For the last few weeks I have been having a lot of trouble getting a post up for Monday. Mondays are just sooo busy! And Sundays are no better. I really want to participate in the #IMWAYR sharing however (because new books) so I've decided to put aside my issue with missing deadlines and post anyways. On Tuesdays, because that is what works for me and the point is the sharing not the day on which the sharing occurs (trust me, this is taking a lot of ignoring the little voice in my head saying "But, but, the day makes it a meme." Shush, I know.).
The Dot (Peter H. Reynolds) - Another great book from the author of Ish, The Dot explores a similar concept - that sometimes just trying, just doing, leads to great things. Two parts of this book really resonate with me 1) when Vashti's teacher hangs her dot in a fancy frame behind her desk and 2) when Vashti "pays it forward" at the end of the book. Both events highlight for me the importance of recognizing the little things because they turn in to big things, of celebrating even the smallest of successes, even if they differ from the standard definition of success. Such a wonderful message!
Sky Colour (Peter H. Reynolds) - Using the same lovely prose as his other books, Reynolds this time takes a look at expanding our world-view. Marisol is tasked with painting the sky but discovers she doesn't have any blue. Through keen observation, she discovers the many, many colours of the sky. I think this book would be a fabulous lead in to a science/art project - tell them they're going to have to paint/draw something without the normal colour used for that thing, then encourage them to observe that thing (leaves would be a neat one) to come up with other ideas. The products could be fascinating!
Not a Stick (Antoinette Portis) - Continuing on with the theme of seeing things in a whole new light, Not A Stick shows how imagination can take over and a stick can be...anything. Again, another cool follow up project just waiting to happen. Couple it with Not A Box by the same author. Also available in French - yay!
Roller Coaster (Marla Frazee) - My daughter brought this fun little book home from the library the other day. A fabulous one for inferrring, Roller Coaster follows a little girl on her first ride on a roller coaster. The catch? The author never tells you who's first ride it is; it's up to the reader to infer that detail based on the pictures. Some great language for visualization here too.
Enjoy your reading this week!
A little while ago, I participated in a Twitter chat about work/life balance (my first Twitter chat, I might add). Overwhelmingly, the tweets pointed to the fact that teachers struggle with finding balance between their work lives and their home lives. This, I'm sure, is not news to any of you. And while I don't think that this struggle is limited to teachers (many professionals work very long hours and regularly take work home), I do think that the nature of teaching can make it very hard to walk away from the job. After all, inspiration for great new teaching ideas is everywhere (those salmon in that stream? A lesson on life cycle. That art project that your kids did in after-school care? Pretty sure you could adapt that one to use in your class at Christmas. Oh, and did you see that book in the window of that book store? You just know that so-and-so would love it.) Turning off your teaching brain is next to impossible, even when you are miles away from the school. So how do you do it? How do you honor the teacher in your head that just won't shut up while still making time for your family, friends and, dare I say it, you?
Read on, friends, for some tips on staying sane, being true to you and managing your commitments. After all, there is more to life than work and you will be a better teacher for having a rich, fulfilling life outside of school.
Tip # 1 - Know When to Get Off The Hamster Wheel
When I casually mentioned to my husband that I was going to write a post about work-life balance he laughed and asked "Have you found that yet?" I would have taken offence except for the fact that he is not wrong; we are in a very busy season in our lives. As two full-time working parents with two active little girls, we find ourselves running here, there and everywhere on a daily basis. What we have learned, however, is that you need to consciously choose to get out of the rat race every now and then. When work is no longer fun, when you are resenting the people and the place, it's time to step back. Pick an evening, a day, a weekend and dedicate it to nothing more than enjoying time with your family and friends. Do whatever it is that you enjoy (and yes, this can include things like yard work and getting projects done around the house. If it makes you happy, it counts) and do it for as long as you can without stressing yourself out. If all you are doing is worrying about the pile of work sitting on your desk, then you are defeating the purpose of being away.
What it looks like: In our family, my husband often works 7 days a week. In the winter, though, we spend most weekends up at our family ski condo. Although we can take work up with us, we tend not to, choosing instead to spend the time skiing, skating and building snowmen with our kids. Knowing that we will have this break for an entire season helps get us through the times when my husband has to be at work so much. And when he is at work every single day of the week? He makes every effort to be home for dinner and bedtime, ensuring that he sees his girls for at least a few hours each day, and will take a weekend to come up for air as often as he can. And I make sure that I make time for me, for a ride, a coffee, a visit with a friend. It ain't perfect, but it keeps us chugging along.
