Fall is a cozy season. It’s the season of turning leaves 🍂🍁, of imaginary forests and fairy stories, of bundling up with mugs simmering cider for long meandering walks, of collecting pinecones and spying animals readying for the long winter nap. Most of all, fall is the season of gratitude! And this means GIVEAWAYS!
TWO, to be exact…
Recently we stumbled upon an amazing trilogy of board books created by artist and speech pathologist, Tabitha Paige, CCC-SLP designed to help little ones celebrate one of our very favorite things—words! These delightful stories will jump start the young child’s vocabulary and introduce them to early language concepts!
Spatial Words: Follow along with Little Fox as he plans a surprise picnic for his friend Owl in A Trip to the Farmers Market.
Quantity Words: Follow along with Little Hedgehog as he helps his friend Squirrel search for missing acorns in A Trip to the Forest.
Colors and Counting: Follow along with Little Rabbit as she gathers wildflowers to cheer up her friend Mouse in A Trip to the Wildflower Meadow.
We love that this little set that captures the magic of language and offers practical tips for this most important pre-reading stage. Mostly we love that these books do this the beautiful way! These stories are a perfect opportunity for older siblings to read aloud to younger siblings.
Puzzles are a perfect way to snuggle in to the coziness of fall. When we stumbled upon this puzzle, we thought: “HOW PERFECT!” Celebrating two of our favorite things, words plus the best technology when it comes to writing—the humble pencil. This promises to be an activity the whole family (and extended family too) will enjoy.
“If you want your children to be intelligent read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
I recently came across some of my daughter’s old writing. I believe she wrote it when she was 12 or 13. She is now 15 and a sophomore in high school. She was answering the prompt: “Why is writing important?” She learned that writing is more than just words on a page, it’s how people express how they are feeling. She believes for writers it’s like painting a blank canvas.
Words help us learn and feel or maybe better said, to learn how to feel.
The other night I read to my son Grady before bed. We read one of Grimm’s fairytales, “Rapunzel”. Grady lay fully cocooned in his blanket, over his head, listening. As you probably know Rapunzel was taken from her family as a punishment for stealing the green, leafy, vegetable, rapunzel, from their neighbor’s garden. The garden belonged to a very powerful and wicked witch. The girl, Rapunzel was raised by the witch and was sent away from all people to live in a tower she could not escape, all alone. A prince heard her singing from the tower. He watched the witch visit her and saw her let down her long hair for her to climb. He did the same and soon after many months got to know Rapunzel and they fell in love. The witch discovered that the prince was visiting. She cut Rapunzel’s hair and then sent her far away, alone in a desert. The witch hung Rapunzel’s hair at the tower and let the prince climb up, but once he did, she was there to greet him. She scared the prince from the tower into a thorn patch far below, where the prince’s eyes were torn out. He wandered for years blind and alone until he wandered far enough. He found Rapunzel at last, drawn by her beautiful singing. This fairy tale ends well with the prince being reunited with his love, Rapunzel’s tears healing his eyes and them living happily-ever-after back in his kingdom.
Whenever I read Grimm Fairy tales to my children as they were going up, I always wanted to change what happened. I would naturally edit—the prince losing his eyes and wandering alone, the wolf eating Grandma. What I started to realize over time is that children, like being scared. But there is a difference being scared by books versus movies or television. With books readers can take it as it comes, with language aimed at a child’s imagination, suspense and simple elements building the world of the story. What if it’s actually important to hear that bad things can happen? We can feel pain. We can get hurt. We can become resilient human beings.
Sometimes in life, in many ways, we wander blind for a period before we find the good, before we can see.
I want stories to end well. I want to eliminate the scary in the world because I don’t want to acknowledge the fear, I feel for my children in the world we live in today. As my daughter wrote so eloquently, these stories have taught me how to feel.
I recently read an article about the importance of being scared. Einstein was quoted: “If you want your children to be intelligent read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” The intelligence that Einstein is referring to is existential intelligence.
Existential intelligence is defined as the sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die and how do we get there. The skills are reflective, deep thinking and design of abstract theories.
I saw an interview with President Obama years ago who discussed his great fear for young people losing this ability to be deep, reflective thinkers. In our fast-paced world we are encouraging more and more people to skim through reading material on electronic devices and not to sit and contemplate deeper meaning in what they are reading. In retelling Hansel and Gretel, nearly a century later, author Neil Gaiman asserts:
“If you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up.”
The great polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, wrote a reflection on the first edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales which revolutionized storytelling:
“Children like being frightened by fairy tales. They have an inborn need to experience powerful emotions.”
