why is Farmer Brown in charge, anyway?” thought Duck. What we need is an election!”
      He made a sign and hung it up in the barn.

Farmer Brown
Farm Election

Farmer Brown was furious when he found the animals registering to vote the next morning. On Election Day, the animals filled out their ballots, counted the votes and posted the results. “The voters had spoken. Duck was officially in charge.”

He soon discovered that running a farm is hard work and so he decided to move up the political ladder and run for governor. His aspirations didn’t stop there but I will. If you haven’t read this book, I suggest you get a copy. It is a fun introduction to our political process as you see Duck hitting the campaign trail, attending town meetings and giving speeches “that only other ducks could understand.”

When we finished the story, I brought up the subject of our candidates for president of the United States. I mentioned we will soon be voting for Obama or Romney and I asked whom they wanted as our next president. One student blurted, “I want three presidents, Obama, Romney and Duck.”  He may not understand our political system yet, but he understands kindergarten politics – we share, we play fair, and whenever possible, we make sure there are no losers – not a bad way to operate.