Tip # 2 - Build a Support Network
I am very much a believer in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. I also think it takes a village to keep each and every one of us sane, healthy and happy. The only way to maintain balance in our lives is to ensure that we have people that we can count on for a night out, a good laugh, a cathartic cry, a late night chat, a cup of tea, a run, a kiss, a hug, a kind word. When life seems to be spinning so fast you're pretty sure there's no way you will ever be able to keep up, your support network is there to help you grab on or get off.
Tip # 3 - To Thine Own Self Be True
Knowing who you are and what gets you up in the morning is so important to maintaining balance in your life. So often, people are told they have to do this or do that, behave this way or that way in order to lead a balanced life but all too often these suggestions just don't work. Why? Because they go against the grain. In order to be successful, the way that you maintain balance in your life must work for you and yours. If this means that you work early in the morning and go to bed early, do it. If you are a night owl, that works too. If checking your e-mail on your phone causes you to pay more attention to your phone than your family, it might be time for a change; then again, if a quick check of your e-mail every now and then allows you to spend more quality time with them, by all means, go for it. The key is identifying the practices that allow you to feel at ease, comfortable, balanced. Try starting by making a list of all of the things that make you happy and all the things that drive you crazy; how can you maximize the happy things and minimize the irritating ones?
What it looks like: I find it much easier to receive e-mail on my phone and check it throughout the day rather than leave it all for later; it just seems so daunting to have so many e-mails at one time. I make a point of putting my phone away at meal times and any time my children really crave my attention, but otherwise I check it and make quick responses regularly (I usually leave longer responses for a time when I can type them on a keyboard larger than a cracker). If I get teaching ideas during family time, I quickly jot them down in my phone so I can come back to them later. I check my Twitter and Facebook accounts periodically throughout the day; I know myself well enough to know that leaving them will only make me feel disconnected and irritable. I am working hard at the moment to fit in regular exercise, which I know is fundamentally important to who I am and how I feel, but I give myself some grace and continue to see it as a work in progress.
Tip # 4 - Make Systems & Routines Your Best Friend
This, I realize, is not a new piece of advice. Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter abound with suggestions of how to maximize your daily routines, fine-tune your family schedule and meal plan like a pro. You know what? The people writing those posts are on to something. The more that you can get running like a well-oiled machine in your life, the more time you have for the things you enjoy. Although it may seem burdensome and awkward at the beginning, establishing routines makes such a difference to leading a more balanced life. A little bit of front-end loading goes a long way. And with the extra time you have because you're not trying to make your sleep-deprived brain figure out dinner every day, do something spontaneous, like go out for dinner. Your schedule can take it, I promise.
What it looks like: This has been perhaps my steepest learning curve when it comes to leading a more balanced life. I am not by nature a super routine person but I have come to accept that I have to be in order to stay sane. I now meal plan weekly (monthly is a bit a stretch for me), check my (shared) calendar daily and plan my lessons as far in advance as possible (Planbook has been my absolute saviour in this regard, giving me the flexibility I crave with the advance planning capabilities I want. Check it out.). At the end of a long day, when I'm tired and the girls are hungry, knowing what's for dinner is a heck of a lot more appealing than wandering around the grocery store. I'm not gonna lie, it gets a bit addictive too; recently, I have been dying to create a weekly planner that reminds me to do little things like clean out the fridge the day before garbage day. Seriously, does it get any dorkier than that?
Tip # 5 - Give Yourself Grace
No matter how great your support network and how well-planned you are, things are going to go sideways. That's life. And the busier you are, the more opportunities there are for things to change at the last minute. Approach it all with a sense of humor and you will feel better in the long run. Accept that there are going to be days when the kids are cranky, the lesson you slaved over falls flat and you forget your keys as you rush from one thing to the next. Pour yourself a glass of wine, pull out the chocolate, go for a run, whatever makes you feel better, and breathe. Call a time out and get off the hamster wheel for a little while. Honor yourself and the hard work you do every. single. day. by acknowledging life's little imperfections. Sometimes a little acceptance, a bunch of grace and good dose of humor are all you need to see things in a different way.