Andersen took children seriously. He speaks not only about life’s joyous adventures, but about its woes, its miseries, its often-undeserved defeats. Andersen had the courage to write stories with unhappy endings. He didn’t believe that you should try to be good because it pays, but because evil stems from intellectual and emotional stuntedness and is the one form of poverty that should be shunned.
I have realized that throughout my life I have gone to great lengths to not feel or face fear. It’s not just the evil in the world but the great unknown. The what ifs. What if I am not smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, liked, or loved enough? What if I am not good enough?
Children’s author-illustrator Jon Klassen was asked how he comes up with ideas for his books? He says, “It’s just born of fear—of creating. It’s been a way of avoiding something I don’t want to do. And the solution to that avoidance lends itself to a story.”
My daughter went on to say that one of her favorite words she learned more about is the word, dumb. She learned it can mean temporarily unable or unwilling to speak. My daughter has a learning difference. She did not learn to read and write at the same developmental stages as her peers. She often felt dumb, as in stupid or foolish. My biggest fear was her feeling this way. So motivated to protect her and put her in her own tower far away, I kept her out of school and chose the path of homeschooling.
My fears came to reality as I realized I did not make her tower high enough.
The beauty in it all, like in our fairy tales that can be scary, is that we see resilience being born, we see paths that can have obstacles, we see hurts and feel fears. My daughter has been hurt, afraid to try, plagued by words. But she has also grown strong, wise, mature, forgiving and compassionate. Fear comes with gifts. Fear ear can bring us closer to faith. Faith brings hope, in the good, in mankind, in our individual skill sets. Fear and faith seem to go hand in hand and to be sheltered from one keeps us separate from the other. Today, I read to my kids the whole fear filled story of “Rapunzel”. I don’t have to fix stories for them, and I don’t have to fix life. Life is, we are in it right now, and I wouldn’t change a thing, because if I did, I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I happen to like me. Keep reading fairy tales and all stories that end in tragedy. Let your faith be bigger than your fear and enjoy the journey.
“Mom, I sat by myself today at the park. Nobody was playing anything I was interested in. I tried to talk to Luis but he never listens; the game always has to go his way. Mom, Tommy says he has been playing football for 10 years, but he just had his 8th birthday. I don’t understand why he won’t just pass the ball. Gabby kept taking Carlos’s hat. She said it was a game but Carlos didn’t seem to like it.”
When Grady is driving in the car with me or sitting at the dinner table or when his head hits the pillow at night this is the usual conversation or maybe I should say download. I realized during this time how much I just needed to listen. Grady needed time to process these different situations and relationships that came across his path during his day.
How confusing, mystifying, uncomfortable human relationships can be—whether we are 8 or 80.
I was recently introduced to an author named Jon Klassen. The words and the pictures are very simple yet carry a lot of wisdom concerning human relationships.
Three books I read Grady over the course of nights were:
1 ) I want my Hat Back
2) This is not my Hat
3) We found my Hat
Grady would smile and laugh out loud. In I want my Hat Back, the main character, a bear, is running around asking other animals if they have seen his hat. He asks another character, a rabbit, (who, by the way, is wearing the bear’s hat) and the rabbit, in a suspicious way, says he hasn’t seen the hat. The bear continues his search until he realizes he has seen the hat… that rabbit was wearing it! He goes back to confront the rabbit, “You stole my hat!” There is a long look between the two. Then comes a picture of bear sitting down, saying he loves his hat, wearing it on his head. Then a squirrel comes passing by asking if he has seen rabbit. Bear answers in a suspicious way, “Who me?” “Why are you asking me? I wouldn’t eat a rabbit, don’t ask me anymore questions.” This story ends with no clear ending. Could the bear have sat on the rabbit? Ate the rabbit? Could the rabbit have run off? Really anything is possible.
I read an interview with Jon Klassen and he discussed these micro-dramas from childhood. He used the example of Frog and Toad books. How these two characters had unresolved, uneven relationships, where one of them needed one of them more than the other. The underlying thoughts, “I have friends who could leave me or I have friends I could leave. I don’t like them as much as they like me or vice versa.” I researched the author of Frog and Toad after reading Jon Klassen’s interview. Frog and Toad happened to be my childhood favorite as well. It was interesting to find that Arnold Lobel wrote Frog and Toad based on his experiences from second grade. Lobel was sick and out of school for most of that school year and kept himself busy by drawing. He used his animal drawings as a way of coping with the insecurity of his return and making friends. He used these experiences to write Frog and Toad.
Kids don’t want to analyze these relationships. In stories, like in life at this young age, they want to watch them play out—Jon Klassen reminds: validate that they exist.