What it looks like: Ok, so maybe I lied just a little bit when I said that the planning piece was my steepest learning curve; I actually think maybe this one is. I am incredibly hard on myself in a number of areas, areas in which getting help is actually pretty easy (restaurants are there for a reason). Luckily, I have a teaching partner and other wonderful friends (who, let's be honest, are just as hard on themselves as I am) who counsel me regularly on the art of giving myself the grace to be less than what I aspire to be all day, every day. Don't get me wrong, they push me and challenge me all the time, but when they see that I need it, when I'm nearing my breaking point, they tell me to let it go. One moment, one day of less than (my own, self-imposed version of) perfect, is ok. My children will still get fed, my students will still do something and I will pick myself up and try again tomorrow. And I will be better off for having taken the pressure off for a little while. Grace.
In the end, finding balance isn't about leading the perfect life. It isn't about making it through every day unscathed. It is about putting all of the pieces together so that, on the whole, life is enjoyable. Fun even. It is about finding moments of calm amidst the storm, learning to roll with the punches, feeling satisfied and filled up by what you do every day. Work-life balance is as much about perspective as it is about organization. Sure, you can ease your load by being a bit more organized and a bit more prepared, but when push comes to shove, what really matters is that you are happy with your crazy, messy, busy life. And sometimes, what makes us the most happy is to put our lives in perspective. That, and a good glass of wine.
Lately, I have been spending a lot of time focusing on phonological awareness, especially with the kindies and some of my older struggling readers. I am amazed at the number of kids who have difficulty hearing and playing with sounds in words, a skill which is fundamental to future reading success. Without the ability to recognize syllables, hear and produce rhymes and easily chunk words, students stagnate as reading gets harder (our Learning Disabilities teacher noted that she really notices the effects of weaknesses in these skills at level J/K, when the words become multi-syllabic & often contain many prefixes and suffixes; watch for this in your own students.).
My theory is that kids are spending less time listening to "kids' music" (Raffi, Sharon, Lois & Bram, Charlotte Diamond, etc), which heavily emphasizes rhyme and word play (remember the oldie but goodie "John, John, Bo Bohn, Banana Fana Fo Fohn"?) and are therefore practicing these skills less. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that way to me.
The strange thing is, rhyming songs & books are fun! For the longest time they were all my husband would read to our girls because he enjoyed them more than non-rhyming ones. Dr. Seuss, Sandra Boynton and so many others are some of the most giggle-inducing books you can read to young ones! So here is a list of wonderful rhyming books to read at home and at school...hopefully there are at least one or two new ones you can add to your collection.
Charlie Cook's Favourite Book (Julia Donaldson) - All of Julia Donaldson's books are amazing and many (The Gruffalo) are better known than this one. What I love about Charlie Cook (other than the rhymes, of course. Watch out for greedier rhymed with encyclopedia, though; it only works in a British accent) is the circular nature of the story; we start and end with a boy named Charlie Cook, who both reads and is in a favourite book. A great lead in to a creative writing lesson, especially when paired with the If You Give a...(Laura Numeroff) series.
On Market Street (Arnold & Anita Lobel) - This wonderful book opens & closes with rhyme but in between it explores the alphabet - it doesn't get any better than that for developing early literacy skills! The illustrations are mesmerizing and would make an excellent model for an alphabet art project for many different grade levels.
The World Champion of Staying Awake (Sean Taylor) - I bought this for my youngest daughter, who truly is the world champion of staying awake. Soothing bits of rhyming text are interspersed with a cute story of a little girl putting her stuffies to bed. Some great opportunities for connections and a chat about the importance of sleep, plus the lovely rhymes about dream-like places. I find this one quite calming to read.
Moo, Baa, La La La, Belly Button Book & Barnyard Dance (Sandra Boynton) - Sandra Boynton is ubiquitous in the world of books for little ones. She has so many books, CDs and apps that it is hard to keep track of them all! These are a few of our favourites - funny, rolicking rhymes that beg to be sung, chanted and played with. A must for any toddler on your list but fun for kids of all ages.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes & Hello Baby! (Mem Fox) - These lovely books strike the perfect balance between funny & sweet for the wee-est of readers. Start all those new little babies in your life off right with these great little rhyming books.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault) - This kindergarten classic explores the alphabet through a rhythmic chant, that, you guessed it, rhymes. The accompanying CD features a reading by Ray Charles, as well as some great extras from the authors about how the book came about. There are, of course, tons of related classroom activities that can be found online, so this book is a great intro to a unit on rhyming in your class.