Isn’t this part of human nature, to want to feel we are not alone in our experiences?
Jon Klassen goes on to explain that children don’t need to know the motivations of characters and can understand questionable behavior in an unexamined way. Kids don’t ask “why did he do that”, like us adults who like to analyze and pull out the meaning or morality.
How would an author answer the why?
Isn’t that for the reader to get too or not get too?
Is there really only one answer to what motivates human behavior?
Children don’t have to ask all of the whys to understand it can happen. Grady didn’t need to ask why the bunny took the bear’s hat or how the bear got the hat back. He related in the human experience, of having something taken and wanting it back, of finding it and getting it back. This is Not my Hat, shows a small fish taking a hat from a big fish and all his internal thinking about it why he does it. What a beautiful example of what we do as humans when we want something and dance into our internal justification. We laugh while reading because we all relate on some level. No story needs to be added to why stealing is wrong. We can all understand the higher moral value but also total relate with the very human behavior.
We Found a Hat, beautifully demonstrates the inner conflict when two friends find something they both want but there is only one. Our desire for something for ourselves mixed with our feelings of wanting to share and be honest is, again, common human nature. It is rarely just a clean action of what’s right. It’s a pull and push to serve ourselves and someone we care about.
And then there is Jon Klassen’s book, The Rock from the Sky, that pushes us adults right off the ledge! The book is about what we cannot control.
Where a rock will land. What could happen in our day. What the future might bring. How things we can imagine will change and all the things we can’t imagine and all the questions that go with it, the what, why, how, when and where! There is SO much we can look up for children now, so much on-the-spot-access to information. We can know a lot of interesting facts. But in the case of our lives, the unknown is our future and the daily things that can happen that are out of our control. This book is addressing the fact we don’t know everything and we are not supposed to know. Part of life happenings are luck, timing, paying attention, listening, trusting, asking for help, admitting we don’t know!
So when I sit down to read Grady a book, especially a Jon Klassen book, I remember that Grady has had a full day with really big experiences. When Grady talks I listen. When we read I let the story be felt. I don’t have to pull the moral or give him instruction on who he should be. I watch him smile and laugh and I let the moment be. I give up my adult longing to know why and I sit on the ledge with the unknown. I become friends with the right now and that is enough.
It thrills us this time of year to know that many students have completed (or are close to completing) the first of their six CORE Blackbird & Company ELA units and are brainstorming ideas for the Section 5 culminating project.
To celebrate this season, click through here to download a FREEbie Section 5 Planning Worksheet.
Section 5 is the week when students get to step outside of the rhythm of reading, contemplating, and journaling and create a project to celebrate the story’s wonder! This project is a throwback to a Blackbird and Company limited edition “Section 5 Kit” tied to City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. We provided the box, a lightbulb shaped jar, black paint, glow-in-the-dark paint, paintbrush, Sharpie, and left the rest to the student’s imagination.
Earth is, of course, being ravaged by a series of apocalyptic events known as the Disaster. Light is one of Ember’s most important resources. Without light, the city will cower in complete darkness. Around the clock darkness. Not good. It is this terror of darkness that drives the story. So when the great lamps that light the city begin to flicker, Lina and Doon have a quest set before them. With blackouts and shortages someone needs to take action! Why not our twelve-year-old protagonists?
But we stop here because the purpose of creating a culminating project is NOT to retell the story, but rather to advertise. That’s right, advertise. The culminating project should share JOYbites from the book that will inspire others to pick the book up and fearlessly enter the world of the story.
For this Section 5 project, the student decorated the outside of the box with juicy words and quotes from the story, painted the inside of the box black represent the problem facing the people of Ember, and poured the glow-in-the-dark paint into the light bulb. Ultimately the little project is an amazing advert!
In the August issue of National Review’s Special Issue on Education, there is an interesting article about the science of reading. In “Casualties of The Reading Wars” by Dale Chu, asserts a profound truth in the midst of the phonics vs. whole language argument: learning to read is work.
Being the mother of 4 children (now thriving adults), I possess all sorts of memorabilia. A personal favorite is a scrappy little book where I collected words and phrases my little ones used as they were in the midst of learning to speak. The invented word yesternight is a personal favorite, “Mommy, remember the story we read yesternight?”
Children learn to speak because they are surrounded by spoken language. Children are able to create meaning from all sorts of spoken fodder, as is the case here. Using the yester of yesterday and replacing day with night to create a sophisticated descriptor with apt specificity, came to my 3 year old with no lesson at all! Genius!
But contrary to the proponents of whole language, “easy” is not how children learn to read. This article points this out articulately: “To crack the code of how the spoken word connects to the word on the printed page, children need explicit, systematic phonics instruction.”