Hide and Squeak (Heather Vogel Frederick) - This cute little book about a mouse daddy trying to get his mouse baby in to bed features some great repeating rhymes -"It's time for bed. It's time for sleep. No more time for hide-and-squeak." The adventures of the little mouse baby should spark some connections, if not for the kiddos, then for the adults who try to put them to bed every night.
No Matter What (Debi Gliori) - This book should also spark some great connections for kids and adults alike. Small is grumpy and worried that Large doesn't love him (her? this detail is unclear, probably intentionally) so Large proceeds to reassure Small that Small will always be loved, "no matter what". A great book for talking about love or just cuddling up with your littles.
There's a Wocket in My Pocket; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? (Dr. Seuss); Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb (Al Perkins) - No list of rhyming books would be complete without Dr. Seuss (I include Al Perkins on this list because it is part of a collection of Bright and Early Board Books that are primarily written by Dr. Seuss). These are some of my favourite Dr. Seuss books for young readers because they are some of the most concrete and simple to understand; many of Dr. Seuss' books (The Lorax, for example) are too long and complex for young kids to understand. If you're looking for books to introduce students to rhyming, Dr. Seuss is always a good place to start.
Get out there and get rhyming!
A few months ago, a friend approached me asking for some YA book suggestions. Given that her kids are 5 and 3, this seemed like a bit of a strange request and I must have looked a bit confused (which, let's be honest, is kind of a permanent expression on my face these days. The things small children do are frequently unfathomable). She went on to explain that her sister-in-law was homeschooling her two teenage sons and had come up with this brilliant idea - the Aunties' Book Club (ABC - seriously? This woman was born to teach!). The plan was that the boys' two aunties would each choose a novel to read alongside the boys and then they would discuss it via e-mail (this mama is homeschooling because - this is so fantastic - her family does long distance, multi-week cycling trips all around the world. I am in awe.).
So I racked my brain for a novel or two that I thought they would enjoy. Not really knowing what their interests and reading preferences were (I have since learned that they mainly read historical fiction), I threw out a few suggestions - any of the Rick Riordan books, The Hunger Games, Out of My Mind and a few others. My girlfriend thought Out of My Mind sounded intriguing and so did the boys so they were off and running!
Then it dawned on me - here was the perfect opportunity to hear from the kids themselves! I asked the boys if they would be willing to write reviews for the blog and they (somewhat reluctantly, I think) agreed. Yes! So glad they did, as they felt very differently about the book than I did. I enjoyed eading what they had to say and am excited to share it with you.
I am out of my mind for Out of My Mind
By Eric, Grade 8
Have you ever felt out of your mind? In Out of My Mind by Sharon M Draper, a young girl is going crazy. This is all because Melody cant express her feeling through words and interactions. This book was written in 2010 and published by Antheneum Books for Young Readers. This book seems to bring the words to life or is it the words bring the book to life? I know this is full fiction but it seems to be real. This 295 page book is a heartfelt story with a great message!
Melody tells her story in her own unique way, through a computer. She has been like a sponge her whole life, absorbing information, numbers and words. With the new computer, Melody can finally communicate. Will other people be ready to hear her speak? She finally makes a friend at school, but everyone isn't friendly yet. Will Melody ever be who she wants to be?
This book made me feel like I was one of Melody's friends. It was like I was in the story. The author makes all of her readers understand what it is like in Melody's wheelchair. This book is a must read for all. From kids to grandparents this book will give you an understanding of cerebral palsy.
Out of My Mind is a book you can't set down until you are finished. I hope you can't set it down too!
Out of my Mind is Out of this World
Published in 2010 by First Antheneum Books, Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper is a relatively easy but great read! All 295 pages are extraordinarily exciting, and could be Melody's true story even though it is fiction.
This wonderful story is told through Melody's eyes. She has Cerebral Palsy which makes it difficult to move and completely function all her body parts. She also can't speak even though she is really smart. Her teacher, family, classmates, neighbour, and aide also play important parts in the story. Most of the time Melody only goes to school, to her neighbour's house, and to her house.
My opinion may be different than yours, but that is unlikely because it is such a great book. There was not much description, but the story made up for it in other ways. The author wrote casually and the first couple of lines had me hooked. I would recommend this book. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being awesome, I would give it an eleven.
If you need a good book, you don't have far to go. Just grab a copy of Out of my Mind and read like crazy!
Review by Joel, Grade 6
Looking forward to hearing more from these two...and maybe some of my own students! What book should "we" read next, boys?
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!