I will go one step further. This code cracking that demands explicit, systematic phonics instruction applies to BOTH learning to read AND learning to write.
Every word we speak is made up of bits sound sound bites called phonemes. There are only 44 phonemes that enable us to read and write every single word you can imagine! When words are in print, these 44 sound bites are called graphemes. Systematically introducing children to these phonemes and giving them ample practice reading and writing graphemes is the road to literacy. What saddened me about this article is the fact that learning to write was not mentioned once! I read articles about literacy often—I’m kind of nerdy that way! Rarely do these articles address the interconnectedness of phonics instruction for reading and writing.
When a child reads, text is being decoded—basically translated into sounds that carry meaning. When a child writes, sounds that carry meaning, again the very same graphemes, are being encoded to the page. Reading enables the child to gather knowledge. Writing enables the child to craft and share ideas.
This said, I agree, we need to provide explicit, systematic phonics. But there is nuance involved in explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The 44 phonemes that are the building blocks of the English language need to be introduced in a wonderfully playful way. Think of it like this, every word you can imagine is made of some combination of one or two or three of the 44 pieces! Think “rooster” and “lemon” and “shelter” and “croon” and on and on and on. This should be awe inspiring. Should land you in the realm of wonder! When you are teaching your students to read and to write, the goal is to guide them on a journey to this realm, NOT the realm of rote, where memorization masks wonder!
Here are some Tips and Tricks to pack in your knapsack:
1. Tap into the cognitive ability of your students and give them tools (metacognitive skills) to have at the ready, not material to memorize. For example: bl makes a sound that is part of the word blue, blackberry, blunder (write these for your students to read). Can we think of others together? Let’s write a list. Have students copy the list. As you introduce phonemes, provide opportunity for students to read AND write. If your student is in kindergarten or 1st grade and using our Hatchling curriculum, this approach is built in! If your child is older, and needs remediation with phonics for writing, check back this spring because we have something new in store!
2. Use a pencil. Always use a pencil. Through the 12th grade use a pencil! This technology is the best tool to establish literacy.
3. Establish the tradition of “work is GOOD”! Over the years I’ve had the privilege to encourage parents and teachers alike who have students weary and discouraged with the work of reading and writing. What I say to them is this: Pack an imaginary knapsack with all the books you enjoyed as a child, and use these stories to remind you that language is full of wonder, is wonderful! Pack the knapsack with hope, and happy, and hurrah! Pack it with a reminder to self that reading and writing is not an easy task, but is is a GOOD pursuit. Pack it with this phrase: Yes! Yes YOU can!
Our live online sessions meet once a week for five weeks to dive deep into great stories. Each week our exceptional instructors will lead discussion of the reading and offer insight to inspire students to think deeply about the story’s action. Conversing and thinking about books is a terrific spark for original ideas, and original ideas motivate students to write! After the video gathering, your student will submit weekly writing and receive individualized written feedback from the teacher.
Space is limited to 10 students per group. Price includes curriculum.
We are excited to offer two sessions each for students using Hatching to kickstart the school year. Our teachers will help your students get started on the rhythm + routine of learning with Hatchling Volume 1 or Hatchling Volume 2. These 1-hour sessions will be filled with fun activities using the multi-sensory approach to primary learning. Our teachers will walk students and their parents (who are encouraged to join) through activities that can be incorporated each week to solidify happy ELA learning. Cost is $30 (curriculum is not included).
If you a parent or a teacher using Hatchling Volume 1 (Kindergarten) or Hatchling Volume 2 (1st Grade), have we got a Zoom for YOU!
Join us for an informational session where we will be sharing strategies, inspiration, and downloadable FREEBIES! There will be time for you to ask questions of our Pages teachers and time to cheer each other on. May this informational (FREE!) session help you feel empowered to step into 2022/23 with pep in your step.
We are excited to release our Pages 2022/2023 schedule very soon.
With a bit of help from our wonderful online teachers, kick off the school year with a spark of inspiration!
Here is how Pages classes work:
We will offer 4 5-week sessions this coming year across all five of the following levels—Earlybird, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4. There are two ways to purchase. If you already have curriculum, you can pay for the class only. If you do not have the curriculum, purchase the class and the curriculum in one click.
Online class links will be sent via your Pages teacher once you are enrolled and set with curriculum. Classes meet on Thursdays or Fridays for an hour per week.
Pages teachers will offer inspiring information each week that will help students dive deeper into the sory at hand. Teachers will offer individual feedback and strategies to improve writing. Our online classes include a robust weekly discussion.
During the Kickstarter Friday Sessions in August, we will offer one 4-week class to help Storymakers get the writing started. We will offer another 4-week class to inspire students utilizing students utilizing Tools of Style (books 1-4) and Operation Lexicon (books 4-12)
And stay tuned for special poetry to be announced this winter.
This can mean different things for different families. Some families may be part of the regular brick and mortar school. This means no longer having to wake up early and rush out of the house. Other families who homeschool, summer days may look similar with a few more beach activities or road trips added into the mix. For some summer may mean just more open-ended time with warmer weather!
What we have noticed in my family is that there is more downtime, less plans, more togetherness. Sometimes summer starts out rough with a little restlessness. I’ve learned through all the different seasons with my children, that I’m better with a schedule. I like to know what to count on when. I like to communicate this to my children.
Recently I read a blog post that talked about two things that really hit home:
1) being intentional with those we love, and 2) creating a rhythm of the day.
So how do we be intentional?
The author talked about deciding how you want to feel and looking at what’s going to get you there. This is really a family discussion and reflection. Intentionality might be scheduled downtime each week or each day. It might be quality time spent together. It might be read aloud storytime.
In our family, my children really appreciate time alone with my husband or me. Especially as they get older, they really want time to talk. For my son this usually involves some kind of activity; walking the dog, bike riding, gardening, or doing yoga. For my daughter it’s cuddling up on the couch or in her bed sometimes with a really amazing cup of coffee. For my very youngest it is playing pretend or reading books together. Sometimes it’s enjoying a delicious snack. My husband and I need time too, so we have been taking walks together, watching a show and doing a regular date night with another couple. These are all things I now put on the calendar along with the kid’s regular swim day. And the beauty I’ve discovered is that you can still leave things loose and open ended while having regular routine.
What about Rhythm of the day?
Take a moment and imagine yourself in yesterday.
What feels easy?
What feels hard?
How could it flow better?
When my kids were little and done napping the hours of 4-6pm were always the hardest. We all felt a little pent up and crazy. This is when I started taking walks. At the time we lived right next to a small zoo we could walk too. We would get there right before 4pm, when they stopped letting people in. We would walk around the zoo the last hour it was open, and it was when the animals were the most active. We would walk slowly and watch all the animals come alive.
As the kids got older this rhythm changed. We no longer had that pent up feeling, but we did have a window when we all needed quiet time. Our 4-6pm moved to 3-5pm. I always hit a tired slump at 3pm, I had the same slump when I was working full time. I saw it in my kids too. I started mom’s reading corner during this time. It’s a corner in our living room that my favorite part of the house. I sit in a cozy corner of the couch, soft pillows and a knitted blanket. My favorite art is on the wall, my bookcase straight ahead. Next to the bookcase are a wall of glass windows and doors. I see outside to our beautiful backyard see the fruit trees and I can hear the birds that started a nest there. I just started siting there one day. We have moved over the years, but it has always been a consistent comer, my view just changed. My kids at first didn’t know what I was doing and would come asking me for help or for an activity. I would gently set my book down and say, “This is my quiet reading time.” It took time and consistency but my children started finding their own quiet reading spots. My son Liam would be in his big wide chair in the corner of his room. My son Grady would be on his bean bags talking out a story as he looked at pictures and watching his hands become characters. My beautiful Ella would be cozy in her bed. Sometimes they would join me on the couch and we would cozy up in my corner. This rhythm worked for us and still does on our long summer days. We can hit the ground running and know that we have a place and time to rest. And when we miss it, it becomes even more special. My corner hasn’t changed but my stack of book has, and the pile has grown. I often start one to three books at a time, my minds retreat.
The third and last tip, I gleaned, was running the “I’m bored” experiment. I would hear this a lot from my children, especially over the summer when things felt slower. I never knew what to do when I heard this. I didn’t want to preach. I had often heard growing up “Bored people are boring people”. I didn’t believe this was accurate. I didn’t want to create a list of activities, that all would be shot down! I did want them to be heard and I did want them to find something they could be wildly creative with! So here is the suggestion, just listen, acknowledge and walk away. It might be something like this, “I’m bored”. You respond, “Oh, I hear you”, then excuse yourself to the bathroom or to get a glass of water or make a quick call. Give them time to sit in their boredom and see what it leads too. You might be surprised and so might they!
We live in a society that is always running, always busy. The more activity the better! We become human doers, not creators. Sitting still with ourselves helps us to really feel, to become in tune with ourselves and others, and to create beauty. That quietness might feel like boredom at first to those of us on the go, but maybe it’s really peace. I think that’s a good place to be. I hope your summer is filled with connection, rhythm, rest, play, adventure and most of all peace!!